This review appeared originally in the Spring 1991 newsletter of the Texas Association for Community Services and Continuing Education, "TACSCE Connection," and appears here with permission.
If you wish to glimpse the future of continuing education, read Ken Dychtwald's Age Wave (1990). If you plan to reach 50 and/or retire in the next 20 years, read Age Wave to see yourself as a lifelong learner. The subtitle, "How the Most Important Trend of Our Time Will Change Your Future," suggests the significance of this work.
Dychtwald's premise is that as the baby boom generation reaches middle age and moves toward retirement, every aspect of American life--from housing to romance--will change in unexpected ways. Combine this growing volume of aging workers and retirees with greater longevity and a healthier population, and you have a remarkable market for continuing education and an astonishing reservoir of talent for sharing knowledge.
Specifically, the author refers to longevity training centers, learning-in-retirement institutes, and life span career training. He describes "elderheroes" who remain physically and intellectually active into their 80s and 90s. He cites numerous examples to demonstrate that "learning freshens the mind." But his most important comments relate to "learning as a lifestyle."
As the target audience for lifelong learning, the growing number of "seasoned consumers" show a higher concern for quality over cost than younger buyers. They also are attracted to products and services that create a desirable "experience." And they prize an "old-fashioned" commodity, "personalized service."
These "mature consumers" respond to "convenience and access" and will require a restructuring of advertising and marketing campaigns. Part of this new attitude will mean dispelling the myths that people over 65 are old, poor, in bad health, unproductive, not as mentally active as younger people, unattractive, and sexless. As a new image of aging emerges, the vitality of life after 50 will generate a tremendous market for learning experiences.
To take advantage of that market, continuing education professionals should think not only of learning-in-leisure opportunities but also of training and retraining older workers for new and part-time jobs. Longevity and questionable social security benefits mean postponed retirement and lengthened wage earning. Research indicates that investments in training workers over 50 produces greater payoff through more loyalty, productivity, and efficiency than comparable investments in younger employees.
Age Wave gives not only a glimpse of the training needs of the future but also of the texture of life in the next century. Dychtwald poses the focal question: "While the strength of the senses is lessening, what if the powers of the mind, the heart, and the spirit are rising?" He concludes, "Becoming more than we've ever been before is the point of extended life." Continuing education will play a vital role in achieving that goal and should lead the way in programming for our institutions.