KU’s Osher Institute gains expanded community online
The COVID-19 pandemic has required adaptation and resilience from educators and learners at all levels in 2020. The experience of KU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute this year has been no different. The Osher Institute, part of KU Lifelong & Professional Education, provides non-credit short courses for participants age 50 and over. In March, Osher moved all of its courses online so its vibrant learning community could safely continue during the pandemic.
“While we certainly enjoy in-person learning opportunities, online courses provide a small way for our community to connect virtually during these uncertain times,” Linda Kehres, director of KU’s Osher Institute, said. “The feedback we’ve received regarding the Zoom experience has been incredibly positive.”
Moving classes to an online-only format had some surprising benefits, one of which was the involvement of lifelong learners from areas not typically served by KU’s Osher institute. This year, 61 participants from 20 states outside of Kansas and Missouri, as well as Canada, and participants in eight new Kansas cities took part in 112 KU Osher Institute courses.
“As a KU alum, I am delighted to participate in KU classes from afar,” an Osher participant in Northern Michigan said. “Many of my local volunteer activities have been curtailed by the pandemic, so I have enjoyed spending time expanding my horizons and learning more about my interests with Osher classes. They will be especially welcome as the days grow colder and my usual outdoor activities are more limited.”
Other participants noted they were drawn by the KU Osher Institute’s wide variety of subjects, which cover history, art, entertainment, life skills and more. “I found so many courses (nine at least) of interest! In fact, more than I could take in a semester,” an online Osher participant in Oklahoma said. “I have been very pleased with the instructors and classes I've completed so far. Classes via Zoom have been a bright spot in the middle of the pandemic.”
Kehres said she’s grateful that the Osher instructors have not only agreed to move courses online, but that many are also developing new engaging courses. “This spring, we’re offering more course selections than ever before, with nearly 100 offerings, almost half of which are new courses,” Kehres said. “We are welcoming back many seasoned instructors and introducing 11 new ones. The courses represent a diverse spectrum of interests including history, literature, the great outdoors and current events.”
The online learning format has also made Osher courses more accessible for learners who live in Kansas, but in areas not regularly served by KU’s Osher institute’s in-person classes.
“Having the Osher program available helps to nurture my desire to be a lifelong learner,” one Kansas-based participant said. “This has worked out great for me. I took two classes this summer and three this fall. In the past, the most has been one a semester.”
Kehres said that although it has been disappointing not to be able to engage with members in person, the experience of online learning has shown how strong and supportive the lifelong learning community is.
“We remain dedicated in our efforts to provide access to virtual learning opportunities that appeal to a diverse audience, while also ensuring the safety of our participants, instructors, partners and staff,” Kehres said. “The one thing that has been clear throughout this is that the Osher family stands united.”