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“Listen actively with respect,” said the speaker, adding “Be succinct and to the point.”

Last week, I attended this orientation session to the OLLI program at Northwestern University in Chicago. OLLI stands for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Across the country, 120 such programs exist, all associated with colleges. Having taught group dynamics and observed many over the years, I appreciated this heads up to monopolizers and spoilers of any group gathering.

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At Northwestern, between their Evanston and city campuses, nearly 900 students participate in this “cooperative learning community.” In the study groups, members have the opportunity to progress “from avid listener to active contributor to discussion facilitator to coordinator.”

I’ve never attended a formal peer-led educational program. Of course, all my formal education was teacher-led or coordinated. And the Basic Program at the University of Chicago that I completed a year ago was teacher-led. My only experience with anything led by peers was in Bible studies where I bristled at the “blind leading the blind.” As a former teacher, I always want someone in the room to be much more knowledgeable in the subject area than I. In Bible Studies, for example, give me a theologian versed in the Hebrew and Greek origins of Scripture.

But, after hearing friends rave about OLLI, I’m trying this method of learning by taking a course titled U.S Healthcare: Promise Unfulfilled. The course description asks, “Can our health care system work better, cost less and deliver higher quality?” Proposed and moderated by a pediatrician and a consulting executive (sounds like they’ll know more than I!), enrollees are invited to examine “the politics and policy decisions that got us to our current system…from the first health care plan to Otto Bismarck’s Germany to the Affordable Care Act” and more.

When I found this course among the dozens offered, I signed up. As a nurse and proponent of life-long learning, I can think of no better topic to explore at this time in our history, along with peers interested enough in the same thing to enroll and discuss respectfully as members of a group.

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In case you’re wondering, I did have to sign up for second and third choices. My second choice was Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years; my third, Exploration of Brain and Mind. They will have to wait.

If you are retired and have some free time, what are you doing this fall to challenge your brain? Simply, but importantly, caring for yourself as health falters? Caring for family or friends? Going to church, plays, symphonies, operas, lectures?  Volunteering? Exercising? Reading? Cooking? Blogging? Help add to this list!

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