Enjoy Building Your Knowledge Base At Any Age
Practical science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills are crucial in order to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world.
There are many who are working hard to provide our youth with what they need to succeed in STEM careers. This can be difficult, however, for those who didn’t experience a robust education themselves.
There are many reasons why otherwise capable adults feel left behind when it comes to subjects like math and science. If you’ve ever uttered the phrase, “I’m just not a math person,” you’re definitely not alone. You were probably taught only one way to solve math problems, and your science classes may have been chock-full of things to memorize but light on experimentation and real-world problem-solving.
You can be forgiven if that antiquated form of pedagogy turned you off — or worse if it didn’t help you retain important STEM skills. But you don’t have to settle for a gap in your knowledge if you missed out on a high-quality STEM education the first time around. There are many ways to continue learning as an adult — and to have fun while doing it.
Taking The Leap
It’s never too late to learn something new, but why should an adult with a job and family obligations make time to learn more about STEM subjects?
Lifelong learning has been shown to reduce cognitive decline that results from aging. While studies are somewhat conflicted over exactly what type of “brain training” can prevent or slow down Alzheimer’s disease, keeping an active mind busy with novel tasks is an important way to stay sharp as you get older. The “use it or lose it” rule means that taking the time to study higher math or dive into a scientific topic that interests you is a great way to keep those neurons firing.
Pumping up your STEM skills also puts you in a position to mentor youth in these fields. Parents and grandparents who continue to explore these subjects will model intellectual curiosity and a willingness to experiment that will have a positive influence on the next generation of learners. Sharing enthusiasm for STEM and feeling comfortable discussing it is an important way to keep young children interested while staying sharp.
Mentorship can go beyond family. Any adult with an interest in teaching and learning can take their newfound knowledge and start an after-school club, lead a STEM walk or make a cameo appearance to talk about your current or former career at a nearby school. You never know whose imagination you’ll spark when you share your interests with the next generation of thinkers, inventors and entrepreneurs.
How Adults Learn
As you search for opportunities to learn more about STEM, it’s important to remember that adults learn differently than children do. Adult brains have finished developing, so absorbing new information requires a different neurological process. Instead of building new neural pathways, adult brains need to draw connections from the existing schema, or thought patterns, and new ideas. This means that adults will learn best when new information is made relevant to their current experiences and interests. STEM is well-suited to adult learning in this regard, as hands-on experimentation allows you to make scientific ideas practical in everyday life.
Adults also need flexibility in their learning to fit new courses into their busy lives. Asynchronous online courses that allow you to log on and study at your convenience are ideal. It’s also important for adult learners to feel respected by their instructors and comfortable trying something new. While children don’t mind falling off a bike as they learn, adults are often uncomfortable with the idea of failure, especially in public. Look for learning opportunities designed for adults so you get an environment that makes you feel good about yourself as you try something new. It’s much easier to keep an open mind for learning when you’re at ease in your surroundings.
Pursuing STEM at Any Age
No matter where you are in life, there are plenty of ways to dive back into STEM. Try these ideas to get started:
- Keep reading for leisure and knowledge: Sometimes all it takes to get started is access to interesting material. Try subscribing to high-quality publications so you have great resources at your fingertips. You can also use RSS aggregators like Feedspot or Paper.li to fetch content for you.
- Face-to-face adult education classes: Many communities offer day and night classes on topics of interest, including coding boot camps. Your local community college is also a good place to start looking for practical classes that will provide legit skills to beef up your STEM knowledge base. These classes are often inexpensive and geared toward making learning fun and social for adults
- Open educational resources (OERs): There are thousands of lesson plans, games and videos online that address every imaginable STEM topic. Search for videos on HippoCampus, or look for premade lessons on OER Commons. This is a great way to find enrichment materials for the STEM-curious kids in your life, too.
- Massive open online courses (MOOCs): These are online courses that cover a wide range of topics. Information may be delivered via text, video or a recorded lecture, and there are often assessments to check your understanding along the way. Some well-known options are EdX, Coursera and Khan Academy. Many are free or are relatively inexpensive, and most can be completed at your own pace.
If you’re looking for a low-key way to dip a toe into STEM learning, this California organization makes butterfly growing kits complete with caterpillars to feed, nurture and watch in amazement as they emerge from their chrysalides. Butterflies are important pollinators, and working with them can boost your mental health.
Even the simplest act of experiencing nature is a wonderful way to begin adding a healthy dose of STEM into your daily routine — and it doesn’t require batteries.
This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on April 19th, 2019.
“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice… Applying STEM to better understand it.”