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Saturday, November 10, 2012

How to Get an A in Lifelong Learning by YVETTE KANTROW

Special Report on Retirement: Retirees can keep an active mind through a growing array of educational programs. From online jazz courses to cruises off Cape Horn, we have you covered.
Albert Einstein once said, "Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death."
And these days, experts on aging agree. Studies continue to show that lifelong learning is the key to keeping our minds sharp and our brains strong, an important contributor to wellness overall, as we grow older. "Cognitive decline is not a normal function of aging," insists Andrew J. Carle, executive in residence and the founding director of the program in senior housing administration at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. "The brain doesn't have to be in decline. You can keep it strong; you can exercise your brain."

Photo: A Gamer's Guide to Real Life

For many years, the idea of cognitive calisthenics conjured up images of silvered-hair retirees playing bridge or noodling over the New York Times crossword puzzle, ideally while relaxing by the pool. While those activities certainly do contribute to brain health, they're only the tip of the iceberg of what's available to mature adults who want to educate themselves in effective, enjoyable, and, in some cases, luxurious, ways. From downloading Harvard lectures to their computers, to spending a semester at sea with a ship full of students and professors, options for lifelong learners abound. Here are five of the best:

Lectures in the Living Room

You don't have to leave home to exercise your brain -- just pop a disc into your CD or DVD player, or download a digital video. The Great Courses of Chantilly, Va., formerly known as the Teaching Company (, makes and sells video and audio recordings of some 390 classes, taught by professors of top universities, on everything from literature to math to wine-tasting. Best sellers include "Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy" ($229.95 on DVD); and "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music" ($699.95 on DVD).

Another option: The new online platforms that allow anyone with an Internet connection to enroll in select college classes, for free. The most comprehensive is Coursera (, which has partnered with 34 major universities, including many Ivies, to bring users access to 200 courses, ranging from "Jazz Improvisation" with Grammy winner Gary Burton through the Berklee College of Music, to "Modern & Contemporary American Poetry," via the University of Pennsylvania. Also: Udacity (, which offers 18 courses in computer science, math, and business; and edX (, which has a handful of classes from Harvard, MIT, UC Berkeley, and the University of Texas System.