For Adults, Lifelong Learning Happens The Old Fashioned Way

Mar 22, 2016
Originally published on March 22, 2016 5:30 pm

On any given weekend, the Washington, D.C., public library system offers nearly a dozen classes. You can try Matt McEntee's class, where he'll teach you how to fix anything from a clock to a broken heart. Maybe you're interested in creating a photo book, or you'd like to get better at Microsoft Word?

I decided to check out a small classroom tucked in the basement of my local branch early one morning. It's called Homebuying 101, and it's led by real estate agent Margeau Gilbert. Today, there are about 10 adults — ranging in age from their mid-20s to early 50s — finding their seats.

In the second row, Whenna Andrews, 28, already has her notebook out. She's a first lieutenant in the D.C. National Guard, and a number of her friends have already purchased homes.

"This is going to be my first time buying a home," she says, "so I'm really trying to educate myself on the process."

I ask Andrews why she came to a class at the library, instead of learning how to buy a home online. "I have a lot of questions," Andrews answers. "I feel like if I'm perusing by myself online I can get lost in the information."

Andrews' decision to learn in a physical classroom is still the preferred choice for adults, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.

Pew looked at nearly 3,000 people, ages 18 and older. Pew wanted to know how, and where, adults learn, after they leave their formal schooling.

"Learning is still very much a place-based thing," says Pew researcher John Horrigan. "The Internet plays a role, but it's secondary in most respects."

For the 74 percent of adults who identified as personal learners, only a third turned to the Internet for most or all of their learning.

I asked Horrigan: What should we make of this? He said the results highlight the need for "a reality check of where technology fits into our lives."

The study also found differences when it comes to education and income level. For those with a bachelor's degree, technology is helping. But for those with just a high school diploma, it's not playing as big a role.

The findings are partly a reflection of access. Those on the lower end of the educational and income scale often are less likely to have a home broadband connection or a smartphone. But even for those adults with access, the survey found that many weren't aware of online resources like massive open online courses (MOOCS) or learning tools like Kahn Academy.

Whenna Andrews knows about those things — she even found the homebuyers class on Facebook. But she prefers learning in person.

"I feel like the library seems more credible, if that makes sense," she says.

Her next endeavor: speaking in front of a crowd. And she's in luck — her local branch offers public speaking classes every third Saturday.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Even after high school or college, we keep learning - DIY projects, cooking classes, how to buy real estate. How-to videos and online courses make it easier than ever. But a new study finds the vast majority of American adults are taking classes the old-fashioned way. Elissa Nadworny of the NPR Ed team reports.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: The Petworth branch of the Washington, D.C. public library looks pretty empty, but there's a buzz coming from downstairs. About 10 adults are tucked in a small classroom, finding their seats. Real estate agent Margeau Gilbert gets things started.

MARGEAU GILBERT: Everyone, welcome, and thank you for coming to the Homebuying 101 workshop.

NADWORNY: In the second row, Whenna Andrews already has her notebook out. She's 28 and a first lieutenant in the D.C. National Guard.

FIRST LIEUTENANT WHENNA ANDREWS: You know, this is going to be my first time being a homebuyer, so I'm really trying to educate myself on the process.

NADWORNY: So why not learn about this kind of stuff online? Like, why do it in a real space?

ANDREWS: I have a lot of questions, and I feel like if I'm perusing online by myself, I can get lost in the information.

NADWORNY: Andrews' decision to learn in a physical classroom is by far the preferred choice for adults, according to the Pew Research Center. Pew looked at nearly 3,000 people 18 and older. They wanted to know how and where adults learn after they leave their formal schooling.

JOHN HORRIGAN: Learning is still very much a place-based thing.

NADWORNY: That's researcher John Horrigan.

HORRIGAN: The Internet plays a role, but it's secondary in most respects.

NADWORNY: Of the adults who said they are personal learners, only a third said they turned to the Internet for most or all of their learning.

So what do we do with that?

HORRIGAN: Well, we sort of have a reality check about where technology fits into our lives.

NADWORNY: The study also found differences when it comes to education and income level. For those with a bachelor's degree, technology is helping people learn. But for those with just a high school diploma, it's not playing as big of a role. Even for adults with access, many weren't aware of online resources like massive open online courses, or MOOCs, or learning tools like Kahn Academy. Whenna Andrews? She knows those things. She even found the homebuyers class on Facebook. But she prefers learning in person.

ANDREWS: I feel like the library seems more credible, if that makes sense (Laughter). So -

NADWORNY: Her next endeavor? Speaking in front of a crowd. And she's in luck - her local branch offers public speaking classes every third Saturday. Elissa Nadworny, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.