The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Boise State University offers nearly 100 lectures, short courses and workshops each semester to more than 2,000 Osher active members, all of whom are aged 50 and older. The self-sustaining, membership-based organization is centered around a common trait: a love and interest in lifelong learning.
Yet when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person courses at Boise State on March 13, the Osher Institute was forced to quickly pivot as well. By March 18, nearly half of the scheduled spring Osher Institute classes had already concluded but another 45 programs had to be canceled.
Presenters and facilitators include university faculty, industry experts, authors, legal experts, physicians, and others from across the state and country delivering college-level lectures and courses on topics of art and literature, technology and engineering, medicine, environment, history, politics and current events. Most lectures and courses fill to capacity, drawing up to 200 Osher Institute members to each presentation, resulting in more than 400 Osher members in the building on a daily basis.
While Osher Institute members were disappointed at the loss of their anticipated spring semester, many appreciated the need for cancellation as healthcare risks and concerns grew nationwide. Given members’ ages of 50 plus – with the majority in their 60s to 80s – Osher members are in a high-risk category for COVID-19.
The end of in-person courses did not mean an end to learning. Drawing upon internal resources within the department and university, cultivating resources from other sites, and the sharing of programs from other Osher Institutes nationwide, a new slate of virtual programming was developed and introduced to Osher Institute members just one month after the closure of classrooms.
The institute debuted “Osher On Demand,” a new blog featuring an extensive collection of recorded lectures and presentations, curated articles, Ted Talks, virtual tours of museums and national parks, and theatre and symphony performances.
Osher members have been encouraged to share these programs and access links with others in the community to ease feelings of isolation and provide conduits for ongoing connectivity.
Other programs have been cultivated for members-only participation, including a subscription to The Great Courses, a well-known online learning organization providing thousands of online courses to its members. Because of the pandemic, The Great Courses has given permission to the Osher Institute to share its subscription with members, providing yet another link to world-class educational opportunities. Osher members’ responses to these options have been resoundingly positive and engagement has been steady.
While preparing a variety of delivery methods of lectures and courses for the fall semester, the Osher Institute also has developed other ways to foster communication within this highly-engaged group of lifelong learners. Members are invited to a bi-weekly Virtual Social Hour to check in, gain updates on available programs and connect with one another.
The 15-member Osher Institute Advisory Board and the institute’s director, Dana Thorp Patterson, have been reaching out to individual members by phone, email and hand-written notes of encouragement.
Patterson also has been augmenting the institute’s monthly newsletter with a bi-weekly message containing updates on planning, reminders of programs and a request to hear from members.
Some of Osher’s special interest groups have begun exploring the possibility of meeting via Zoom to resume activities in topics such as conversational Spanish, genealogy, memoir writing, and books/authors discussion groups. Members’ dedication to staying involved and active, and their patience during these uncertain and trying times, shows how strong the love of learning remains with Osher Institute members.
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Boise State is one of 124 recognized Institutes in the U.S. and is the only one in the state of Idaho. To learn more about the Osher Institute or become a member, visit boisestate.edu/osher.