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Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments
Later adulthood often liberates individuals from the competing demands of work and family roles, but it may impose other restrictions on learning activities if such activities are not well designed to accommodate maturational changes of this age period. Many older adults are dependent on public transportation systems to access such community resources as public libraries, museums, or community organizations and scholarly institutions in which learning opportunities reside.25 Learning environments also must make accommodations for adults’ physical limitations. Museum exhibitions that require too much walking or too much reading, especially of fine print material, or that provide few opportunities for intermittent rest, can limit older adults’ participation.26
One of the advantages of being older is that people have cultivated an extensive experience and knowledge base. They have a long history of family life, work experiences, and leisure pursuits that can serve as a starting point not only for new learning, but also for sharing knowledge, skills, and experiences.
Research by Guy McKhann and Marilyn Albert has revealed that, throughout their lives, humans continue to generate new neurons in the hippocampus regions of the brain and that new neuronal connections are constantly being formed in response to new life experiences.27 Their research presents biological evidence that learning is truly lifelong.
Another relevant finding from research is that knowledge of general facts and information about the world do not diminish with age; in fact, experience and life skills lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the world. Self-worth, autonomy, and control over emotions increase or remain stable with age. There is evidence to suggest that older adults regulate negative emotions better than young adults while experiencing positive emotions with similar intensity and frequency. Overall, it appears that older adults can achieve an improved sense of well-being by pursuing experiences that are meaningful and tied to emotional information.
On the negative side, researchers Fergus Craik and Timothy Salthouse have found that older adults do face a steady loss in fluid intelligence, or processing capacity.28 This decline can adversely affect the performance of everyday tasks