Let’s take a brief look at the history of lifelong learning institutes. For years, colleges and universities have offered continuing education programs for the local community. Along with these programs, adult education is offered in most communities at local schools. Adults of all ages take advantage of these low-cost opportunities, and they continue to be a wonderful resource for many. But lifelong learning institutes are different from these well-known programs.
Back in 1962 a group of retired educators met to discuss ways to stay intellectually challenged beyond what continuing education courses offered. They gathered at the New School for Social Research (now called the New School University) in New York City and developed a program run by and for older adults, offering a college-level curriculum. The New School enthusiastically welcomed the older adults onto their Greenwich Village campus under the name of The Institute for Retired Professionals (IRP). The IRP, still going strong today, celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2012-2013.
Between the start of this incredibly successful program in 1962 and the mid 1980s, the “learning in retirement” movement grew slowly with approximately 50 more institutes for learning in retirement (ILRs) being formed at such institutions as Harvard, Syracuse University, Duke and UCLA. These early programs often relied on the founders of the IRP, who mentored these programs, to help get them started.
Road Scholar Institute Network
By the mid-1980s, however, word was beginning to spread about this wonderful opportunity for older adults. The early visionaries of the movement were being overwhelmed with requests for help to start new programs. Clearly some kind of national mechanism to coordinate the start-up of new programs needed to be established.
Enter Elderhostel, Inc. This organization was established in 1975 as the first and now biggest and best educational travel provider for older adults in the country. It was only natural that Elderhostel and the early lifelong learners should come together as their missions are the same – outstanding educational opportunities for older adults.
Elderhostel had also been growing rapidly and by the mid-1980s was running a very successful, large, decentralized operation. Their expertise was just what the founders of the learning in retirement movement were looking for to help them develop new institutes.
Consequently, in 1988, after informal discussions between the leaders of both groups, the Elderhostel Institute Network (now known as the Road Scholar Institute Network) opened its doors. The mission of RSIN was and is to strengthen and support the effectiveness of established programs, to encourage the development of new institutes, and to disseminate information about the institutes and the movement in general.
Between 1988 and 1999 a staff of five Elderhostel employees traveled all across the country leading workshops and giving advice on how to start new institutes for learning in retirement. More than 200 new programs were started during these years.
In 2000, the decision was made by an advisory group of older learners to change the generic name of institutes for learning in retirement (ILRs) to lifelong learning institutes (LLIs). Then, in 2011, Elderhostel began offering educational travel programs under the name Road Scholar, so in 2013, the Elderhostel Institute Network changed its name to the Road Scholar Institute Network (RSIN). In 2015, Road Scholar launched the LLI Resource Network website and renamed the program: the LLI Resource Network at Road Scholar
Today, the LLI Resource Network is North America’s largest and most respected educational network for older adults, with more than 400 affiliated lifelong learning institutes, and more joining all the time.