There is really no one “model” of a LLI as each is developed based on the structure developed with a host or community. There are, however, three commonalities that all LLIs share.

  1. Every LLI offers college-level courses,
  2. Every LLI fosters a sense of ownership by the members
  3. Every LLI promotes a sense of community among members.

Not all courses need to be academic-oriented, although that should always be the main goal of the course developers. Courses can be developed based on the desires of the members. Usually that means of a mix of college-level, personal enrichment, and sometimes hands-on courses. Care should be taken not to offer courses that can be taken elsewhere, such as community education centers, senior centers, etc.

The social aspects of a LLI are extremely important. Members join a LLI as much for the socialization as for the learning. All LLIs offer a wide range of social activities such as:
Walking & Hiking Clubs - Theater Trips - Dinner Clubs - Book Clubs - Current Events Groups - Weekend Getaways - Summer Picnics - Theme Festivals - Chess Clubs - Ice Cream Socials - Holiday Parties - Theme Dinners - Card Groups - Bird Clubs - Special Interest Groups

Some LLIs use professional faculty, either active or retired. Some use just peer-led leaders, members who have expertise or a strong interest in a subject. Others use outside experts, found in the community. Most LLIs, however, use a combination of all three. Some LLIs pay their leaders, but most do not, opting instead for some sort of recognition at the end of the semester/term.

Yes, most LLIs have Mission or Purpose Statements. Here is one example:

“The purpose of the Academy is to provide all community members age 50 and older an outlet for their creative and educational needs. Some of our interests were put on hold while we worked full-time, raised our children and cared for our parents, but now is the time to learn about the subjects we simply did not find time to explore earlier in our lives. The Academy’s goal is to stimulate your mind and provide you an opportunity to learn new skills, discuss topics of interest, explore new areas of study and simply enjoy learning and sharing. We enjoy each other’s company whether we are attending a lecture, a workshop or a social event. Exercising our brains in order to stay emotionally and intellectually healthy is fun. Through the Academy, Eastern is reaching out to our community by sharing the great riches of campus: faculty expertise, fine arts programs and the wonderful gardens and buildings. Come be a part of EIU. Join the Academy. You are EIU!”

Purpose statement of the Academy of Lifetime Learning, Eastern Illinois University.

LLIs keep their program fresh by giving members what they want. Curriculum and other planning committees should always be asking membership for ideas, suggestions, etc. As for the most popular courses, Liberal Arts (literature, music, art), along with History and Science are the subject areas that produce the greatest amount of interest. Members appreciate both short-term and longer-term courses. Curriculums should be somewhat balanced among science, liberal arts, current events and social science areas, with a few personal enrichment and hands-on courses to round things out. Most programs also offer Special Interest Groups (SIGS) made up of members with special interests who meet outside the normal LLI hours.

In the quest to stay engaged in society as long as possible, lifelong learning is a perfect tool. It gives older adults the opportunity to make their own unique contribution to society, to meet new people, keep their minds active, and explore new ideas. So by starting a new LLI in your community and meeting the needs of the community, you are helping to further this quest and broaden the lifelong learning mission.

LLIs are funded primarily though membership dues and/or course fees. At all times, however, LLI organizers are cognizant of the income limitations of older adults and strive to set fees accordingly. LLIs can also receive funding from academic or local hosts, outside foundations, and fund-raisers. The funding needed is always dependent on the agreements between the host and the LLI. If the LLI is independent of an academic host, then overhead must be considered in setting fees, which should be kept as low as possible.

Word of mouth is still the best way, but LLIs publicize themselves in a wide variety of other ways too:

Speaking engagements – Rotary Clubs – AARP Chapters – Senior Clubs & Centers – Libraries & Community Centers – Chambers of Commerce – PTAs – having members carry brochures, newsletters or course catalogs everywhere – Asking members to be LLI Community Ambassadors by distributing LLI promotional literature – by searching out affinity group newsletters – trying to get on mailing lists for all associations, organizations, etc – by sending in press releases to newspapers, radio and TV – by publicizing their programs in senior living residences – by dropping off literature in doctor’s offices, dentist’s offices and other venues where older adults congregate – putting take-one holders in local stores, restaurants – offer inexpensive giveaways such as bags, folders, etc.- by having an “open door” policy.

Most LLIs do have written agreements with their host. This agreement is valuable in that it spells out all responsibilities on both sides, avoiding later issues and disputes. It is always better to get all details in writing.