Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

UD’s OLLI program offers a diverse course lineup for spring

OLLI participant collage
UD’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) program is planning nearly 300 classes this spring, with registration starting in January. Recent OLLI offerings include (clockwise from top left): Stained Glass Fundamentals, Beginner American Sign Language, Humor Writing and Tai Chi.

UD’s OLLI program offers a diverse course lineup for spring

Volunteer-driven efforts grow lifelong learning opportunities

After more than a year of only virtual activities, UD’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) programs reinstated some in-person activities in the summer and fall at New Castle, Kent and Sussex county locations. 

Spring classes start Feb. 7, 2022, with expanded in-person programming, online classes and two new online class formats. 

UD’s program for learners ages 50-plus already held the distinction as one of the first lifelong learning programs in the country. With the growth of its online program during the pandemic, it’s now also the largest, with an active membership of nearly 2,000 participants from across Delaware and the region.

UD’s OLLI program is unique for its extensive performing arts course offerings, and spring will herald the return of nearly all in-person music performance classes to OLLI’s Wilmington location at Arsht Hall, as well as a wide variety of both new and longstanding OLLI offerings, including art, dance and other hands-on participation classes at the Wilmington, Dover, Lewes and Ocean View locations.

The new course formats are designed to expand OLLI’s capacity and outreach by combining online attendance options with in-class participation.

Evolution and growth of online programming at OLLI

Early in the pandemic some OLLI instructors were able to immediately move their courses online, for example, financial investment strategy and genealogy research. Adventurous music instructors offered music performance classes using online tools so members could participate and play together from their living rooms. 

A few months later, the initiative to launch a fully online OLLI began in earnest with a virtual learning committee comprised of tech-savvy volunteers and staff from across UD’s OLLI programs. The committee and its volunteers can be credited with nearly all of the training efforts that resulted in three successful semesters of online learning at OLLI. 

OLLI’s original virtual learning task force has since morphed into the more permanent Long-Term OLLI Online Advisory Committee, co-chaired by OLLI volunteer Paul Collins, based at UD’s OLLI Kent/Sussex program, and his counterpart Lew Martin at the OLLI Wilmington location. 

“We trained over 1,000 OLLI members, over 200 instructors and about 100 virtual assistants to support instructors,” said Collins. Added Martin, “Our OLLI family is very resilient, and providing training across the board gave them the tools to be successful.”

Volunteer efforts are also responsible for the current OLLI innovations. 

With a return to OLLI’s on-site classrooms, the newly-created class formats came about as a way to allow more participants to attend classes according to their preference – in person, online or both — and to virtually expand class capacity by bringing together off-site and on-site participants – and their instructors — into the same learning experience. “The virtual world of Zoom classes, hybrid offerings of Zoom and in person, and group viewing offer us the opportunity to continue to reach out and expand,” said Collins.

Statewide reach and cooperation

Although UD’s two lifelong learning cooperatives operate independently as OLLI Wilmington and OLLI Kent/Sussex, pandemic realities brought them together to make the most of online learning opportunities. The new formats expand on that cooperation and increased accessibility, allowing virtual or in-person attendance from almost anywhere. 

Several popular courses will be offered in multiple formats. For example, UD’s Ralph Begleiter, former CNN journalist and retired founding director of UD’s Center for Political Communication, will present “Adventures of a Global Journalist” in person at OLLI’s Ocean View, Delaware, location, with a simultaneous section offered online. Whereas attendance at Begleiter’s classes is generally limited by classroom capacity, the online offerings offer practically unlimited enrollment.

A class titled “Hagley Does History,” led by Hagley Library staff and covering Delaware and DuPont company history, will be offered online, but with in-person, group-viewing sections held simultaneously in Lewes, Dover and Wilmington. The on-site groups will participate virtually in the online class, interacting with each other, as well as with the instructor and the virtual participants.

A total of 27 OLLI classes will be offered in the new combined formats this spring.

“In my opinion, both online and in-person classes are here to stay,” said Martin. “OLLI members have expressed interest in taking online classes because some are still wary of the virus, are physically unable to drive to class sites, like the comfort of not getting dressed to go out — and if they are not in the area, knowing they can still log in to classes. On the other hand, members truly miss being with friends, feeling the vibe in the building, talking and seeing faces (currently through masks) and moving about. They miss sounds, like music, side discussions, catching up and having a place to go even if it’s only a few days a week.”

OLLI volunteers pilot creative course formats

The new formats were pioneered this fall with two offerings of what OLLI is calling “online-hybrid” classes – an in-person class and its on-site OLLI instructor joined by additional class members participating virtually via Zoom – and one “in-person virtual” offering, where on-site class attendees can view and participate in an online class occurring via Zoom videoconferencing. 

OLLI’s “Burden of Proof” class served as a pilot for the in-person virtual format when volunteer instructor Neil Sullivan was called away on an extended out-of-state trip due to a family situation. At the suggestion of OLLI Kent/Sussex’s manager Sally Cole, and with Collins’ help, he agreed to teach his class all the way from Minnesota, videoconferencing and interacting with his OLLI students who were attending on-site in Lewes, Delaware. 

OLLI member and instructor Denise Bridgens was one of Sullivan’s students and gave the format high marks. “I think most, if not all, the class members felt the class worked well,” said Bridgens. “And, in conversation with one of my classmates, we agreed that we could hear the instructor better as he was able to go without a mask, and it seemed easier to focus on his presentation. One fellow student who was previously ‘Zoom averse’ was also pleasantly surprised by how well this worked.”

Added Bridgens, “Another benefit is that students who are ill, traveling or not inclined to drive in inclement weather, now have the option to Zoom in as well. Therefore, we all have more options in how we can participate — at no additional cost.”

OLLI members Diana and Floyd Smith participated in the new hybrid-online format when they realized their travel plans would interfere with their class schedule for instructor Jim O’Leary’s “Living in Space: Past, Present and Future.” “We enjoyed the course very much and the dual format allowed us to participate both in person and while we were on vacation,” Diana Smith said. “We would definitely sign up for classes offered in a hybrid format in the future.”

“I want to emphasize that the success of the OLLI online program has been a statewide effort with a number of very talented people involved in making it happen,” added Martin. “Our online advisory committee along with OLLI staff, council members and the honest feedback from our members continue to push us to provide a program that everyone is proud to be a part of.”

Spring classes start Feb. 7

For spring 2022, OLLI offerings include over 200 in-person classes held at locations in New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties, as well approximately 140 online courses. Included among them are many examples of the hybrid or combined offerings, allowing flexible attendance options.

Course offerings include painting, ceramics, film appreciation, band and music ensembles, folk dance, yoga, tai chi, literature, languages, investing, tree club and more.

Classes start Feb. 7 in 13-week, 11-week and five-week sessions, with a second five-week session that starts April 4.

Registration for spring semester begins later in January. For details, including a full course listing, visit the OLLI home page.

About OLLI at UD

UD’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes are volunteer-based learning cooperatives for adults age 50-plus to take and teach classes together with no grades, exams or educational prerequisites. OLLI programs are located across Delaware.

In Delaware and across the country, OLLI is affiliated with and receives partial support from the Bernard Osher Foundation, a philanthropic organization focused on higher education, lifelong learning and the arts.