New courses bring joy to older adults during pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-person education, Drake University made sure its lifelong learners, many of whom are older Iowans, would not be prevented from pursuing their passion for learning. Hundreds of older adults are participating in new online courses from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Drake University.

“People are staying home and want classes to engage their brains and find a meaningful way to connect with their community,” said Tracy Beck, manager of OLLI at Drake.

Since 2004, OLLI at Drake (previously known as the RaySociety), has made low-cost, non-credit courses available for anyone interested in continuous education. Hundreds of Iowans, mostly ages 55 and older, participate each semester. The COVID-19 pandemic threatened to shut down the program, so organizers moved the classes to Zoom. The students have adapted quickly.

“We have one member who is 93 and he loves Zoom,” Beck said. “He’s recently given up his driver’s license, and he told me he’s so grateful he can attend. If the courses were only in-person, he would not be able to.”

Many OLLI students had limited experience using computers. Drake staff spent hours teaching members how to use technology for online classes, Beck said.

“I would call them on their phone and walk them through the process of using Zoom,” Beck said. “One woman, she was so happy to participate. She lives in an assisted living facility, and she hadn’t seen anyone in months.”

Some in-person OLLI at Drake classes will resume this spring, but the online courses will be a permanent addition. OLLI staff aims to eventually offer hybrid classes that can be taken either online or in-person.

Faculty from Drake and subject matter experts from throughout Iowa teach classes. Online classes also make it possible for OLLI at Drake to more frequently host lectures from national speakers.

You don’t need to be a Drake alumnus to join OLLI at Drake. Anyone can become a member by emailing Members pay $50 annually and most classes cost $30. Class registration for spring classes is open now.

Drake is currently fundraising for OLLI and programs like it through the University for All initiative of The Ones capital campaign. To learn more or donate, please visit