You CAN teach an old dog new tricks: The 50+ and their attitudes to learning new skills

Hitting 50 is an opportunity milestone rather than a mill stone. There has never been a better time to learn a new skill.

learn new skills

It may seem to younger Brits that the 50+ have everything sorted when it comes to life skills: from finances to photography, Millennials are now the least likely age range to think that learning stops later in life, and more likely than ever to turn to parents or grandparents for advice. However, when it comes to how the 50+ think of themselves, things aren’t always so rosy. From the proliferation of new technology on offer, to the seemingly ever increasing retirement age in the UK, it may come as no surprise that the over 50s are less likely to see themselves as ready for learning new life skills.

New research into British hobbies and learning from photography experts Canon has shone a spotlight on the 50+, examining everything from their attitudes to learning new skills, to their enjoyment of taking up new hobbies. While there’s definitely an appetite for learning among the older generations, has the spark for connecting with new pastimes been squeezed out of us? And what can we do to bring it back?

Never too old to learn new tricks?

Brits over 50 were found to be the most open to learning in the whole UK, with over 70% of respondents citing that they felt it was ‘never too late to learn something new’ and 77% of the over 55s claiming that they loved the act of learning something new, with online research the most popular way for the increasingly internet savvy older generation to get to grips with new interests. However, while a stunning 22% of the 50+ generations claimed that they felt hobbies were important to keep their brains active, and a further 14% cited that they just wanted to keep learning into retirement and beyond, the amount of this incredibly information and experience hungry segment of the UK finding new skills and interests is heading towards an all time low.

Just 32% of the 50+ had tried their hand at learning a new hobby or skill in the last 12 months, and most reported that their experiences of trialling something new were short-lived, while 42% reported that they couldn’t remember the last time they took up a new pastime. Worryingly, 62% went on to claim that they had more than two interests outside of work, leading to concerns over whether retirements would be as rich as previously hoped for. 20% of those surveyed also claimed that they felt they’d left it too late to turn their hands to a new skill, while a further 67% regretted not learning new skills earlier in life – the highest scores for any age group in the survey.

Squeezed in the middle

So, what’s stopping Britain’s most information hungry generation from furthering their life-long learning? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 50+ were the least likely to keep trying a new pastime they had no interest in with 47% citing boredom and lack of enjoyment as reasons for dropping a new hobby in the past 12 months, a worrying 37% reported that they also struggled to find time to enjoy themselves, with work pressures and family commitments giving them less time for themselves than they were expecting at this stage in their lives. With the ever expanding retirement age and the new trend for parents to care for adult children, or grandparents to provide childcare for their grandchildren, this also contributed to the ease of dropping a project they may otherwise have persisted in: when you have very limited time to enjoy yourself, making sure you’re getting the most out of your free time becomes paramount.

32% of respondents also claimed that they weren’t good at, or didn’t think they had the time to ever become good at, their new interests, leading to a general lack of impetus to get going. 50% of respondents over the age of 55 claimed that they would encourage younger family or friends to take up the pastime instead which, while undoubtedly good for their recipients, can impact on their own enjoyment.

Never too late for learning

With the increasing time and performance pressures on our free time, it’s also never been more important to re-focus on what makes us happy at any age. Having a hobby that exercises those learning muscles has been linked to everything from lessening depression, to staving off dementia. However, to get anyone struggling to find their feet started, we’ve drawn up some easy tips:

  • Find your confidence: Respondents to the survey suggested that age can make them less confident to learn a new skill – but there’s safety in numbers! If joining a class isn’t an option, online communities and news can give you an edge, and introduce you to other likeminded people. Search for your preferred new skill, and the word ‘forum’ or ‘chat’ to increase your chances of finding an online support group.
  • Use age as an advantage: There’s an increased likelihood to assume that there’s just no time left to learn new skills – but there’s no reason why that nephew you just encouraged to pick up the guitar should be any better at it than you! Arm yourself with all the information you can get, remember all the many new skills and pastime you’ve trialled, and perhaps suggest learning together. There’ll definitely be things you can learn from each other, and the research also showed that the younger the respondent, the more likely they were to assume that age was no barrier to learning.
  • Make some me time: Me Time isn’t just for Millennials! Make sure you’re carving out some self-care in your day-to-day by diarising a few hours every week to work on your new hobby or skill: the more time you have to learn and engage with your new subject, the easier and more enjoyable it will become. And if it doesn’t, there’s lots more out there to turn your hand to!
  • Do your research: Online research is popular for finding out about new pastimes, and it could have some really easy tips and tricks to help you progress out of the amateur stages more quickly. 42% of the over 50s either were, or were open to, taking up photography as a hobby, so a good place to get started might be finding some top tips from professional photographers, and thinking about how you can make opportunities to practice them.
  • Get out there: So many respondents, at all ages, felt that just getting started was the biggest obstacle – and the older we get, the less comfortable we can feel beginning at the beginning! Just remember, you’ll never know if you don’t try: there may be a new talent you never dreamed of just waiting to be discovered.

For more insight into the UK’s hobbyist landscape, you can visit the Techtalk blog.

Last modified: June 10, 2021

Written by 4:20 pm Home & Lifestyle

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