TV may be best way to reach the old
The research, conducted across the UK, included focus groups, questionnaires and interviews. Most respondents were aged 70 to 79, and 25 per cent were over 80.
Dr Alex Withnall of Warwick's school of health and social studies found older people taking part in a wide range of educational activities through colleges, community centres, and the University of the Third Age.
"But those who felt too old or infirm to make a regular commitment were active learners through TV, radio, reading, discussing the news with friends, social and voluntary activities," she said. "They saw learning as an integral part of their everyday lives."
The research found older people felt that learning helped stimulate the intellect and gave pleasure. They also said that continuing to learn helped them to understand, and cope with social change. Some believed that it helped to ensure good health. Yet learning just to acquire new knowledge was bottom of their priorities.
Many believed they were learning informally through reading, discussing the news, watching TV documentaries, voluntary work and social activities - especially those who felt too infirm to attend formal courses.
TV programmes such as natural history documentaries stimulated their interest and encouraged them to explore topics further; but many agreed subjects, such as computing, were better acquired through formal learning.
"The research points to the need to offer older people a wider choice and variety of ways of learning," said Dr Withnall.