NewsLocal News


FSU's 'lifelong learner' students utilize social-distancing to continue education

Florida State University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
Posted at 8:23 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 20:23:12-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The coronavirus pandemic forced all schools and students to transition to remote learning technology, including non-traditional students, or lifelong learners, most of them 50-plus.

The 1,200 members of Florida State University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute are prime examples. When the pandemic forced the university to shift all in-person courses to remote learning, OLLI classes were no exception.

Just over halfway through their six-week spring semester, OLLI students were enrolled in more than 50 classes covering a wide range of topics and learning environments.

Of all OLLI’s spring semester classes, the pandemic may have affected Jonathan Dennis and his students on The Human Biome most significantly.

Dennis, the Pfeiffer Endowed Professorship for Cancer Research in FSU’s Department of Biological Science, has previously taught OLLI classes on epigenetics and CRISPR technology, providing information on cutting-edge scientific research to OLLI students.

The pandemic changed the topic of Dennis’ class, from explaining the role and behavior of the bacteria living in and on our bodies, to how COVID-19 is threatening to ravage our society.

In contact with researchers around the world, Dennis presented up-to-the-minute COVID-19 findings to the class for several of the seven scheduled class sessions.

He even used Zoom to bring in his brother, Christopher Dennis, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, physician on the front lines of the pandemic as chief infection officer at Mount Auburn Hospital, who provided the latest news and answered many questions from students.

While distance learning may not be ideal in normal circumstances because it doesn’t provide the social interaction offered by in-person classes, some students have indicated that they would be even more open to distance classes because they could avoid driving, traffic and parking issues and not have to deal with physical difficulties that may make it hard for them to leave home.

“We had already been considering offering distance-education opportunities to our curriculum, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed us to figure out how we could make it happen,” said OLLI Executive Director Debra Herman. “Thanks to cooperative, innovative instructors and accepting students, we did just that. We hope that we will be able to add new technology to our FSU facilities to make online learning even more convenient.”

There are no educational prerequisites for OLLI classes, and there are no grades, exams or required homework.

Registration and membership are open to lifelong learners over 50.

Because students do not need to be present in Tallahassee to enroll in classes, membership and registration will be open to lifelong learners throughout the country. For more information, see