How to improve the experience for all

  • Breakout sessions at OLLI's More Food for More Thought generated both new ideas and new friends. Courtesy of Jacki Fogarty

For the Monitor
Published: 5/17/2019 1:29:42 PM
Modified: 5/17/2019 1:29:26 PM

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Granite State College is an organization for adults aged 50 and older which features “learning for the fun of it.” Known for its wide variety of affordable and accessible educational courses, OLLI provides other means of learning for its members as well.

Recently, OLLI in Concord held its second annual leadership conference, an all-day affair gathering the current and potential leaders of the Concord learning site. Dubbed “More Food for More Thought,” the focus of the day was how to improve the OLLI experience for the members.

Last year, the day was “Food for Thought” and the invitation promised that “we provide food; you provide thoughts.” Constructing the agenda in the form of a menu, the group exercises and breakout sessions started with the “appetizer,” the class preview held before each term to introduce the upcoming classes. It worked its way through the salad (the course catalog and registration process), the entrée (classes), the side dishes (social events) and dessert (volunteer appreciation).

An outstanding evaluation of the whole OLLI program as experienced by the Concord membership, attendees offered a lot of suggestions which were implemented to the betterment of the organization. In addition to that, attendees enjoyed the day as another type of learning for the fun (and food) of it, gaining an in-depth view of how the organization really runs and meeting people they didn’t normally encounter.

Encouraged by the glowing evaluations, Concord offered “More Food for More Thought” to dig deeper into certain aspects of the OLLI member experience in Concord. This year, not only were the veteran OLLI movers and shakers invited but so were a group of promising brand new members who had expressed an interest in being involved in the organization in addition to taking classes. The mix of members who had been part of OLLI since its inception 15 years ago through the ones with a whole three months with the organization offered terrific insights and perspectives.

Committee members met people in other committees and learned how those committees contributed to the production of courses and events. As a volunteer-driven organization, OLLI faces an ongoing need for new volunteers and, like so many organizations, difficulty in attracting the right people to the right jobs.

One exercise had breakout sessions in which teams wrote very creative want ads for some of the most-needed recruits. Going beyond the “we need you” message that resonates with, well, no one, the groups dug deep to identify why members should want to become a part of the great volunteer corps which makes OLLI run.

Another breakout session had small groups reviewing and evaluating the results of a member survey conducted a few months earlier. The survey gathered hundreds of member comments on main topics: nonacademic member benefits; a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere; the volunteer experience; and knowledge about OLLI. Noting that significant improvement had been made over the few years since the last survey, the discussion groups captured valuable insights and offered ideas for continuous improvement.

A fun exercise using Hershey bars to convey appreciation for individuals’ volunteer contributions left at least one member visibly touched at the pile of candy bars in front of her, signifying how much value her colleagues placed on her OLLI activity.

There was food. There was thought. There was camaraderie (one of the most prized values of participating in OLLI according to the participants). There was inventiveness. There was appreciation. There was fun. And, though no one felt like they were in a classroom, there was learning ... for the fun of it and for the continuous quality improvement of the member experience in OLLI.

Spring term will wrap up in the middle of June (although registration for the remaining classes is open right to the end). Fall term classes are already scheduled, the catalog is at the printer and the fall course preview will be on July 10. A summer lecture series in cooperation with Osher at Dartmouth will be offered for six weeks in July and August. The learning never stops and the members never stop learning.

For more information on OLLI at Granite State College, visit olli.granite.edu or call the office at 513-1377.

(Jacki Forgarty is a member of OLLI.)




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