U3A Online: a virtual university of the third age for isolated older people
U3A Online is a virtual university of the third age (U3A) that provides intellectually challenging courses for isolated older people as well as for conventional U3A members. Volunteers run the programme and all courses are written and led by retired people, principally for third-agers who are isolated by distance or circumstance from taking part in conventional face-to-face U3A activities. This paper reports on two studies that were designed to reveal some of the characteristics and aspirations of participants in the U3A Online programme. During the proof-of-concept pilot study, run in 1999, telephone interviews and pre- and post-course written questionnaires were used. A sample of 'experienced' course members provided written data by questionnaire for the 2001 survey. The studies show that many participants who are unable to take part in mainstream adult education activities attribute a new sense of purpose and excitement in their lives to the virtual communities they begin to develop through their online courses.