The Internet can promote a happier, healthier life

From the Associated Press on September 21, 2008:

[Kathy] Leeds is one of about 500 people enrolled for the fall semester in a telephone-based educational program for homebound seniors called DOROT University Without Walls, believed to be the largest program of its kind in the country.

While the DOROT program is currently “telephone-based,” it is an example of what the Internet is capable of, if institutions were inclined to develop online educational programs that include the technological advancements that are currently available.

The curriculum includes more than 250 courses and runs the gamut from understanding feng shui and poetry writing to discussions on moral, ethical and philosophical issues and a discourse on women of the progressive era. Informational classes on money management, Internet surfing and medicine also are available.

The benefits for health and well-being are clear:

As the nation’s population grows older, Experts say programs like University Without Walls help engage seniors’ minds and expand their social network by giving them something stimulating to do – factors helpful in diminishing the onset of depression, dementia and other ailments.

… Marvin Cherner, 83, of Birmingham, Ala., took a series of classes on Parkinson’s disease to learn more about how to manage the disease that afflicts him. “It gave me an idea of what I face in the future,” he said.

… “They say to me ‘I have something to talk about now (with friends and family). I have a life. I don’t have to wait for someone to take me out. I can just pick up the phone, and I’m there,'” said program director Bonnie Jacobs.

“It’s an extraordinary way to combat a sense of isolation,” said Nechama Liss-Levinson, a Long Island psychologist who introduced her mother-in-law to the program. “The idea that our bodies and our health are influenced by our emotional and intellectual well-being is well documented.”

And the ability to overcome geographic distance and other barriers are obvious:

“When it’s bad weather, cold, wet or hot, even when I don’t feel well, I can get to the class,” said [Sarah] Levinson, a Manhattan widow who’s penned a poem on how the program rewards her personally. “The socialization, the interaction is wonderful.”

At this point, a major barrier to the development of online educational programs seems to be a lack of imagination about the potential of the Internet.  The Internet can already provide free telephone-like contact with a headset, and with the development of resources such as audiobooks, audio files, videos and video livestreams, it appears that online educational programs can be tailored to the needs of people with a variety of disabilities or other barriers that would otherwise prevent access to an education.

The DOROT program is an excellent beginning that shows the positive benefits from distance education.  However, from the standpoint of the already available technology, the DOROT program can do far more than offer telephone-based education.

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