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For Adults, Lifelong Learning Happens The Old Fashioned Way

Matt McEntee (left) works on fixing a small motor with Tim Ledlie at the Mt. Pleasant Library in Washington, D.C., on Sunday.

On any given weekend, the Washington, D.C., public library system offers nearly a dozen classes. You can try Matt McEntee's class, where he'll teach you how to fix anything from a clock to a broken heart. Maybe you're interested in creating a photo book, or you'd like to get better at Microsoft Word?

I decided to check out a small classroom tucked in the basement of my local branch early one morning. It's called Homebuying 101, and it's led by real estate agent Margeau Gilbert. Today, there are about 10 adults — ranging in age from their mid-20s to early 50s — finding their seats.

In the second row, Whenna Andrews, 28, already has her notebook out. She's a first lieutenant in the D.C. National Guard, and a number of her friends have already purchased homes.

"This is going to be my first time buying a home," she says, "so I'm really trying to educate myself on the process."

I ask Andrews why she came to a class at the library, instead of learning how to buy a home online. "I have a lot of questions," Andrews answers. "I feel like if I'm perusing by myself online I can get lost in the information."

Andrews' decision to learn in a physical classroom is still the preferred choice for adults, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.

Pew looked at nearly 3,000 people, ages 18 and older. Pew wanted to know how, and where, adults learn, after they leave their formal schooling.

"Learning is still very much a place-based thing," says Pew researcher John Horrigan. "The Internet plays a role, but it's secondary in most respects."

For the 74 percent of adults who identified as personal learners, only a third turned to the Internet for most or all of their learning.

I asked Horrigan: What should we make of this? He said the results highlight the need for "a reality check of where technology fits into our lives."

The study also found differences when it comes to education and income level. For those with a bachelor's degree, technology is helping. But for those with just a high school diploma, it's not playing as big a role.

The findings are partly a reflection of access. Those on the lower end of the educational and income scale often are less likely to have a home broadband connection or a smartphone. But even for those adults with access, the survey found that many weren't aware of online resources like massive open online courses (MOOCS) or learning tools like Kahn Academy.

Whenna Andrews knows about those things — she even found the homebuyers class on Facebook. But she prefers learning in person.

"I feel like the library seems more credible, if that makes sense," she says.

Her next endeavor: speaking in front of a crowd. And she's in luck — her local branch offers public speaking classes every third Saturday.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

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