New York City Learning Groups

New York City is a major hub for those experimenting with what I would call community-based education: a loose field of alternative, informal, locally-based adult education groups and spaces that are often not tied to formal accreditation but instead interested in lifelong, public, general interest, citizenship and peer learning. For now, I’ll call those involved in this field as being part of a “learning group”.

Last summer, I wrote about visiting a couple of these New York City learning groups Trade School and the Brooklyn Brainery. Both groups mentioned that they had been part of an event called Experiments in Extra-institutional Education hosted at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center. The event brought together organizers from 14 learning groups mostly based in New York City.

Part of the event was recorded and many written interviews were posted on the Social Text Journal.

So, Which New York City Learning Groups attended?

Could any of these learning groups be replicated in your community?

Considering I am deeply emerged in the community education field, I was very excited to only recognize a handful of these groups and am eager to read more about what they do.

With the knowledge that such an event was possible, I was inspired to create a similar type of meet-up  with with learning groups based in Toronto. I hosted the first “New Education Dinner” with 20 awesome education folks a few weeks ago and plan to write about the experience in the weeks to come.



I was against smart phones for sometime. I still consider them a huge distraction, however I will have to admit some defeat by a new app called Vine. It allows you to make 6 second videos that loop. Sort of like animated gifs but using your smart phone to make videos.

I had a good time in New York trying my first few out. Here’s a couple of my first attempts below. Click on the images to make them start and stop, while clicking the top left corner can also turn sound on and off.

There are some fascinating things you can do with Vine. I hope I can share my perspective and experiences using this app and no doubt will have some fun along the way. Here’s a couple favourites I’ve seen from other people’s vines:


Are you a Vine user? Find me at @Nicokoenig

New York City Learning Spaces


On my last day in New York, I had the chance to meet up with a few community education centres that are blazing the trail for the rest of us. First was Aimee, one of the organizers of Trade School New York, which inspired Trade School Toronto as well as more than 50 other “Barter for Knowledge” schools across the globe. They are trying to organize the first Trade School conference, bringing in organizers from different Trade Schools to meet up. As she had been so focused on Trade School New York, sharing stories about the successes and challenges of Trade Schools in different parts of the world made it much more real for the both of us.

Afterwards I jumped on the subway to Brooklyn to meet Soma and Jen, the owners of space and business called Brooklyn Brainery. Over the past few years they have created a physical storefront for general interest classes that anyone can teach that focuses on the “quirky” and interesting courses. I was fascinated by their approach, as many learning spaces often have a focus on job and development training or particular philosophical/ political belief. Instead, they are really connected to creating a learning space that focuses on the social and fun aspect of learning.

brainery store

In both conversations, we spoke about the development of their organizations, finding space and their business models. It was great to hear their stories of starting off and the interesting issues they are running into (why are there so many women in these types of classes and few men?).

One interesting note was that both groups were recently involved in a kind of “alternative community learning” networking meeting which invited similar organizations like the Brainery and Trade School to meet and chat. This could easily happen here in Toronto as I am in touch with a number of organizations like Hack Lab and Toronto Free scool. If so, what would be the purpose? Would there be a larger goal in mind or just a fun networking event?