Adult Learning Initiatives

I am passionate about creating unique learning experiences which create value, build community, and are often aimed at supporting adults and those outside of traditional education settings.

Here are some of my favourite adult learning initiatives that I’ve led with so many fantastic collaborators and mentors, along with additional background information, results, photos, media coverage, and notes.

Learning circles

Learning circles are free study groups for people who want to take online classes together and in-person.

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Working with Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) between 2017-2020, I introduced learning circles programs to public libraries through designing and facilitating in-person and online training workshops to public library systems across the world, notably in USA, Canada, Germany, and Kenya.

Media coverage:

Select partners:

  • Akron-Summit County Public Library
  • Boston Public Library
  • Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
  • Charlotte Mecklenburg Library
  • Chicago Public Library
  • Kampala Public Library (Uganda)
  • Kansas City Public Library
  • Kenya National Library Service
  • Los Angeles Public Library
  • Toronto Public Library
  • Saint Paul Public Library
  • Spokane County Library District
  • StadtBibliothek Köln (DE)
  • Wichita Public Library
  • Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin (DE)
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With help from Boston Public Library, I worked with P2PU to host a three-day training and meet-up event for learning circle practitioners representing 20 public library systems.
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Learning circles have spread to cities in Germany. Here I am running learning circle facilitator training for library staff from the Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin team in Berlin, Germany.
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I worked with Electronic Information for Libraries and the Kenya National Library Service to train library staff in Kampala, Uganda to implement learning circles. You can read more about this initiative here.

Blog posts:

Jane’s Walks

Jane’s Walks are free, locally organized walking tours, in which people get together to explore, talk about and celebrate their neighbourhoods.

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As Program Manager for Jane’s Walks between 2013-2015, I designed and facilitated a train-the-trainer program for volunteer neighbourhood organizers.

Throughout my work, I initiated and coordinated partnerships and training workshops with community-based agencies with Action For Neighbourhood Change offices, Toronto Public Libraries, Toronto Community Housing Corporation, Community Health Centres, the City of Toronto, Community Development Halton, and the Greenbelt Foundation.

Media coverage:

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Jane’s Walk Neighbourhood Choreographers graduation event in Toronto.

Blog posts:

Skillshops

Skillshops are learning events where local businesses offer free lessons inside their stores.

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Working with Business Improvement Associations in Toronto, I created two distinct full day events featuring free micro-lessons hosted by various local businesses.

Media coverage:

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Skillshop about the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony hosted at a Ethiopian Restaurant.

Inspiration: While organizing Trade School Toronto, it was difficult to find class space that was storefront, accessible and near transit for free or barter. Fortunately our organizers managed to work with cafes, art galleries, and universities.

Around the winter of 2013, I started thinking about my neighbourhood in Toronto called Bloorcourt, where my local deli butcher knew so much about meat and the florist told me everything there was to know about flower arrangement. How could that knowledge be shared? In my local area too, there seemed like there were plenty of unused spaces when the businesses were closed at night or on weekends. Could this space be better used?

I sent a quick message to my local BIA (Business Improvement Area) about the idea of hosting Trade School in businesses. A couple months later in March, the BIA coordinator asked to meet. They explained that their summer festival was going to be cancelled because of on-going construction and wondered if this “street learning fair” that was I was talking about could be an alternative for them.

I went forward with the idea from here because I wanted to offer a quick alternative to the summer street festival. I love the local, unique shops of my neighbourhood and I wanted to create way to support them all.

It also had the potential to be an experiment that would prove a couple ideas that kept me up at night:

  1. Given the right opportunity, everyone can be teacher and everyone can learn anything from anyone at anytime
  2. The social exchange of learning builds relationships and increases social capital between those involved in the exchange. Lessons in this way have the potential to increase the long-term profits of local business because of the increase in social capital between customers and business owners as well as the marketing of the business classes to those within and outside of the neighbourhood.
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Deboning a chicken 101 at a local butcher.
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Beer tasting skillshop at a local pub.

Trade School Toronto

Trade Schools are alternative learning projects that run on a barter system. Students pay for classes with a barter items (like food, supplies or help) that the teacher requests.

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Results:

  • 75 classes coordinated and paid for exclusively by barter
  • +600 Students have registered for classes
  • Support in the creation of Trade School Vancouver and Trade School Ottawa
  • Collaborations with University of Toronto, Ontario College of Art and Design University, Toronto Design Offsite Festival

Media coverage:

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Inspiration:
In 2005, I studied at the University of Otago in Dunedin New Zealand. At the campus recreation centre, I was amazed by all the courses that were available (wine tasting, thai cooking), who was teaching them (local experts, some non-professionals), and how cheap the courses were ($15 at the time). I realised that I had knowledge to share too and soon created my own break dancing lessons.

During my graduate degree in Adult Education and Community Development, I studied Folk High Schools and also learned about other alternative schools and retreat centres such as Tatamagouche Free School, Fall River Centre, and the Highlander Research and Education Center. I was fascinated about any schools that shared knowledge with peers and focused on building community through learning.

In July of 2012, I heard about Trade School (http://tradeschool.coop) that started in New York City, and I figured there was thirst for something like this in Toronto, Canada.

My interest in creative learning spaces paired well with the passion for promoting alternative economies from friend and fellow community organizer Elizabeth Frasier and That’s Women’s Work Art Collective. Together, we organized the first Trade School in Canada in September of 2012. Since then Trade School has emerged in Vancouver and Ottawa and 50 other cities across the world.

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