Back to School: The Most Intriguing Online Courses for the Lifelong Learner

Back to School

From learning a new language to writing your first novel, there are plenty of online courses that are perfect for the lifelong student. Photo: RgStudio/Getty Images

No matter what age you are, the end of summer signals new school supplies.

Who can resist fresh, sealed packages of lined paper; pencils with needle-like points at one end and immaculate erasers at the other; pristine spiral-bound notebooks.

Or those ubiquitous pastel cover Hilroy notebooks with the silhouette of Canada on the front and three holes punched along the side. It doesn’t even matter that laptops and tablets are replacing them. The undiminished allure of school supplies is the tingle of anticipation, the promise of a new beginning, new friendships, new adventures.

Take Martin Jones, 73, for example. He’s looking forward to another term of workshops this fall at the Academy of Lifelong Learning in Toronto. Members meet every two weeks to explore and discuss topics ranging from “Cities of the Future” to “Contemporary Film.” Some members serve as facilitators for the workshops and every participant is expected to research some aspect of the topic and deliver a presentation. Other workshops meet weekly to discuss that week’s issue of the Economist magazine. In non-pandemic times, there are social events, lunches, organized walks and pub visits.

Jones, who has been a member since 2016, enjoys workshops in history, philosophy and literature. “There’s a lot of reading to do, but it’s rewarding and invigorating,” he says. What appeals to him about the Academy is that there’s no teacher or lecturer.

“I’d never go to classes for older-aged people where you have to sit still and have someone talk at me,” he says. “If you’re a person who really enjoys learning and being engaged with ideas and subject matter and enjoys the company of other people — and you’re willing to prepare for workshops and to deliver opinions — then you might be interested in the Academy.”

Jones will also be co-facilitator for a workshop on the History of Ideas: 1800-Today. The fall term is online via Zoom and begins Sept. 13. Cost of membership is $180 for fall through spring with fee reductions for facilitators. Ready to get back to school? Here are a few other ideas for lifelong learning.

1. This workshop couldn’t be more topical. As well, there are several more classes where you can put new school supplies — or even well-used electronics — to good use: Democracy – Past, Present and Future, at the Academy for Lifelong Learning in Toronto. Zoom workshops held every other Monday, Sept. 13 to Nov. 26, facilitated by Priscilla Platt and Brian Gaston.

2. Indigenous Canada, offered by the University of Alberta online, is one of Coursera’s most popular classes. Coursera offers dozens of free courses online from many of the world’s top educational institutions, including Yale and Stanford. You can begin the series of videos at any time.

Coursera’s competitor is Edx, another consortium of top universities, including Harvard and MIT, that offers more than 3,500 free, self-paced online courses ranging from Beginning Italian (Wellesley College) to Write Your First Novel (Michigan State University).

3. Oneline Estate Planning is one of hundreds of classes, mostly but not entirely online this fall, offered by the Learn4Life program of the Toronto District School Board. It’s designed to “help you consider the unique challenges that adults 50+ face as they consider estate planning.” Learn all about probate, creating a will, and estate taxes. Saturdays, 9 a.m.- 11 a.m. Sept. 11, 2021 for 11 weeks. Mondays, 6 p.m.- 8 p.m. Sept. 13, for 11 weeks. Cost including GST is $180 ($108 for seniors 65 and over).

For something less, uh, taxing, and more tasty, consider the TDSB Online Mediterranean Cooking class, offered on different days beginning the week of Sept. 13 for 11 weeks. Cost is $300 ($192 for age 65 and over) plus a fee of $30 for cost of materials used by the instructor.

4. Take a three-day trip around Newfoundland and Labrador, virtually, that is. Road Scholar, which organizes educational travel expeditions for adults, has adapted to pandemic times by organizing live journeys online. The Best of Newfoundland & Labrador excursion runs from Aug 23 to Aug. 25 and includes six expert-led lectures, three expert-led field trips and an experienced Group Leader. Cost is $442.

5. Just for fun (and insight into what fascinates us and why) there’s The Celebrity Culture, an online workshop offered by the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning, a part of McGill University’s School of Continuing Studies. The study group will “examine critically the concept of modern celebrity: why some talented (and even some untalented) individuals are celebrities and others are not. Short presentations will be invited by celebrity actors and directors (both stage and film), musicians and musical groups, artists, writers, politicians, scientists, criminals, religious preachers, and even ‘people who are famous for being famous.’” All registering for this study group will be expected to give at least two very short talks on some aspect of the topic. There is a MCLL membership fee of $110 per term, which entitles you to McGill library privileges and access to two 10-week study groups or one 10-week and two 5-week study groups.

As well, most Canadian universities offer special programs and reduced costs for seniors. McMaster University in Hamilton, for example, waives tuition and incidental fees. Their website states that “if you are 65 years of age or over, subject to meeting admissions and prerequisite requirements, you may enrol in courses for credit without payment of tuition and supplementary fees. The required full-time application fee must be paid and must accompany the application …” If you are interested in taking university courses at McMaster, but not for credit, you can register as a listener. A listener attends all classes but does not complete assignments or tests — no grade is assigned or credit earned.

Have you got a skill or service or class — anything from astronomy to zumba — that you’d like to teach or offer for hire? Looking to buy or sell? Browse the Zone Classifieds, coming this fall.