Community Education: Break out of your rut on the cheap

January 23 | Guest post by Colleen
By: PeteCC BY 2.0

I love to try new things, but I don't usually want to spend much money on exploring new hobbies that I may or may not stick with for very long. My solution? Community education classes!

Community ed is a great way to learn new hobbies or practical skills. Depending on where you live, classes may be offered through your school district, city, local rec center, or place of worship. My local school district even offers online classes open to anyone.

Here are some reasons why I recommend trying community ed:

You can learn almost anything

I live in a large city, so there are hundreds of nearby options. Whether you're interested in languages, art, fitness, home repair, technology, cooking, or life skills, it's available. I've dabbled in everything from belly dance to Spanish, and plenty of stuff in between.

It's pretty cheap

Classes are usually priced quite affordably and offer access to equipment (whether it be woodworking tools or yoga mats). I've found that no one expects you to have the latest and greatest gear for whatever you're learning. Your dad's old camera or your thrift-store tap shoes are completely fine.

There's not much commitment

Most classes around here run eight weeks at the longest, and some meet just once. I can take them when I have time to fill and then just not register if I'm really busy during the next session. And if I find out I don't like whatever new pursuit I've tried, I haven't invested much time or money.

You'll connect to a great community of hobbyists

The instructors are often really eager to share local events and resources if you want to go deeper into the subject matter. My Appalachian Clogging teacher took us all out folk dancing and introduced us to everyone. My Outdoor Photography class connected us to a meet-up group full of other class "alumni" who plan photography outings. Classmates, too, are often friendly, eager to learn, and more diverse than you may meet in some other settings.

You can break out of a rut

Was your New Year's resolution to try something new? Or to gain a skill such as cooking, plumbing, or blogging? Are you just plain bored? Community ed classes offer a great way out of that. They're also a great way to bring some energy into your relationships. Learning something new with your partner, kids, or friends is fun and lets you see a different side of each other.

If you have other great resources for learning new skills on the cheap, please share!

  1. This is great! I was also really surprised at the resources I could find for free online. Learning new skills is a great way to keep your brain sharp.

    2 agree
    • Yes, the online possibilities are endless. I did my first Coursera class last year, and while the assignments weren't college-level, the lecture content was. It's a great way to keep your mind active without having to leave your house (especially nice when it's -20 degrees Fahrenheit like it is here today).

      3 agree
  2. One thing I love about Albuquerque is the variety of community and continuing education opportunities. One of my favorites is The Old School, which focuses on traditional and sustainable living skills:

    2 agree
    • Wow. I've lived in Albuquerque for 6 years and had no idea this existed. A class on canning for beginners? Sweet! Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention!!

      1 agrees
  3. I'd also recommend checking local libraries (ours has a chocolate tasting class tonight – so jealous!), university continuing education centers and even just seeing what your city offers. In my city the expense varies a lot. Jewellery classes (with access to all the tools) cost about $250 for 8 classes, plus materials. Classes at the local continuing education center are often pricier than other places, especially if you are younger, but this helps subsidize courses for people who are 55+. So it's worth hunting around to find the best course or the place you want to support too!

    5 agree
    • Yes to local libraries! I've seen beer clubs, hula-hooping, meditation, yoga, Zumba, foreign films, "Hunger Games" competitions, all sorts of activities!
      Local libraries are turning in to so much more than just places where books live. www.

      1 agrees
      • I'm jealous of your libraries! Ours don't host anything like that (though maybe it's because the school districts have such a robust community ed system).

  4. If you also have any interest in anything that is remotely "career-oriented" (like fashion or woodworking or foreign languages or computers or writing or…), the courses offered at community colleges are AH-MAZING! I took some sewing classes once and I was blown away at how many they offered and how extensive the coverage was, way better than anything any craft center or sewing machine shop could ever offer. They offered all the classes at night which was great for people like me who worked. Also there were many intangible benefits I wasn't expecting:

    1) I had access to many high-quality sewing machines in the "lab". (This profoundly influenced all future sewing machine purchases.)
    2) I was in a class that was predominately female which I had never experienced before.
    3) I was in a multi-generational class as well which again I had never experienced before.
    4) I was very relaxed about the outcome of the class ( for the first time in my life! ).

    2 agree
  5. A lot of cities have something called a "Brainery" where you can both take and teach (!) classes on just about anything. It's not free, but it's pretty reasonable.

    The art museum in my city has a whole bunch of art glasses for kids through adults taught by local artists.

    And for garden- related things there are the extension offices, which are affiliated with the agriculture programs at large universities.

  6. Oh my goodness, Appalachian Clogging sounds like so much fun! (Somehow I doubt I can find classes in rural Ontario though, haha.)

    • The folk-dance community is definitely very friendly to newcomers! If you can find any kind of square/contra/etc. event I'm sure they'd be happy to teach you even if it's not an official class.

  7. My husband and I just discovered this! It makes for a cool, relatively inexpensive, not-dinner-and-a-movie-date. We took an organic gardening class last week and we want to take Spanish one of these days.

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