Time Out Melbourne

Get your learnin’ on at these alternative education classes popping up all over town

Everyone has something to teach. And almost everyone wants to learn. That’s why there’s such a flurry of alternative education – or ‘altucation’ – informal organisations offering non-accredited classes all over town. Seems Melburnians are ready to fill their brains after a day of mind-numbing work.

Take Laneway Learning. In the past year year, they’ve hosted 158 classes from 70 teachers – all at $12 a pop. Their course offerings read like an encyclopaedia: beekeeping, chainmail jewellery, cryptology, grammar, map-reading, ukulele… It’s all thanks to the team, headed by Tom Ding, who curate the classes. Classes run at Little Mule in the city and Shebeen. Find out more about Laneway Learning classes.

Or try the courses thrown by the Melbourne Free University. Where else could you spend an evening learning about 19th-century life modelling in France, all for the low-low price of zero dollars? Founded in 2009, it mixes six-week courses with one-off lectures, held either at the Alderman or Some Velvet Morning. Both venues have beer, of course. Encompassing diverse topics – 'Melbourne: Music, Memory and Place’, or perhaps ‘Love and Sex in the 21st Century’ – each week sees a different expert presenting.

A friend of the Melbourne Free University, professor Dr Robert DiNapoli, launched The Melbourne Literature Seminars. They offer guided courses from A Brief History of the English Language to Shakespeare's Sonnets. Also keep your eye out for the up-and-coming Lunchtime Sessions.

The wildly popular School of Life has now found a permanent home, which is set to open in late March. The brainchild of philosopher Alain de Botton, it's like a big educational party, jam-packed with workshops, conversations, and ‘secular sermons’. Their classes sell out pretty darn quick, but they've just announced at five-day Autumn Intensive Course. You can also check out Art As Therapy at the NGV. This special collaboration between the the NGV and the TSOL allows visitors to go on a self-guided philosophical excursion through the NGV collection.

The creative curators behind Third Drawer Down have also just set up a second shop in Prahran, and this time there's a funky studio attached. They will be running workshops and classes where you'll learn how to cut, sculpt, draw, mould and craft your very own gifts.

Also keep your eyes out for Work-Shop. Chester Garcia and Matt Branagan started up the Sydney-based creative precinct, and now they are hunting for space in Melbourne. The 'crafty motherfuckers' host awesome classes including terrarium making, hand lettering, fire spinning, macrame, upcycling and stacks more.

All of this sounds like it’s easy to set up, but it’s one thing to say you’ll be offering classes – and quite another to find enthusiasts who want to run them. “The big unknown was how we would get teachers,” says Laneway’s Tom Ding. For the first few weeks, he and his friends taught all of the classes. (He has taught about infinity and spirographs. As you do.) But “it happened quite quickly,” he says, that momentum grew big enough. “Every week we get people offering to teach.” That’s why Laneway Learning – and their brethren in ‘altucation’ – are able to offer such diverse courses. And why all of Melbourne can now learn about origami or sexy mathematical equations.

What it’s like running a Laneway Learning class?

Time Out contributor Theresa Winters has led a class on hair braiding. She says, "After attending a night taught by someone else, I'd thought, 'Hey, it doesn’t look so hard! I bet I could teach one.' Since I’d already run a successful workshop at Confest, a festival in NSW, I knew what wisdom I wanted to impart to the masses. I shot off a message on the Laneway Learning website and was immediately contacted by Lucie Bradley, one of the founders. She guided me through creating the handout and Powerpoint, introduced me before the workshop, and followed up with a thank you. That’s how I ended up teaching two sold-out classes on braiding – and why I can’t wait to teach more."

Updated on 17 Sep 2014.

By Jordan Kretchmer and Theresa Winters   |  
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