Mini Lesson 9

Finding Learning Opportunities


  • Finding Classes in your Local Community
  • Finding non-class Learning Opportunities in your Community
  • Online Classes
  • non-class online Learning Opportunities



If a Learning Opportunity is "anytime you intentionally put yourself in a position to learn something." And if a Learning Opportunity could look like a class, an internship, reading a book, creating music, testing out a hypothesis, interviewing an expert, watching a documentary ... if it can be any of those kind of things. Well ... how do you find them? Where do you look to find all of these interesting Learning Opportunities?

That is the subject of this mini lesson.

In mini lesson 10 we will talking about creating your own Learning Opportunities from scratch.

In this mini lesson we will talking about plugging yourself in to Learning Opportunities that already exist.

We are going to try and focus on Learning Opportunities in which we have some kind of experience whether it be a teacher, student, friend. There are tons and tons of online classes, online schools, training programs, apps, etc out there. We haven't tried them all. There are probably some good ones out there. But we will focus, in this mini lesson, on things that we have seen work.

Traditional Classes in Your Local Community

You can start by exploring what is available at your local public high school. Rules vary. I can't speak for every state or every district but it is not uncommon for a student to be able to take a single class or participate in an activity or club at their local high school. Perhaps you want to be able to take a photography class or you want to do chemistry in a class and lab setting. Perhaps you want to try out for a play or choir. It might be possible to do that through your local high school without having to become a full-time student at the school. Again, the rules will vary. Some schools might have rules you have to follow. Some activities require you to be a full-time or part-time student. Sports and competitive activities like debate might have strict rules that are dictated at the state level. But it is worth a try.

The first step would be to talk to a counselor at your local high school and explore what options are available.

You might find that having the freedom to decide what parts of the public school experience you want to engage with is exactly the right strategy for your Learning Journey. There is nothing wrong with tapping into traditional schooling, if it makes sense for you.

We have had a number of students who have elected to use their local public school for individual classes (in person, online, and internships) and they have had very positive experiences.

You can also explore private school options and homeschool groups in your local area. They might not be as open to making individual classes and activities open to you but it might be worth a shot. Start with their admissions office and ask what options exist.

Continuing along the lines of traditional class providers, if you have a local community college, you can look into what classes are available for high school students. Typically community colleges have programs that allow high school students to take classes before they graduate high school. The rules will vary by area but it is worth exploring. In our area there are some rules you need to follow; the student needs to be at least 15, needs the permission of a parent and/or counselor, they are not eligible for financial aid, they can only take a certain level of classes, etc. Be prepared to do some research and figure out what is required for a current high school student to take one or more classes at the local community college.

We have had numerous student take classes at our local community college. By and large, they have had very positive experiences. It gave them a taste of a college level class. They took the class alongside a range of students (community colleges often have many "non traditional" students who might be older with a range of life experiences). It is not unusual for a community college class to be taught by a working adult who brings a lot of lived experience into their teaching.

Taking a college level class at a community college is also a good way of demonstrating to yourself and to any college you might apply to that you are capable of succeeding academically in a college classroom and campus.

Because Community Colleges want to serve non-traditional students, working students, commuting students, and older students they often offer classes in the evenings, on weekends, in compressed formats, and online. You can explore any of those options if they make sense you for and your family. Because of this focus on non-traditional students, you will probably fit in just fine as a younger student. I have had students as young as 15 take in person classes at a community college and so far no one has experienced any issues because they were younger. Typically other students do not even notice that you might be younger than them.

If you have a college or university in your area, you can explore whether they have opportunities for high school students to take classes. Traditional colleges and universities might not be as open to high school students as community colleges but it is worth exploring. We have had students who took classes with a local public university while in high school and then eventually attended that university after graduation. So it is possible. You can start by searching the college's website or contacting the admission's office. The experience of taking an on campus class at a university alongside other college students can be very valuable. In addition to the content of the class, you can gain confidence in yourself, get a taste of what an on campus class experience is like, and complete a Learning Opportunity that will demonstrate that you can success academically and socially in a campus classroom.

Traditional Online Classes through a Public School, Community College, or University

In addition to in person classes, many public schools, community colleges, or universities make online classes available for high school students. If you are in a community that does not have easy access to a community college or university, this might be an option to explore. It also could be an option if your local schools do not offer a class that you would like to try out but you can only find it outside your area in an online format.

We have had a few students who had pursued this option because they were interested in a trying out a class but it wasn't available locally. We had a student who wanted to try a Linguistics class but none were offered locally. He ended up enrolling in an online class through the University of Massachusetts (1300 miles away).

Many states have online public school programs for students in their state. You will need to explore what the opportunities are for taking individual classes without being enrolled as a full-time student. At we have had students who sign up for individual online classes through our local school district as part of their Learning Journey. They get to decide what classes they want to take without giving up control of their full Learning Journey. You could start by contacting a counselor in your local school district or searching the internet for online high school options in your state. Just read carefully, there are many private online schools that make it seem as if they are part of the public school system.

Both in person and online classes are more or less traditional in their approach to learning. They are teacher-led. They happen over the course of a semester. They are graded. You are just taking the class in an ala carte manner rather than as a full-time traditional student.

There are some good reasons to take some traditionally taught classes whether in person, online, at a public high school, or at a college.

One, it gives you experience in a traditionally structured class. If you are planning to head off to college eventually, the odds are good that the college you go to will offer most courses in a traditional format. Taking a few traditionally taught courses during your Learning Journey will give you experience and confidence learning in this manner.

Two, when you apply to college and they see the non-traditional path you took on your Learning Journey, they might wonder if you can succeed in a more traditional environment. Taking a class or two can help answer that question.

Three, you will have an opportunity to work with teachers and students that you might not otherwise interact with. You might find another person who shares your interests or passions. You might find a teacher that you enjoy learning from or students you enjoy learning with.

Four, in your Learning Journey you have the opportunity to explore topics in a manner that works for you. That is a great advantage and a great way to learn. But academics don't always explore topics in such an open manner. It might be helpful to you to understand how traditional academics approach a topic, even if you find their approach too limiting. There is a value in understanding their perspective.

Learning in your Community Beyond Traditional Classes

There are a lot of opportunties in your local community that might not look like a traditional class but can be good Learning Opportunities for you. A lot of communities have what are called "community education classes" or "enrichment classes" through libraries, community colleges, museums, historical societies, etc. These are kind of structured like a traditional class, they often meet in a classroom, lab, or workshop. They are often teacher-led. They meet regularly over a fixed period of time. But they aren't typically graded and they don't typically give you "official" credit for completing them. They are meant for people who just want to take a class for their own enjoyment. The students in these classes often have a bigger range of ages and a bigger range of reasons they are taking the class. You can search the internet for community enrichment classes in your area and see what is available. You can examine the websites for any local museums, libraries, community colleges, even public schools and see if they list classes aimed at the community.

In a similar manner to enrichment classes, libraries and museums and the like, often have community events and workshops. These are typically shorter in duration, perhaps a single day event or a couple of weeks in a workshop. They might revolve around a guest speaker or an annual event. Just because these events are shorter doesn't mean they aren't valuable. Remember a Learning Opportunity doesn't have to be any particular length. It might serve as a good introduction to something you want to explore deeper. It might be a chance to meet other people interesting in something that you are interested in. It might be a chance to learn about something that you know nothing about but you are willing to be open minded. These type of events and programs happen all of the time but sometimes require you to do a bit of research to know they are out there. You can search your local newspaper or library. You can look for postings on bulletin boards at coffee shops. My guess is that every week there are these types of events happen all around you. You just have to be open to noticing them.

There are often community groups that you could tap into. Community theatre, community choir, music, sports that you could participate in. There are community groups that meet regularly around a particular topic like reading clubs, gardening clubs, mystery writers, model airplane enthusiasts, astronomy clubs, historical societies, and many more. These, of course, will vary by your community but it might make sense for you to join a community group as part of your Learning Journey. It will allow you to plug into your local community and meet other people who share a common interest. Social learning is a very powerful way to learn. You benefit from the lived experience of those around you and you learn in a way that isn't competitive or stressful but is instead collaborative and cooperative.

Most communities have places for learning that aren't structured at all like a classroom. Museums, zoos, libraries, parks, monuments, markers, trails are all places that are meant for learning but in a less structured and linear way. They are open ended. You can engage with them in your own pace and manner. But they are there for you to learn.

Many places like museums and zoos change during the year with new exhibits, guest speakers, workshops and classes. Keep you eye on them, even if you visited once, you can always go back for more. You could also look at taking day trips to other communities and exploring the places they have available.

The existence of these places as "forms of learning" are a good example for your Learning Journey. The statement "Not all learning happens in classrooms" isn't that controversial, there are places all over your community that "teach" in all different kinds of ways. So when you are thinking about your Learning Journey and Learning Opportunities remember and be inspired by the fact that the world is full of things that don't look classrooms but are in the business of "learning."

Even places that aren't explicitly about "learning" like parks and trails and nature can be part of your Learning Journey. Whether you are getting exercise, practicing mindfulness, experiencing awe, finding a quiet place to read, or breathing fresh air. The world outside is something that is worth including in your Learning Journey.

Learning Online without "Classes"

You can take online classes that operate roughly like an in person class. I talk about that up above. But there are other ways of learning online that don't look as much like a traditional class.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. They are typically free. Typically have thousands of students in them. Typically are self-paced. They often cover college-level material and can be repurposed college courses. But they cover a wide range of topics. The material can be equivalent to the material in an undergraduate course but they aren't usually graded. They are designed so that as many people around the world have access to the class material as possible. Look at the resource section of the Field Guide and I will include links out to MOOCs. The advantage is that you have access to some of the world's best content. The disadvantage is that it is up to you to engage with the material and motivate yourself to finish. As a self-directed learner, MOOCs are a wonderful resource. But the vast majority of students who signup to take a MOOC never finish the material.

There are commercial providers of training classes that are typically aimed at developing specific skills. While they are structured much like a class, they are not academically focused by aimed specifically at developing skills. Many are aimed at technical skills like programming, graphic design, productivity applications, databases, etc. There are also classes aimed at art skills, music skills, crafts, etc. You will find them from providers like or It is not unusual for your local library system to license with one of the providers and having a library card gives you access to these classes.

There are apps and websites that you can visit, download, or purchase that can be a good Learning Opportunity. Practice a language using something like Duolingo. Learn music or music theory. Learn to type. Learn to program. Learn via gaming. Apps aren't oriented like a class. They are more hands on, less teacher-led. They are a good option to include in your Learning Journey.

There are also lots of less formal ways to learn online. Youtube is full of lectures, presentations, documentaries, and other educational material. Some of it comes from formal institutions and some of it from amateurs who want to share their passion. There are reading lists, discussion groups, encyclopedias, and every manner of content you can imagine. It might not be structured in such a way that it feels like a class but it doesn't mean it can't be a part of your Learning Journey. You have the freedom to engage with material online and pull it together in a manner that works for you.

In the next mini lesson we will talk about how to create your own Learning Opportunity from scratch. That might include combining some of the ideas from this mini lesson with some ideas from the next to craft a Learning Journey that works for you.

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