Editor’s note: Sharon Watkins is a Coursera student who runs an Ohio-based Non-Profit “The Learning Cafe”. She’s empowering her local community by encouraging people to take courses together & improve their careers.
The Learning Cafe (TLC) is an evening hours community ‘learning environment’ housed
in our public high school located in a high poverty community. The purpose of our
program is to raise community engagement in education by providing fresh enrichment
and advancement learning opportunities.We do what many community schools do: offer
a dinner, transportation, access to social services and childcare along with a wide range
of classes. We want to entice reluctant learners back to school while we challenge our
seasoned students with new learning choices as well.
My husband brought MOOC’s and Coursera to my attention last fall. We host TED
Talk discussion groups at TLC and so I watched Daphne Koller’s talk on Coursera.
This seemed a perfect option to offer. It was free. It honored and enticed our people by
providing instruction from some of the best in our country. It offered not only knowledge
but the potential to lead to additional learning or employment pursuits.
We marketed the opportunity for 3 months by word of mouth, online newsletters and
general announcements throughout the community. I wanted to deliberately reach out to
adults who did not have a college background and to high school students. I personally
approached several folks and asked them to take the risk with me. We had 14 show up
to our informational meeting and ended up with 10 who enrolled in the business strategy class
they selected from University of Virginia. Their ages ranged from 16 to 70+ and all but two had no college degree.
I hired a facilitator to assist. Of the 10 who initially enrolled, nine completed the class,
8 took the exam and 6 passed the exam! Most of them are on low or fixed income – not
the typical successful MOOC student. But they are eager, enthusiastic learners and
their pride in doing this was inspiring! I was so excited to hear about what this meant to
Working as a cohort matters. Everyone talked about the importance of a peer group and
the facilitator in helping them complete the course. We provided access to a computer
lab several hours a week and worked hard to regularly encourage and follow up with
our students. They have greater confidence now as learners. I will never forget their
courage and joy when they finished and we celebrated together!
If you’re interested in taking a business course like The Learning Cafe group did, please click below!