by LIZA MITCHELL
There is a world of difference between going to school because you have to and going because you actually want to be there. Whether you want to learn to paint, brush up on dusty computer skills or learn some new ones, speak a foreign language, take awesome photographs or identify the subtle notes and flavors in a bottle of wine, LEARN Jacksonville offers a class for every interest.
Valerie Murphy, associate director of LEARN Jacksonville at the University of North Florida Division of Continuing Education, recognized the gap in the market when she was first approached about fostering a personal enrichment program. The goal was to target students who were not seeking a credited course load but those just looking to do something new, just for the fun of it.
“It runs the gamut,” says Murphy of the students who enroll in LEARN Jacksonville. “The average age is 35 to 45 but there are also 7-year-olds who take a gardening class with mom.” Self-defense training is also a popular class for parents and children to attend together. It helps ensure that everyone, regardless of age, is able to protect themselves in dangerous situations.
Each semester, LEARN Jacksonville offers a diverse selection of classes, taught by a team of professional instructors in the respective fields of study. Classes meet in the evenings and on weekends and can be as few as one meeting. It was a slow start figuring out what worked and what didn’t, but under Murphy’s leadership, LEARN Jacksonville quickly gained momentum. Since 2008, the number of classes has grown from 20 classes in the first semester to its current roster of 70 available classes. The classes are offered in the evenings and on Saturdays to make it more convenient for people to do something just for them.
“I don’t really think we have to convince people to take our classes, because they are so unique. It’s not the typical “sit in the classroom” kind of classes that most people think of when most people think of taking classes at a university,” she says. “We call it learning for the fun of it. That is really what the focus of LEARN Jacksonville is all about.”
There is a professional aspect to some of the classes, such as computers, that allow students to learn the latest programs and trends in technology. For students who are planning to re-enter the workforce, the classes give them the flexibility to attend courses on their own time and at their own pace.
Some of the courses, like Photography, Spanish and French, offer beginning, advanced and intermediate levels. Murphy said the department will also add off-site classes like the Photo Safari class starting December 7 at the Jacksonville Zoo. Students will learn various methods for photographing the zoo’s animal family. Kayaking is another course that offers off-site instruction. Students complete the first week in the classroom before putting their newfound skills to the test at a local boat ramp.
Murphy says she monitors the enrollment numbers to track which classes have the highest attendance and those that may not be making the grade. Since the school relies on mailers and word of mouth to encourage new enrollees, keeping tabs on the enrollment is critical to the program’s success.
She admits that she is often amazed when a program unexpectedly takes off. “Belly dancing was a big surprise,” she says of the Friday night hip-shaker. Sometimes, it’s the student who is surprised when they realize they can actually take a class in Texas Hold ‘Em, a four-week course that teaches a combination of how to play the game, approaching different scenarios and learning tricks of the trade.
“It doesn’t matter what your educational background is,” Murphy says. “Anybody can take these courses. We just want people to come and have fun.” For information, contact the LEARN Jacksonville Customer Care Team members Debbie or Brittany at 620-4200 or visit [email protected] for a full schedule.
Learn for the Fun of It
by LIZA MITCHELL