Two lecturers from Take Toronto's Trampoline Hall Lecture Series standing at mics before red net

Photography By Laura Dittman / Courtesy of Trampoline Hall

Back to school for busy grownups: How to be a lifelong learner

Yes, you can stay sharp, smart and engaged in your community as a full grown adult in the city. Here’s how

Few would argue that the pursuit of life-long learning isn’t valuable. While some folks continue to amass skills and knowledge long after they’ve graduated from school, others, despite really wanting to learn about their city’s architecture, or how to speak Spanish, or how our parliamentary system works, are very tired because our toddlers woke us up at 5 a.m., demanding Paw Patrol.

Luckily, the GTA abounds with life-long learning opportunities in the form of salons and speaker’s series—low-commitment, one-off ways to get an education on a particular topic. Moreover, these events require that one leaves the house, so there’s the added benefit of connecting with community. Take Toronto’s acclaimed Trampoline Hall Lecture Series. Conceived of by writer Sheila Heti and launched in 2001, this monthly series features three lecturers at each event.

When asked about the kind of topics she’s attracted to, curator Yuula Benivolski says she’s drawn to “super emo” topics. “The things that crushed someone’s life and are hard to talk about, or that people often don’t talk about in public,” she says. “I like it when the lecture is a bit uncomfortable, but in the end everyone can relate because life can be humiliating and hard, and we’re all living it.”

Lecturer from Take Toronto's Trampoline Hall Lecture Series standing at mic

Unsurprisingly, subject matter is diverse. Past themes have included everything from “Communal living during the English Revolution,” to a sermon on the word “like,” to a meditation on friendship. What makes Trampoline Hall unique is that the speechmakers are never experts on the topic they present. Why? Benivolski says it allows for a wider array of topics and encourages speakers to tell others about this weird idea they’ve been obsessed with all their lives. “It normalizes the parts of one’s character that have been defined as ‘eccentricities’ in our society, which is important if you want to have a diverse community,” she says. “It lets people talk about stuff they’ve been told is unimportant or irrelevant, which I think is very sweet.” So, if the people at the podium aren’t experts, is it still a learning experience? “It is. Ultimately you get exposed to new points of view,” Benivolski says.

Here are four other ways you can get exposed to different points of view—and maybe even learn something new while you’re at it.

TED x University of Toronto

This is a licensed, independently organized TED event (the ones who bring you those viral online lectures), organized exclusively by current University of Toronto students. There’s a yearly conference that draws about 800 people, but there are also three ticketed TEDxUofT salons during the school year between September and April (tickets usually run about $20). The salons introduce a broad theme, like real-world applications of mathematics (surely a boon for anyone who’s dealing with a kid’s reluctance to do math homework), or AI and creativity; while the talks get more specific: think the mathematics of tipping points, or the potential of machine learning for the detection of multiple sclerosis.

Talk Boutique

This communication agency represents speakers and provides coaching services for those who would like to learn how to do it better. Perhaps partly as a way to show off their roster, the agency hosts three salons a year on topical issues like “The Future of Work” or “Digital vs. Traditional Community.” One recent question posed was, “Do we need to focus less on the invention of new technology and more on the creation of provocative questions?” Talk Boutique invited a medical device inventor and a neuroscience behaviourist to address the issue. Salons are free and well attended, with as many as 200 guests per event.

The Toronto Public Library

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but the Toronto Public Library is amazing. Not only can you check out library materials on your digital devices using Overdrive (and its companion app Libby, which has a much better interface), There’s also Kanopy, a free video-streaming service with a vast selection of indies, classic films and documentaries. And if you’re willing to put pants on and go out into the public realm, you can take advantage of a huge selection of author talks and lectures that take place all around the city throughout the year. Go for a comic book workshop with Eric Kim, a talk about Shakespeare’s use of astrological symbolism, or join in on one of over 100 book clubs. And there are, quite literally, hundreds of other options.

University of Toronto Lecture Series

If you’re not hoping to hone a particular skill and would simply like to hear smart people discuss interesting things, the University Lecture Series is the way to go. Featuring a handful of thinkers and experts on any number of topics, this is a weekly 10-class series with talks on subjects as varied as painting, personal wellness, World War II, luck and Canadian politics. Moreover, the lectures are offered at several U of T locations, including Markham, Oakville, and the downtown St. George campus.

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