Skip To Content
Seats in a lecture hall at Carleton University. Photo: Andrew Power (Apt613 Flickr Pool).

Carleton University and the University of Ottawa offer free and cheap courses to the public

By Barbara Popel on January 22, 2018


In June 2015, I wrote an article for Apt613 titled How to learn for cheap (or free!) in Ottawa. A lot has happened at Ottawa’s two big universities since then, so I’ve decided to update it.

I’ll start with the bad news first. The University of Ottawa’s personal enrichment program was terminated in September 2017. As the attendance numbers were fairly small, I’m not too surprised the university took this step.

However, all the other programs I wrote about in 2015 are still thriving.

Walkways connecting Colonel By Hall and the SITE building on the uOttawa campus. Photo: Stephen Smith (Apt613 Flickr Pool).

The University of Ottawa’s Mini Medical School is still very popular. The spring “Basics to Breakthroughs” session – which covers cool topics like cochlear implants, joint replacement surgery, and cognitive behavioural therapy’s role in treating depression – is open for registration. The fees are still $140–180, which is quite reasonable for six two-hour lectures by experts in their fields.

And this is new: there’s a Doc for a Day event. It sounds really exciting! How would you like to “experience firsthand the thrill of practicing medicine”? Highlights include stitching minor wounds, delivering a (simulated) baby, and resuscitating a victim of a gunshot wound. Don’t worry – you won’t be sued for malpractice! Doc for a Day happens at the University of Ottawa’s Skills and Simulation Centre, where doctors and nurses practice these skills on mannequins. Your $175 fee includes a free scrub top, which you can then wear to your next party to impress all your friends.

Dunton Tower at Carleton University. Photo: Robert Fairchild (Apt613 Flickr Pool).

Carleton University’s adult enrichment programs are even more vibrant than they were when I first wrote about them in 2015.

Carleton’s Learning in Retirement (LinR) program has expanded to include individual evening lectures this May, and in 2016, a new 4-week June session was piloted. It was scheduled again, as a pilot, for 2017 and 2018. Most lecturers tended to be retired Carleton profs. Now a number of current Carleton faculty are also giving LinR courses.

Adrian Cho playing the double bass.

There also seem to be more lecturers from outside of academe. For example, I’m currently taking a wonderful course on the history of jazz from Adrian Cho, the artistic director of the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra. He’s never been a Carleton prof, but he’s a terrific teacher.

The cost of a six-week lecture series has gone up a bit, to $135. A four-week lecture series usually costs $100, and an individual evening lecture is $30. The six-week writing workshops and language workshops cost $195 and $250, respectively. (All prices include HST.)

Don’t be put off by the name of the program – it is not just for folks who are retired! The evening lectures make it easy for folks with day jobs to enjoy a little high-quality learning. And if your work schedule is flexible, you might even be able to attend the daytime lectures.

As was true in 2015, the range of LinR topics is both broad and deep. I’ve already mentioned the “History of Jazz” course. Want more music? How about “Actively Listening to Music” or “Introduction to Hip Hop Culture”? Something more serious? There’s “Israel/Palestine: Can It Ever Be Solved?” or “Global Human Rights Challenges and Solutions”. History buff? Perhaps “From Village to Empire: A Brief History of the Roman Empire” or “Lessons from the Cold War”. Keen on art? Then “Famous Artists of the Italian Renaissance” or “Ballet Laughs: The Surprising Comic Side of a Classical Art”. A science nerd? How about “Great Ideas of Biology” or “Big Impact of Small Science: Nanotechnology and Bionanotechnology”? Etc. etc. etc.

With all these neat topics and the high quality of the lecturers, it’s no wonder most classes fill up within a few days of registration. Registration for the next three sessions (early spring, late spring and May evenings) begins on January 30 at  9am. To avoid disappointment, I’ve found it best to register online as soon as registration opens. But even if you’re put on a waiting list, you might still get into the class if someone drops out beforehand.

What about free learning opportunities? There are more at Carleton now than there were in 2015. Here are some of them:

There are more Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) at Carleton. In 2015, I wrote about two introductory psychology MOOCs available at eCarleton. Now, there are courses in departments such as Biology, Mathematics and Statistics, Information Technology, Journalism, and the School of Business. Most have registration requirements, so you’d have to contact the department to find out if you can register.

Interior of the OPL Sunnyside Branch. Photo:

Carleton University certainly seems interested in community outreach. For example:

Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design hosts the Ingenious Talks. No registration is necessary. The one-hour evening lectures are at the Sunnyside Public Library. They happen most months in the fall, winter and spring. You can sign up for email notifications at their website. Some quite interesting topics: “The internet of things” and “Security and privacy in a connected world”. There are even free coffee and snacks, and a draw for a door prize!

Carleton’s Faculty of Science holds a Science Cafe twice a month in the fall and winter months at the Sunnyside Public Library. You needn’t pre-register – just show up and be prepared for some fascinating topics. Topics include “Can biodiversity loss make us sick?” and “Drone hacking”. Bring your questions – each session is a 20-minute lecture followed by a 40-minute Q&A.

So many learning opportunities, so little time!