Like many organizations, Carleton University’s Lifelong Learning Program (LLeaP) pivoted to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic by moving online. LLeaP is the new name for the 20-year-old Learning in Retirement program. In the early fall 2020 session, the program moved online.
“We have incredible feedback about the new online format, and its appeal beyond the pandemic,” says Daphne Uras, LLeaP coordinator. She said one participant told them that LLeaP “is one of the best things in my life. Honestly. And in these times of restrictions and limitations, (it) opens doors into worlds of learning that I would not be able to access otherwise.” Another said, “The technical team made the technology quite accessible. (The lecturer) and the team really made the most of the Zoom teaching experience. As one who has taught on Zoom, I know that it is not all that easy.”
The LLeaP team provides abundant support to each lecturer, including a moderator and a technical support person. This means lecturers can focus on their content and engaging with participants.
“Many participants who were initially unsure about the required technology and the online format have become regulars for our online offerings, and we have had many requests to keep up online lectures even after we’re able to run in-person events,” Uras says. “We may offer some only-online series in the future, for sure.”
Offering LLeaP online has tripled enrolment caps for most lecture series to 160 participants—though several have still had waiting lists. Plus, participants can attend from outside the Ottawa region.
And there are other exciting innovations. LLeaP is testing solutions to provide a “hybrid” learning experience, similar to what Carleton has set up for lectures this coming semester, that will allow for in-person lectures combined with sharing the classroom with a remote audience.
“Eventually, we hope to add some evening and weekend events that will make it more accessible to all adults,” Uras adds.
There’s another hotbed of innovation in the lecture series for poets and people writing memoirs. The memoir-writing series was modified into a hybrid lecture/workshop format, which allowed for larger registration. The workshop setup plus a blog were very successful, Uras says.
“Because of all the sharing and connection between participants, there were many memorable moments and a sense of community, which we felt was especially important during a time of such isolation. Something else that came out of that experience was the realization that participants wanted to keep meeting in small writing groups, so we helped to facilitate that at the end of the series, and there is at least one group that still meets.” Both writing lecture series are being offered again in early fall. Memoir-writing will also add voluntary Zoom breakout rooms. In addition, the series “will show people how to form and run their own effective and supportive writing groups.”
The rest of the early fall session is equally exciting. It features three of LLeaP’s most popular lecturers—Julian Armour (chamber music), Dr. Elliot Tepper (current news and world events), and Dr. Eric Weichel (art and the mythic environment) plus Andrew Robinson, the recipient of multiple science teaching awards (Physics around us), Sarah Cook (Standing on the shoulders of giants: A sampling of the humanities), and Keith McCuaig (Exploring the musical history of six American cities). In his most recent lectures, McCuaig had participants dancing in front of their computers!
The deadline for early fall registration is the day before each lecture series starts, but don’t delay—several of these may reach their enrolment caps well before then.
LLeaP is planning further innovation for the late fall or winter sessions: New software that will easily allow lecturers to share resources with participants, including copyrighted content from Carleton’s library.
What else is in store? Uras says they “are planning a series on World War I with an eminent researcher and presenter. Dr. Weichel will return with another series on some of the world’s major landscape traditions… in both the east and west. Unfortunately I can’t say more about the rest yet!” So stay tuned.
“One thing remains sure: this fall, our wonderful lecturers can bring you on guided travels that illuminate the past, and connect the past and the present,” says Uras.