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A new way to learn

Name

Tom Ding

Idea

To teach a range of informal classes to participants keen to expand their skill set.

Laneway Learning fills a gap in our education system for cheap, fun classes in anything and everything. Want to learn about 3D printing one night? How about the art of meditation for a mere $12? Or screen printing, in the cosy comfort of a group of people who also have no idea what they’re doing? Want to find out how to start a unique school in a Melbourne Laneway? Read Ahead!

Laneway Learning is a great concept and unique for Melbourne. How did you come up with the idea?

I used to live in New York where I came across something called the Brooklyn Brainery. It plays a very similar role there to what we do here, and I pretty much fell for the concept. I even think we borrowed their line - 'cheap, fun classes in anything and everything.' The twist we added is that we run our classes in existing cafes and bars on weekday evenings when they are otherwise empty. Funnily enough, I ended up pitching that concept to one of the guys who runs The Little Mule Cafe over a couple of glasses of wine and a polo match. I didn't go there with a plan and I don't make a habit of going to the Polo, but a good thing came from it. Maybe I should do it more often.

What were some projects or jobs you had leading up to this?

In the daytime I work in advertising, but as we speak I'm in the process of training to be maths teacher. I guess I'm very much part of the group that Laneway Learning appeals to most - people who left university a good few years ago and are now settled into a career, but who still want to keep learning. Since graduating, I've always had one 'project' or another on the go - doesn't everyone? But this is the first to actually take off. Now it's much bigger than just me - there are a team of six of us who run Laneway Learning day-to-day - and having other people involved keeps the momentum going. Someone always has a new idea about how we can do things better.

Have you had any networks or mentors along the way that helped?

The guys at the Brooklyn Brainery were really helpful when we were starting out. They answered all my questions about what worked well for them and what didn't, and they reassured me it wasn't all Williamsburg hipsters who came to their classes. As for networks, we are trying to infiltrate a whole raft of communities here in Melbourne. One of the things we like about Laneway Learning is the way we cut across lots of groups that normally don't mix. We are as thrilled to be in contact with the Australian Science Communicators as we are with Craft Victoria and the Hub Melbourne.

What do you do on a day-to-day basis and can you think of any highlights?

The day-to-day running of Laneway Learning is a mixture of admin and the fun stuff, and the six of us try to split both equally. The admin is what you would expect - answering emails, uploading classes and managing payments - and it can be tough at the end of an already admin-filled work day, but the fun stuff more than makes up for it. On a weekly basis we get really interesting, passionate people email us to say they would like to teach classes and we get to go and meet them and chat about it over coffee.

There was one evening that springs to mind for me personally, when we had 'Urban Beekeeping' and 'Astronomy for All' back-to-back. We went from inspecting a perspex tank full of bees to tracing the path of a meteor at risk of hitting the earth, all from the comfort of a Melbourne laneway.

Interviewed by
Vinisha Mulani

Photography by
Vinisha Mulani

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Laneway Learning
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Brooklyn Brainery
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