by Jessica Rosenberg
Wednesday nights at Cowbell 808 in Surry Hills has seen the café transformed into a makeshift ballet school, football clinic and dance floor. Behind the concept is experiential learning group Laneway Learning Sydney, which opened in June 2013. Operator Rick Benger explains Laneway as an “entree to learning”, at only $12 a pop. With a fresh approach to short courses, Laneway attempts to fill a gap in the education system.
Offering young professionals affordable learning opportunities while encouraging local hobbyists to dabble in the world of teaching, Laneway is a response to the growth of online learning. The eclectic classes run once for about 75 minutes, offering ideas that cannot be found online. Laneway strongly believes learning face to face is a different thing to learning online.
Class topics vary, drawing on the interests of participants and the expertise of local enthusiasts. Ranging from trend topics such as ‘Getting to Work on Two Wheels’, to the quirky ‘Ukulele for Rookies’ and the naughty ‘Sex Toys’, Laneway skillfully turns thoughts in to a class.
Rick Benger says it is intentional that Laneway doesn’t have its own permanent space. It exists as a pop-up in order to be part of a community’s shared economy. With current classes proving popular, he hopes Laneway will expand to other community pockets around Sydney.
Classes are informal, and include a glass of wine and a good laugh. However, Rick says many study to improve skills in their current line of work, and in doing so, “lose the idea of learning something new just for the sake of learning”. It’s not just the participants who learn in this process; Laneway teacher Daniel Hu Toa, a corporate strategist, says, “You learn a lot by having to force yourself to think about how you would teach something.”
Amber Shergis and Sarah Jeffery, who are new arrivals in Sydney, say their participation has been a positive introduction to Sydney life. With few friends outside of the office, both women relished the opportunity to meet new people of their own age outside of a drinking environment.
Laneway’s subtle focus on learning through informal methods appeals to a generation struggling with job dissatisfaction. With stress and professional uncertainty common amongst Gen Y, quick learning and a good laugh mid-week appear to offer some relief.