My vocabulary has a few new words and phrases, thanks to Learnivore, a social network new to the Boston area that aims to connect teachers and learners. Learnivore offers instruction in everything from running (perfect for those wanting to sign up for next year’s Boston Marathon!) to soccer, from sewing to knitting, from technology to French. Since I’m a big believer in ongoing, lifelong learning, I decided to give the site a try. Learnivore invited me to sample their services, providing me with a budget of $100 for instruction of my choosing.
Learnivore is easy to use: you write up what you’re looking for, include information about your budget, and select the distance you’d be willing to travel. You post it the site and wait for a response. Alternatively, you can search the site for a lesson that has already been developed by an instructor looking for students.
After browsing the site, I decided to look for a private hip-hop class for my kids, seven-year-old R and five-year-old G, and a photography lesson for me. The kids love to dance—especially to anything with a good (and loud) beat. They have an enormous amount of enthusiasm when they get on the dance floor—a good match for hip-hop—and would benefit from some exposure to the fundamentals of dance. A class, I thought, would be a perfect way to ascertain if they would be ready for a more serious dance commitment.
Finding a hip-hop instructor, however, was a challenge: the few who responded to my posting never followed through or we couldn’t find convenient meeting times. After a few weeks, I switched my posting to a tap dance lesson, something my daughter had been lobbying for, and I immediately found an instructor, Ryan Casey.
We arranged to meet on a Sunday afternoon in a dance studio in our town for a 45-minute lesson. Ryan, much to my delight, is an accomplished tap dancer with many performances to his credit (he’s even been on So You Think You Can Dance). Additionally, earlier this year, Dance Magazine named him one of their “25 to watch” dancers. Most importantly for us, Ryan had incredible patience!
R and G were enthusiastic about the class, but not the most focused of pupils. Ryan did an excellent job breaking down the steps and teaching them the foundations of tap dance, including the grapevine, step heel, and shuffle. I enjoyed watching the three of them dance together, and the kids enjoyed it, too, marveling at Ryan’s height (6’8”) and the fact that he had been dancing since he was a young boy. Thanks to her lesson with Ryan, G is now lobbying in full force for more tap dance classes, so I’m looking into signing her up for more instruction this fall.
Since learning isn’t just for kids, for myself, I posted on Learnivore for a photography instructor. As a blogger, I often struggle with the picture side of Red Shutters; words come more easily to me than snapping photos that are good enough to use here. I have wanted to “up my game” and decided that one-on-one instruction would be the best fit for me.
Boston does not want for photography teachers! I had many responses to my Learnivore posting, and, after some deliberation, elected to go with Suzi Grossman, a graduate of the MFA School of Fine Arts and talented fine art photographer. Suzi met me in downtown Boston, bringing an agenda to our lesson, which was brilliant, as I was bursting with questions and could have easily derailed our time together. We met for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, and I left armed with useful strategies that I immediately started putting into practice.
One my favorite things Suzi shared was for me to think about “taking a photo versus making a photo.” This really helped shift my thinking about photography; it’s more than snapping a picture, it’s really about composing the image so it tells the desired story.
Suzi gave me tips about lighting; she reviewed recent photos I had taken (including the ones of my kids tap dancing), walking me through what I could have done differently (in a kind and constructive way); and she taught all sorts of tricks about my under-utilized DSLR camera. She also answered all of my questions. Our session was just the kick start I needed to be more serious about photography; I’ve now enrolled in a multi-week photography course.
After using Learnivore, I have four tips for to share if you’re considering checking out the site:
- Lesson: When you develop your post for the site, be as specific as possible about what you want to learn and why. This will help you find the right instructor and have the learning experience you want. If you aren’t sure what you want to learn, explain that in your post, and be sure to ask for a sample lesson plan in advance.
- Budget: Know what you want to spend. If you’re not sure what you should spend, peruse the site to see what similar lessons go for. Make sure to include your budget in your posting; this will prevent you from going back and forth with instructors who are outside of what you are comfortable spending, which is a waste of time for everyone.
- Schedule: Use the site when you have the time to schedule the lesson. I first signed up in the midst of big deadlines at work and out of town travel, which made finding time for our Learnivore classes more challenging than it should have been.
- Communication: I had a hard time in the beginning communicating with instructors, especially when one or two of them invited me to correspond with them over email instead of via the Learnivore site. When I just stopped hearing from them, I wasn’t sure why; had our message been in the Learnivore site, I would have at least known my emails hadn’t been caught in their spam filter. Keeping your messages on the site also gives you a history to refer to (and for Learnivore to review), in case there are other problems.
Overall, my family’s experience with Learnivore was a positive one. While we primarily used the site to get some grounding in the basics of our selected topics, both lessons left us wanting to learn more—which, I imagine, is the hope of any good teacher.
Disclosure: I received complimentary instruction from Learnivore, but all ideas here are mine.