New year, new you: Upgrade your life with a short course

What will it be – an ancient form of combat or knitting for beginners? Caitlin Davies provides inspiration for learning new talents in 2009

For 40 years, Sandra Walton worked as a primary-school headteacher. "My life was dominated by learning," she says. "I knew everything about assessments, curriculum and management, but it wasn't learning the way I'm learning now – this is like a reawakening for me." Walton has just signed up for a 10-week course in the Chinese martial art t'ai chi.

She's a student at Birmingham's Botanical Gardens, where she previously studied watercolour painting and a course entitled "De-stress Your Life and Let the Sunshine In". There are 15 other students on her new t'ai chi course, ranging in age from 45 to 80. "The teacher treats us all with great respect," she says, "regardless if you have to hold on to the wall to do the movements."

Walton is one of thousands of adult learners looking for ways to refresh both body and mind. She wants to develop herself as a person, one of the most common reasons for taking a short course, according to the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE). Its most recent learning survey found that while adult learners are keen to improve their employment opportunities, they are just as driven by a desire for self-fulfilment.

The Botanical Gardens runs weekend workshops and daytime and evening courses in its purpose-built study centre. Fees vary from £20 for knitting for beginners to £90 for practical photography with digital cameras. The day and evening courses usually last 10 weeks, and normally cost £45.

T'ai chi and reiki, the Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation, are proving particularly popular. Such is the demand that extra courses have been introduced for the New Year.

"People seem to like doing something active," says the gardens' education officer, Deborah Knott, "and this is a very peaceful setting, with a calm-ing building and lovely views of the 15-acre grounds."

Horticulture courses are not as popular as they were, but the Royal Horticultural Society has a range of qualifications. The Level 2 Certificate in Horticulture is ideal for amateurs.

Business-management and IT courses are useful. Most adult learners are keen to take a course that will help them in their job, or they want a recognised qualification: learndirect has a wide range of online courses starting from £19.99, and many of the IT and management courses lead to qualifications.

Another option is to learn a new language. The Open University runs distance-learning courses in French, German and Spanish, and beginner's courses in Italian and Welsh. Many courses start in February, but they tend to be on the intermediate level.

"Be clear about what you want to do and why," says Teresa Tinsley, the director of communications at Cilt, the National Centre for Languages. "You have to practise the skills you learn, especially listening and speaking." So if you're taking a written course in Spanish, you'll need to practise your conversational skills too.

Tinsley says that short courses can be especially useful because they tend to be intensive. There are also more blended courses available now, with a mixture of online and face-to-face learning, such as those offered by the Instituto Cervantes in London. It runs a 15-week part-time Spanish course for £150.

Language websites can help you find conversational partners, while podcasts (online audio or video recordings) are becoming the latest way to learn. Coffee Break Spanish, part of the Radio Lingua Network, uses podcasts as integral learning tools. A six-month subscription starts from £27.

"Learning a new language such as French is more than just wanting to know how to buy a baguette," says Alastair Clark, senior development officer at NIACE. "It's the way people change their view of themselves by learning another language."

Meanwhile, Sandra Walton is looking forward to doing t'ai chi out on the lawn of Birmingham's Botanical Gardens once spring arrives. "I have a sense of achievement, and I'm learning something new. I'd have a go at anything now!"



Birmingham Botanical Gardens www.birminghambotanicalgardens.org.uk; Directgov www.direct.gov.uk/en/Education AndLearning/AdultLearning; RHS www.rhs.org.uk; Cilt www.cilt.org.uk; learndirect www.learndirect.co.uk; Open University www.open.ac.uk; Instituto Cervantes www.londres.cervantes.es; Radio Lingua www.radiolingua.com

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

SECONDARY SUPPLY TEACHERS NEEDED IN AND AROUND FOLKESTONE

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Description Randstad Education i...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

SECONDARY SUPPLY TEACHERS NEEDED IN AND AROUND DOVER

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Description Randstad Education i...

English Teacher - From October Half Term

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Secondary English Teacher requir...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week