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The cost of learning can be a pound of good coffee


Next week, in a shared workspace on the edge of Vancouver's Gastown neighbourhood, Charlene Phung will teach a two-hour class on knitting. As payment, her students will give her tea, decaffeinated coffee and produce.

Ms. Phung is one of about 45 people lined up to teach at Trade School Vancouver, the newest offshoot of a global barter-for-knowledge learning community, set to launch Jan. 19. Anyone can teach a class on almost anything – knitting, dancing, how to build a WordPress website – and in return, students "pay" with barter items the teacher has requested. These items range from the tangible ("a pound of good coffee") to the abstract ("a great idea").

The experiment began in New York in 2010 and has since reportedly spread to more than 20 cities, including Singapore and Guadalajara. After hearing about a new school opening up in Toronto last fall, Alexxa Abi-Jaoudé and two friends looked into the possibility of opening one in Vancouver.

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"We contacted Trade School New York to find out what the deal is, and if we could get permission to get this started, and they said a group had just contacted them and was starting on putting together Trade School Vancouver," she said. "They connected us – the three of us and the five others who had just started about a month earlier – and it all came together."

The group designed a logo and made a website. It approached venues with the idea, seeing who might donate some space, and "had a really great response, actually," Ms. Abi-Jaoudé said. From there, members blasted out their intentions on social media, generating some buzz from popular local online publications Scout Magazine and Vancouver Is Awesome.

The group's goal, Ms. Abi-Jaoudé said, is to make learning fun and accessible.

"I think sometimes there's this kind of hierarchy, this idea of who is privileged enough to receive education and skills and who isn't. We're really trying to level that playing field, to empower people and ... let everybody bring their skills to the table – to validate that we all have something to teach, something to share."

Items teachers have requested so far include coffee, cool music playlists, good books and guitar lessons.

"I think one person actually asked for child care," said Ms. Abi-Jaoudé with a chuckle.

Some of the dozens of classes in queue are practical: How to maintain your snowboard. Marketing basics. Eating for health and wellness. But others are less conventional: What is milk and where does it come from – "an understanding of what it takes to make a glass of milk, from the grass to the glass," according to the class abstract. Not sure what to teach? The class on "How to come up with a good idea" might help.

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In fact, barring anything wildly offensive or inappropriate, people can teach whatever they'd like.

"As long as there is interest from students, why not?" said Ms. Abi-Jaoudé. "There is value in lots of different topics and subjects."

Ms. Phung, whose fully booked "All Fingers and Thumbs Knitting" class will be among the first when Trade School Vancouver launches, said teaching her class not only gives her an opportunity to share a hobby taught to her by her grandmother many years ago, but is a chance to meet like-minded people.

"There's this cliché in Vancouver that everybody hangs out in cliques and it's hard to meet people," she said. "This is an opportunity to meet people you might not necessarily meet, and you share common interests – either learning, or whatever the class is."

Trade School Vancouver's launch party takes place on Jan. 19, from 5 to 7 p.m., at East of Main Café.

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