It’s Time for Summer School!

What plans have you made for “summer school 2021”? What classes are you taking that expand your thinking about something, build a new skill or creativity, or just because?

When I was in school, I eagerly looked forward to taking summer classes. The local parks and rec, library, and church all offered special curricula organized just for summer students. Arts and crafts, beginner-level languages, reading club, music that resulted in concerts in the park.

I looked forward to them for a variety of reasons. They tackled new and different topics than what was offered in “regular” school. They took place at new locations, some of them meeting outdoors. They offered new experiences and new classmates. And for the classes that went through lunch time, we had different treats to pack in our lunches, too. Full brain engagement and all five senses, too.

So I’m asking: What plans have you made for “summer school 2021”? What classes are you taking that expand your thinking about something, build a new skill or creativity, or just because?

If you haven’t given it much thought, here are a few ideas to get you on your way…


  • Learn to think more creatively.
  • Jump out of the proverbial “box” and form new habits.
  • Draw and sketch by hand—put the technology away.
  • Expore the wonder that is typography and the many lovely effects it can create without any images at all.
  • Appreciate street art and graffiti.

Art, Artists, and Artistry

  • How much do you know about the various periods recognized in art history? What makes the various artists’ work unique and able to stand the test of time?
  • Who are or were they, as people?
  • Which artists are getting attention right now?
  • Cartoons and comics often are overlooked as an art form, but they matter.
  • Take a painting class or course. Or figure drawing. There is no pressure to have your early works hanging in a renowned gallery (but if that happens—great!).


Just plain “design.” Meaning not “design for e-learning.” In other words…

  • Study the key principles, aspects, and elements of design.
  • Explore the history of clothing design and construction (fascinating!)
  • Review the basics of fashion design and construction.
  • Look at advertising design past and present.
  • Learn color theory. For example, how marketing uses color, effects of color on our emotions, why certain combinations draw us to something and others that might repel.
  • Get familiar with UI/UX (User Interface and User Experience), an evolving area of design and development that affects pretty much every aspect of our lives these days..

Images and Photography

  • There are tons of ways to learn more about composition, styling, and taking better photos.
  • Maybe spend time learning ways to manipulate images and photos, too. For example, applying filters, duotones, lens flare, applying textures, creative cropping—so many options to explore.

Group Facilitation Techniques, Presentation Skills, and Public Speaking

  • Even if you never plan to actually do a TED Talk, there is merit in spending time learning how to construct the narrative according to the guidelines, giving a persuasive talk, etc.
  • Learn ways to get small, medium, and large groups to respond and engage with discussions, in person and online.

Music and Sound

  • Consider a “music appreciation” type of class or course that endeavors to explain various types of music, what make certain types of music pleasing to the ear or turns some people off, how various forms of music are constructed, history of various forms of music—so many options to explore.
  • Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to play the piano—get going on this!
  • Sing better in public—and in the shower, too.

Poetry and Writing

  • How about learning to write some poetry?
  • Or learning more about poets? There are so many talented poets across history, as well as the various poet laureates and poets-in-residence affiliated with colleges and universities, etc.
  • Write a short story or your first novel.

Tell Better Stories, Craft Narratives, Interviewing Techniques

While all of these might be too close to work-related learning, the subject matter you choose and ways of using the learning can shift it away and make it just as enjoyable.

D, E, & I

The May 2021 issue of Training magazine was devoted to Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DE&I). Consider the following ways of continuing the conversation…

  • What do you know about first nations and indigenous people, their languages, food, practices, and traditions—whether in your immediate area or more broadly?
  • Explore the ways that issues of race have marginalized and limited one (or more) ethnic groups in your area and more broadly.
  • Likewise, how LGBTQ community members have managed to exist, survive, and thrive.
  • Examine how best to transform viewpoints and broaden thinking about one or more marginalized group.

Summer School for Your Staff

Taking all of this a step further, have you thought of offering “summer school” learning for your staff or your team? (If not, why not?) Challenge them to learn a new skill that is wildly outside of their day-to-day work. Let them each choose their own skill or topic. And give them time to do this. You’ll find that doing this has all sorts of positive effects on the individuals and forging new connections within the team. It will energize them in ways their regular work does not. Some will be excited to share what they’ve learned with others.

What will you learn this summer? How will you share your learning with others? Start packing your proverbial special lunch, step into an outdoor classroom, and ponder the possibilities—Do it for you! Do it for them, too!

Dawn J. Mahoney, CPTD, is the program content manager for Training magazine. She also owns Learning in The White Space LLC, a freelance talent development (“training”) and instructional design consultancy. She is passionate about developing people through better training, better instructional design, and better dialog. E-mail her at: