A few months ago, while looking for ways to improve on business skills, a Pickering Library employee mentioned their Gale Courses. It sounded too good to be true: Having the opportunity to enrol in a six-week online course and being able to learn in a structured, instructor-led environment…FOR FREE. I thought, “Why not?” After all, I do enjoy learning and how often do you get a chance to do this for free? Four courses later, what started out as a way to improve on skills that I was lacking opened up a whole new world of possibilities to explore and pursue, as I discovered that there are courses available in anything imaginable, covering such varied topics as MS Word, Nutrition, Photography, Creative Writing, Guitar, Languages, Successful Relationships, Job Searching and Starting your own business, amongst many.

And I wasn’t alone in this discovery, said Carolyn Von Hasselback, Manager of Collections at the Pickering Public Library and the Gale Courses Program Coordinator. In the couple of years that these courses have been made available— free of charge— through the Pickering Public Library, they now see almost 400 library users enrolling in the courses every month. And that number keeps growing. “It’s very flexible because the courses are offered every month and there’s no limit to the number of courses you can take. If you can’t finish one course, then you can take it again the next month at another time that’s convenient. That’s a real advantage as well.”

People like the convenience and flexibility of online learning, something you can do at your own pace, says Von Hasselback. The courses are very structured, with instructors (all experts in their fields) running the programs. Every course is highly interactive, with back and forth discussions, where students can post questions and receive well-researched answers and information from the instructors. There’s a sense of continuity to them and you find yourself going to “class” with like-minded people who share the same interests. Every month more courses in varying topics are being added. The program creators are also looking to create more Canadian content. The feedback, says Hasselback, has been very positive overall.

How do you sign up? Very easy. If you’re a City of Pickering resident, you just need your library card to register in any of the courses. And thanks to library partnerships within all the municipalities in Durham Region, any Durham Region resident can also take advantage of these programs. “As long as you have a Pickering Library card— and we do have library cards that are free to people who live in Durham— they can get a library card and they would have access to this,” says Von Hasselback.

Pickering resident and regular library visitor Rania Watts has explored the gamut of courses available. While spending a lot of time at the library with her two young children as they enjoyed the many great children’s programs they offer, she found out about Gale courses and jumped right in. “I like learning so I thought that I would just give it a try,” says Watts. So far she’s taken over 20 courses— some she really enjoyed and some she took and learned soon enough that the subject matter was just not for her. “It’s a really good program for people who want to get a base understanding of subjects. I think that’s the thing that I like about it because it goes in depth but not too in depth. It allows for further pursuit if you wanted to pursue it even more. If not, then you’ve just gotten the basics from a six-week course that you didn’t have to pay anything for. It’s something that you can do on a part time basis if you needed to. The one thing that I like is that it’s very flexible. You get your two assignments per week. You do them at your own time. As long as they’re done before the week’s closed, then you’re good to go.”


For those who are comfortable with technology, these programs are a perfect fit. But this is not the case for everyone, as technology can also be very intimidating and overwhelming. Although people may be apprehensive about embarking upon the pursuit of knowledge online, it’s worth to at least give it a try. If you don’t enjoy it, then at least you didn’t end up spending hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on something that just wasn’t for you. If you do like it, then you ended the adventure with a new set of skills or knowledge that you didn’t have before, and may want to pursue further in the future. Watts agrees. “If you do like it, that gives you something new that you can pursue; even if you wanted to relate it to a potential career, the options are there.”

Helen Ehlers is yet another regular at the library who has taken full advantage of this new and innovative learning opportunity. As a member of a library book club, she is always encouraging her friends to take the plunge and give online learning a try, as she has done herself. “The fact that it’s good for developing and teaching technology—I know that the library can’t keep up with all the technology courses. Every time they put on Introductory Excel on, for example, it’s fully subscribed in hours. So it’s quite fabulous that they have these online courses as well.” Ehlers has taken Microsoft Excel, web design and Introduction to Quickbooks— courses that she not only enjoys, but will help her develop her career further. And the best part? “It’s so fabulous that it’s free,” she says. She’s hoping to take a general interest course next, and is thinking about photography.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to choosing a course. “They have Massage Therapy in there, and Teaching English for ESL. The amount of courses that they have, it’s ridiculous,” says Rania in disbelief. And these courses are at the tip of your fingers (quite literally), just a click away for any Pickering (and Durham Region) resident to explore: an infinite number of possibilities of skills you can learn and abilities you can develop. So don’t wait! New courses are starting this week, so get your library card ready and go on to visit the website and starts yours.