Great Books & the Alliance for Liberal Learning

“Bitten by the bug” of lifelong learning was how Saturday’s keynote speaker Todd Breyfogle of the Aspen Institute described the participants who attended the Alliance for Liberal Learning’s (ALL) inaugural conference in Chicago November 6–7. These inspiring and committed folks included representatives from the Great Books Foundation; the Aspen Institute and other nonprofits; graduates and faculty of various colleges, universities and K-12 schools; as well as many other organizations and companies that provide ways for learners of all ages to share their passion for exploring complex questions and texts in a variety of settings.

I was honored to be included among more than 60 panelists, presenters and attendees at this conference as we deliberated together to find ways to engage the wider public with the great works and ideas that help us learn to live freely, wisely, and well. In a session on “Quantifying the Value of Liberal Learning: Assessing the Immeasurable,” I shared examples of the practical tools (such as rubrics and self-reflection pages) that Great Books has developed to support teachers and students, as well as the research base underpinning our programs and professional learning.

Other session topics included two panels on “Conversing with the Public” (both of which involved Joseph Coulson, president of the Great Books Foundation); “Understanding the Market for Lifelong Liberal Learning” (with John Riley, Senior Director of Business Development for Great Books); “Expanding the Audience: Great Books Outside the Traditional Seminar Room (where Joseph Coulson shared our work with veterans and people transitioning from prison); “Reading the Moving Image: Liberal Education and Film”; “Online and Distance Learning: The Next Best Thing to Being There?” and “What Does it Take to be a Great Seminar Leader?”

Connecting with fellow learners and proponents of lifelong learning from such a wide range of backgrounds was energizing and renewing for me. Friendships, deeper knowledge, flexibility of mind, wisdom, and an expansion of the soul were some of the myriad benefits that participants said they have gained personally and professionally from liberal learning experiences. The recently formed umbrella organization of the Alliance for Liberal Learning plans to continue bringing together members of the general public, scholars, academic programs, and institutions, businesses and other organizations promoting liberal arts education through seminars, conferences, online networks and at their new web site.

Denise D. Ahlquist is Vice-President for Professional Learning at the Great Books Foundation.

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