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Ed Talk: Online Education for Adults

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

While elementary and secondary school students across the country adjust to full-time distance learning, adults have been learning online for years.

Online courses offer adults the flexibility to continue their education while working and taking care of families. Some enroll in these courses to learn new job skills and expand their employment opportunities. Others are lifelong learners who enjoy studying the arts, literature, language, history and a myriad of other subjects offered online.

During the pandemic, these courses can be particularly helpful to adults. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. unemployment rate in July was 10.2 percent. Acquiring new skills will be critical in helping adults get back to work.

Another consequence of the pandemic is social isolation. While online courses do not provide the same connections as in-person learning, they do offer adults the opportunity to be creative and interact with those with similar interests. Many courses are synchronous, with students logging on at a specified time and participating in a live class.

Other courses are asynchronous, with students listening to pre-recorded lectures at their convenience. This includes Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), taken by millions of people across the world.

Class Central is a website that ranks the most popular MOOCs. For 2020, these include courses on data science, leadership, managing supply chain disruptions, cyber intelligence, gender and literature, sustainability, and microeconomics.

Class Central also provides information about the many providers of MOOCs, including Coursera, EdX, Udacity, Future Learn, and Kadenze.  Auditing most courses is free, with a fee charged to obtain a certificate of completion.

Because MOOCs have unlimited class sizes and are asynchronous, there is no class discussion or interaction with the instructor during class. And while the flexibility of listening to lectures at your own pace works well for some students, it is a challenge for others to complete these courses due to the lack of structure.

There are many options for smaller online continuing education classes with more personalized learning, but most include a fee. Such classes are available through public school divisions, non-profit organizations, community colleges, and universities.

For example, Arlington Public Schools (APS) has adapted its Arlington Community Learning Program to a fully online format. According to Program Coordinator Raul Matos, the program has the benefit of neighbors learning from and with neighbors. He says that friendships are created in these classes and scholarships are available for those who cannot afford the fees.

APS adult students can complete the Graduate Educational Development program, an alternative to a high school diploma.  They can learn a foreign language, enhance their technology and communications skills, improve their English language proficiency, and explore art, cooking, floral design, sewing, and home improvement.

“Expand Your World” is the theme of Encore Learning, another Arlington online continuing education option. This fall, 37 college-level academic courses are offered, including the art and culture of the Renaissance, estate planning, U.S. tax policy, Chekhov’s short stories, and mindfulness.  Students pay a one-year $65 membership fee and each class costs $55.

Adults also can obtain undergraduate and graduate degrees online. In 2018, there were nearly 3.3 million students seeking degrees exclusively through distance learning from U.S. post-secondary institutions.  U.S. News and World Report ranks the best programs. It also provides cost comparisons for degrees earned online versus on campus.

Online courses allow adults to learn from just about anywhere and at any time. Distance learning can be for fun, to get a better job, or to earn a degree. Do you want to speak Arabic, cook delicious meals, develop websites, become an engineer, or learn just about anything else? There is an online course for you.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance.

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The Arlington-Aachen High School exchange is returning this summer and currently accepting applicants.

The sister-city partnership started in 1993 by the Arlington Sister Cities Association, which seeks to promote Arlington’s international profile through a variety of exchanges in education, commerce, culture and the arts. The exchange, scheduled June 17th to July 4th, includes a two-week homestay in Aachen plus three days in Berlin. Knowledge of the German language is not required for the trip.

Former participants have this to say:

_”The Aachen exchange was an eye-opening experience where I was fully immersed in the life of a German student. I loved biking through the countryside to Belgium, having gelato and picnics in the town square, and hanging out with my German host student’s friends. My first time out of the country, the Aachen exchange taught me to keep an open mind, because you never know what could be a life changing experience.” – Kelly M._

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Learn about the new assessment of Arlington’s urban tree canopy and the many ecological and social benefits trees provide. Staff from the Green Infrastructure Center (GIC) will share study results and compare canopy cover for different areas of Arlington.The webinar will include assessments of ecosystem services such as stormwater mitigation, air quality, carbon uptake, and urban heat islands. For background on Arlington trees see the “Tree Benefits: Growing Arlington’s Urban Forest” presentation at

Please register in advance to assure your place at the webinar,

About the Arlington County Civic Federation: The Arlington County Civic Federation (“ACCF”) is a not-for-profit corporation which provides a forum for civic groups to discuss, debate, inform, advocate and provide oversight on important community issues, on a non-partisan basis. Its members include over ninety civic groups representing a broad cross-section of the community. Communications, resolutions and feedback are regularly provided to the Arlington County Government.

The next meeting is on Tuesday, February 21,2023 at 7 pm. This meeting is open to the public and will be hybrid, in-person and virtually through Zoom. Part of the agenda will be a discussion and vote on a resolution “To Restore Public Confidence in Arlington County’s Governance”. For more information on ACCF and this meeting, go to

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Submit your own Announcement here.

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