Ever thought about what you’d do if you won the lottery? After a sunny Friday lunch some years back, my friend took us into a little magazine shop to buy a ticket. She was a lottery hopeful and we’d been having a laugh so we each bought one. But what would we do with the spoils if we won…

Not a big shopper and rather nonplussed about having the latest brand anything, my answer was boring. But I’m sharing it with you because, thanks to technology, it’s been a bit like I won it.

I said that I’d use the financial freedom to go back to university and take classes for fun – not to pursue another degree but choosing an eclectic mix of whatever I fancy, like at the M&Ms store. That Shakespeare class again, definitely. Maybe a child development class to decode parenting or perhaps even design thinking. 

A family friend in his 60s was in some of my classes when I studied as an undergraduate in British Columbia. He was ‘auditing’ them through a free education for the retired program. How cool was that! But if I won the lottery – no more waiting for retirement.

Don’t get me wrong. I was like everyone else in undergrad. Too many of the riches in the courses I took were lost on me. It wasn’t the time in my life where I could fully appreciate how lucky I was to be there – learning. 

My discovery of online learning started with the Khan academy, with a narrow offering at the time. Then I bought some audio classes from The Great Courses for my commute that lived up to the promised ‘greatness’. But when I found Coursera and discovered you could audit university courses from around the world. JACKPOT! My goal wasn’t a credential but the challenge was where to start. I chose a popular and fitting first course called ‘Learning how to learn’. Each evening instead of a book or Netflix, I binged a few sessions of the course. And each time I did, I felt energised and enthralled to be learning something new.

The most impactful course I took was one from John Hopkins University on caring for people with dementia. My mom had been in that phase of decline where the days were so long and sad if you couldn’t occupy her within the limits of the disease. I was back in France after a trip home, feeling helpless while my father and sisters were in Canada managing her care. The course gave me insight into what was happening and even a view on the path it could take. Best of all, it inspired me to apply the information into ideas and I talked to one of my sisters about them.

My sister tried one and sent me a short video so I could see it was successful. Mom had been a skilled quilter. Among her works of art were these beautiful ‘impressionist’ wall hangings, where you arrange small squares playing with colour and intensity to express the idea or image. My sister set her up and mom worked away placing the squares. We knew she’d never be able to make them into a quilt but she didn’t think about it. There was pleasure and purpose in the activity for her and that was a gift for all of us. I’ve continued to audit courses and, in some respects, they are like mom’s quilt. I’m not doing it to build a new career or change fields. They just bring me pleasure and they make me feel rich.