I was never really fond of the word “class” in referring to being enrolled in a series of lessons. It’s seemed a bland, confusing word. The word comes from the Latin word classis, meaning a division of people, which is why we use the word to refer to groups of students as well as groups of people based, sort of, on income. It’s also why we use it as a noun to refer to someone as “having class” (meaning, we assume, high class).
A class as something you take. You might be in one. But you’re not really taking one.
I’ve always found the word “course” to be more interesting, and also more appropriate.
We enroll in a class, but we take a course.
We get that word also from Latin. The root curs meant “run,” became the word cours in French.
A course is certainly something we take. It is a route, a path, a direction in which we are to go. To me this word better fits what we are taking when we enroll in a series of learning sessions. Calling it a course isn’t about being fancy or sounding more academic. I think it better reminds us what learning is about. The first image that comes to my mind when I hear “taking a course” is of slipping into a canoe, gripping a paddle, and heading down the current of a wide river. I like to think of taking a course of learning as a canoe trip. There are times when I must paddle hard through a rocky turn, and times when I can sit and listen, taking it in. I must plan ahead to veer myself toward a goal, adjust myself so as not to lose balance, and pace myself so that I do not lose stamina. The same fundamentals apply to a course of learning.
When I hear the word “class” I picture people sitting in desks, because a class is the group of people learning. It makes learning seem more passive to me. Calling it a course makes me think of a path, one with necessary navigation, opportunities for venturing, and possible obstacles, that we must actively take to get from one place to another.
We also use course to refer to progress, or procedures. We talk about the course of history or the best course of action to take. I think of some invisible flow, like water, moving between and against other forces. I think of something both dynamic and intentional.
Sometimes we even refer to a place for racing or gaming as a “course,” rendering a similar connotation, one involving challenge, competition, and improvement. We also might refer to a course as a part of a meal, a turning point in a dining experience. Used as a verb, a course can even be a pursuit.
Learning takes on all these meanings: a natural path that is sometimes predictable, other times surprising; a series of hands-on actions; a goal-oriented challenge; something to digest; or merely a pursuit.
And just like a river, a course is merely part of a greater thing. The learning never ends. It is only the beginning and ending of a course we take in the greater flow.