Wang, who has taken traditional continuing education courses, notes that the teaching quality is more consistent at a college or university than at the Brainery. "But you pay such a higher premium there," she says. "It's not worth it for classes taken just for fun."

Even as Soma acknowledges that the Brainery has taken steps toward professionalization, recruiting "semi-experts" with significant knowledge of their subjects, he downplays the significance of proper accreditation versus gusto. A Web developer by trade, Soma has taught classes on subjects ranging from "The World of Wood" to "Make Your Own Kimchi."

"Teaching is 25 percent knowledge and 75 percent theater," he says. "We've all taken classes in high school or college with people who are absolutely experts on things, but they can't teach. I think that there's a false assumption that people who are experts will be able to teach. What you really need is someone who is able to communicate information to the students."

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