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Attention Course Shoppers: Be Choosy

Just because a course claims to be geared to adults doesn't mean it will keep them engaged and interested. And with the proliferation of continuing-education courses, adults have the luxury of being picky and making sure before they sign up that a class or program will suit them.

W. Lee Pierce, who teaches adult education at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, suggests interviewing the teacher beforehand: Does the teacher ever ask you any questions? Does she come across as a know-it-all or is she open to learning from your experience? Is his syllabus flexible, and will he allow you to tailor assignments to your particular needs?

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In her book, "Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning: a Guide for Adult Educators" (Jossey-Bass, 1994), Patricia Cranton adds another important criterion: whether the teacher fosters group interaction inside and outside the classroom. For many adult students, used to hashing out problems with colleagues or spouses, study groups prove extremely helpful.

"Learning becomes a collaborative process," Dr. Pierce says. "But before signing up for a highly self-directed program," he adds, "you've got to make sure that's what you want. There are a few adults who do not qualify as self-directed learners." And for them, the old-style lecture approach will prove the best.

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