Adult Classes and Learning

Formal education ended years ago for me, the kind where you are in a physical classroom with other students and a teacher who can command relatively undivided attention. (the cute student two seats over is a topic for another time)  The subject matter is covered with lectures, assigned exercises, testing, and some combination of writing papers or some kind of projects to prove understanding and mastery of the material.  The best of these classes inspire action and love for the subject. The worst… well. we all have our horror stories of classes that fail these goals.

Now I’ve sampled most of the options in this brave, new world of adult education, but there just isn’t much education involved.  There must be some, but most I’ve tried are not worth the time and/or money involved. And several have the students providing the interesting/useful material, so why would we need a teacher or facilities if the students are doing the teaching?

Distance learning is just disappointing, as the lecture lacks any spontaneous interaction or responding to questions or problems.  (And you spend some time wondering how many getting the credit are actually taking the tests themselves or just coasting) Tricky test questions test language expertise more than the material or even ability to use the materials.  Then when you add in the shyster employment promises and high costs at too many schools, taking a class is just lost resources, with time being the biggest resource.  After several classes where there were no serious testing, papers, or projects, I came out without any inspiration or increase in skills.

speaker's podium

Speaker podium, image: 100_1860 by ttarasluk, per Creative Commons 2.0

I’ve also done seminars and speeches at college and cons. Some were invaluable, with insights advice exactly what I needed.  A few speeches about big lies and life in the trenches as a SF writer were fascinating at the time. It’s only twenty-five years later that some of the things I learned through osmosis from those stories have helped both my own writing and tolerance for the publishing process.

Online webinars sound like a compromise between the automated large classes  and interaction of a face to face class, don’t they? Some are very good and leave the student charged with using the new ideas. They often reveal to be a gateway sales  tactic for more extensive and expensive classes, but they should be a good example of the teacher’s lecture and organization skills.

But then there are the classes that lie there dead in the water.  Nothing quite riles me like wasted time  and/or wasted money for a class, even if it’s my employer’s and not my own.

What problems are common and never resolved in most adult classes? (especially online, which are once and done without any folowup)? Broken/incomplete interface that doesn’t allow questions from users and lack feedback capability. Lack of preparedness and organization in the base material, like if you say there are three things to know, list number one and never benchmark two or three(which  sound like number one) and then add a bonus number four. Don’t try to gear your class for all levels of experience, you can’t teach both neophytes about for-loops and and the more experienced about breaking recursion loops out to save resources.  This shows a lack of focus, one or both topics may not be relevant to the subject the class is about. Then relevant parts have to be dropped. Lecture notes and materials don’t contain links and references are another organization issue.  If you’ve dropped textbooks for schooling, students still need inks and additional materials, which should be available before or during the seminar.  Test those links, with different browsers and OS. If there are questions, address each clearly and one at a time, stacking them means none are answered very well. Give concrete or detailed information on the subject, not handwaving vague statement.   Most importantly, the class must add some value, some approach to make students eager to do more, and more importantly study more, hopefully with the teacher.

In primary education, even though there may be issues, a certain minimum in all areas is required for adulthood competence.  In adulthood, there isn’t that much of a vetting and value system. It’s all caveat emptor and finding valuable classes is harder.


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