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Evaluating Continuing Education Courses

by on December 1, 2013

With three Master’s degrees and a Doctorate, I consider myself overeducated. Yet, even with this background, I still find myself at time entertaining an urge to take a class. It often comes on in the fall, with ‘back to school’ images at every turn. The notion is not purely random. There are topics I am interested in and would love to explore via the structured environment of a classroom. There is the camaraderie of a shared classroom experience, even if virtual. Additionally, I am expected to provide, encourage, and promote continuing education for my staff, as well as the library’s board of directors, so I often find myself considering the merits of various continuing education opportunities.

At this time, the options available are plentiful and range from free online courses to expensive  classroom experiences. Any and all topics can be found with standalone courses, certificates, and degree programs in excess. But, the range of quality is just as vast and it seems the old adage, ‘you get what you pay for,’ is no longer true. I’ve personally experienced fabulous free courses and useless ones I’ve paid dearly for.  The same has been true for my colleagues. Before signing up, or at least before providing payment, evaluate your prospective course AND course provider. Even a few hundred dollars is too much to waste. Before taking that class:

1.  Investigate the credentials of both the instructor and the course provider.  I recently had a teaching contract rescinded for a subject I’ve successfully taught for over fifteen years.  The problem was the course provider believed he understood the topic better than I.  When I tried to explain he was factually wrong, he found another instructor that would teach what he wanted, regardless of its accuracy. I was relieved at the cancellation of the contract, not wanting to teach false information! But this experience poses difficulty for students who don’t know the subject to begin with. Thus, it’s not enough to investigate credentials, but it pays to dig deeper.

2. Research the course provider, not simply the glowing reviews provided by the organization or website.  There is no harm in asking for contact information from “real” former students.  Search online and ask around.  Most of us are member of listservs or other groups. We are constantly told to network, here is  a perfect opportunity.

3.  Look for accreditations AND their status.  Many programs will tell you, truthfully they are accredited. What they won’t tell you is if that accreditation status is tenuous. Often a quick search will provide a clue, but there is nothing to stop you from checking on the status with an accrediting organization.  Checking with the Better Business Bureau may also provide insight.

4.  Consider the course description carefully. Even if you know nothing about the subject, does it seem reasonable the course can provide what it claims? Does it seem incredible that so much information can be provided in such a short amount of time? If the course sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

5. Ask a question and evaluate what kind of response you get. The question, and the answer, is not as significant as the nature of the response. If your response is slow in coming, unclear or convoluted, or worse case, rude, this is a clear indication of the manner in which the course will be conducted.  If you are not satisfied with the response, find a new course.