Teaching Everything Else

By: Carmel Streater, Ph.D., DREI

Teaching real estate continuing education courses is not a job for the faint of heart. Our students are of every conceivable age, ethnic heritage, education level, economic level, political inclination, and gender. Even more disconcerting, their experience level ranges from wet-ink-on-license to grizzled veterans who know it all. With all this potential for disaster, the most common problem faced by real estate instructors is that they are teaching the wrong course.

Any continuing education (CE) course that is based on a block lifted directly from a prelicensing program is probably not technically continuing education. There are two basic classifications of real estate instruction:

  1. Prelicensing instruction
  2. Everything else

Included in the “everything else” category are any mandated post-licensing instruction, continuing education and non-credit, and professional development.

The What

Prelicensing instruction is, and must be, concerned with the what of the real estate business. In prelicense courses, instructors are expected to mold the real estate novice into a semi-professional. These semi-professionals should be able to pass a knowledge-based examination on real estate laws, know the meanings of the words that make up the laws, and understand basic real estate math. They must be taught what the law is, what they must do to get a license, and so on.

The How

Post-licensing and continuing education courses are expected to provide the how of the real estate business. Students already learned what in prelicensing courses; the challenge of “everything else” is to guide them in their daily real estate sales practices and increase their chances of survival in a very harsh climate. Continuing education has largely been ignored in the rush to stampede licensees into classes, where their highest expectation is to leave with a participation certificate.

Good CE courses are ideally taught using approximately 80% problem situations and 20% definitions, laws, math, and so on. The reasoning is that definitions, laws and rules, regulations, and basic math should have been taught in prelicensing education courses. If students haven’t learned this yet, they are in the wrong class. In “everything else” courses, the bar should be set higher than simply receiving credits or hours.

Transitioning From What to How

For instructors who have been active in sales production, it is an easy transition from definitions and law/rules to job-related applications. For instructors who have little or no experience in real estate sales, it is more difficult. If you have little or no experience in sales, and you wish to do a competent job teaching licensed individuals, a number of problem scenarios should be included in the course materials. The problems should be reality-based and should further the understanding of the basic what taught in prelicensing courses. Fortunately, real estate professionals enjoy sharing their problems and solutions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be sure to set aside time for the session.

Below is an example concerned with a subject matter expert—an attorney with no real estate sales experience—teaching a continuing education class to real estate licensees. There is no intention to stigmatize attorneys; the example can be adapted to any other subject matter expert, such as appraisers, surveyors, mortgage loan originators, and so on. This is not an attorney problem…it’s simply an example of teaching from another point of view.


An attorney who teaches contract law to real estate licensees is certainly the person in the room with the most actual knowledge of contract law. The problem is that the attorney views contract law from the point of view of an attorney. He may be convinced this is the only, and certainly the most correct, point of view. In other words, the attorney knows the what inside and out, but may not necessarily know how licensees should use the what. The attorney, who probably spent an entire year of law school learning contract law, may attempt to share his complete knowledge in three jam-packed hours. But in actuality, the real estate licensees really only need to know how to:

  1. Find the contract form
  2. Correctly fill in the blanks
  3. Verify the correct property address
  4. Get signatures in the right place
  5. Include the beginning and ending dates and times
  6. Deliver the contract in a timely fashion to everyone who needs a copy

Fortunately, it’s possible to successfully teach the six how items above in three to four clock hours. A course that includes everything the attorney knows about contracts is not only impossible in that length of time…it is undesirable. One cannot stuff five pounds of sugar into a one-cup bag without a lot of sugar being lost, and it’s impossible to know exactly which specific grains will fall by the wayside.

Some of you may be wondering why teaching the how is so important. Several reasons can be found in the list of the ways in which adult learners are different from younger learners. This list was developed a number of years ago by Dr. Malcolm Knowles, considered by most in the field to be the father of adult education methodology. Over the years, the list has been refined and added to by many big names in adult education, but most agree on the following:

  1. Adults have life experiences and tend to favor learning activities that enable them to use those experiences; they have and will share insights into what will and will not work; they are able to relate past experiences to new facts.
  2. Adults have established opinions, values, and beliefs.
  3. Adults are intrinsically motivated, autonomous, and self-directed.
  4. Adults expect class materials to be related to their own needs and interests.
  5. Adults learn best in a democratic and participatory environment; they feel they are the best judges of how and what they will learn.
  6. Adults need to know why they’re learning something; they are task- and goal-oriented and are disinterested in theory unless it clearly relates to practical application.
  7. Adults are practical problem solvers; they react best to problem-based learning.
  8. Adults have work and lives outside of the classroom; they likely won’t go home and study; everything they learn has to be taught while they are in the classroom.

Tips for a Great Course

If you’re thinking none of the above matters because a course is mandatory, please keep the following in mind. They may be required to take the course, but they only have to take it from one of us. Word tends to get out if a given instructor is particularly good at making the course material interesting and relevant.

Problem scenarios should illustrate the portion of the course materials currently being discussed. The discussion arising from reviewing the possible answers to instructor-supplied questions should encompass many of the doubts, incomplete knowledge, and misconceptions held by the licensees. In this way, students make contributions to the class, help each other out, and help themselves to learn in the process. And in most cases, the instructor will learn a thing or two as well!

Carmel Streater, Ph.D, DREI

Carmel Streater is the owner of Carmel Streater Courses. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Dearborn Real Estate Education. For more information about the author, Carmel Streater Courses visit http://online.carmelstreatercourses.com/.