1. Discover the learning vehicle that suits you, and
2. work out what kind of teacher can instruct you the best.
I've studied several writing courses in the past, some good, some not so good, and have looked into many more that I decided not to take. I know from personal experience that what works best for me is face to face learning in a classroom environment and reading books on the subject (although not all books - I'll expand on that in a moment). What appeals to me though, won't necessarily appeal to another student of words. Discovering what learning vehicle works best for you is the first step in making a decision on which course to take.
- Classroom based writing courses - often held on an evening in a local school or college, classroom based writing courses can work well for writers who like to interact and compare notes face to face with other like-minded souls. This can work especially well if you enjoy reading out your work.There are also more extended writing schools that you attend for a weekend or several days, writing retreats to get away from the demands of daily life, and something I would love to do, writing holidays.
- Books - there are an incredible number of manuals on how to write and all the different aspects of the publishing world too. Have a look on Amazon or in your local book shop. It is worth investigating these books before purchasing one because not every writing manual will suit you. Read a couple of pages, look at the chapter titles, and find out about the author beforehand. Personally, I prefer books that intertwine writing lessons with the writer's own journey such as On Writing by Stephen King.
- Online courses - some run to deadlines and timetables while others (such as the Open University's free courses) leave the timing to you. If you spend a lot of time online and are happy communicating by email, then this kind of course can be convenient and easy to fit into. Online courses may include forums to discuss course material with lecturers and other students, and some lecturers also set up a blog to communicate with students.
- Podcasts - I have found a handful of courses that teach via podcast (an audio file). These can work well if again, you're familiar and comfortable with online interaction. If you're a visual person though, you may find yourself distracted away from listening to the podcast.
Whether you're an extrovert, an introvert, a technophobe or an online whizz, there's sure to be a course that will suit you.
To work out the best teacher for you, you need to find out about your learning motivation. Just as we are attracted to different learning vehicles, we are also motivated to learn by different things and different people. Think back to the teachers at school who taught you the best and the most and the easiest - the ones you remember.What was it about them and their teaching that caught your attention and made the lessons stick in your mind?
For me, it was the teachers who enthused about their subject, the ones who were passionate and animated and larger than life. My first secondary school English teacher was a ginger haired, wiry man with a rolling accent and an energy that propelled him around the classroom. With a book in one hand, and the other hand sweeping through the air, he drew us into each text like a fisherman casting a net. A retired actress taught me for my English literature A'level at college. She would cry over Shakespearean tragedy (we studied Romeo and Juliet) and become rather aroused, and hot and bothered, over a scene in Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd where Sergeant Troy flirts with Bathsheba with his sword (read it and you'll see why). Over the years there have been other teachers too whose words have stayed with me, and each time they have been enthusiasts and performers. That is the kind of teacher that suits me best. Find out what kind of teacher is the most effective for you.
A Word of Warning
Don't just accept any course or teacher without researching them first. Read a couple of pages of a book before purchasing it. Visit the website of an educational organisation or writer before signing up for their course. Search online or elsewhere for reviews. Anyone can say they have this or that qualification or experience. Check before any money changes hands. There are some wonderful writing mentors and teachers out there but equally there are people who will embroider their experience to charge a lot of money for information that you could have found anywhere (or probably already know).
Good luck. Good learning.