One needn't be a workaholic to want to devote a week's vacation to something more productive than acquiring a tan. Sure, lying on the beach is relaxing -- and everybody needs to wind down occasionally -- but there can be relaxation and fun and even adventure in a learning vacation.

A change of pace and new scenery can make almost any learning experience seem a holiday. The adventure comes in attempting something new (especially if you've decided you want to become a rock-climbing mountaineer). And much of the pleasure flows from enjoying the company of other students, who find themselves sharing a sense of accomplishment in meeting each day's challenges.

There is a variety of learning opportunities in the Washington area, which means you can choose from a number of destinations that are no more than a tankful of gas away. If you've always wanted to know how to sail, you can acquire the basic skills in a week at schools as close as Annapolis. You can polish up your banjo-playing at an Appalachian crafts workshop in West Virginia. Or learn to hang glide on the beach at Nags Head in North Carolina.

More studious souls can explore the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay for a week, while paddling about the bay in canoes. And vacationers over 60 can go back to college for a week under the auspices of a national program called Elderhostel, offered every summer at several colleges in the mid-Atlantic region.

Learning vacations offer you a chance to acquire a new skill or subject, but an important factor is that the learning takes place in a vacation setting where after-class recreation and entertainment are available. Now is not too soon to make reservations for the programs, some of which get underway as early as spring.

Some learning vacations offered in the mid-Atlantic region:

*HANG GLIDING. Enjoy a week at the beach while learning to float aloft like a giant bird with the help of Atlantic breezes.

Kitty Hawk Kites of Nags Head, on North Carolina's Outer Banks, offers six-day and 12-day lesson packages on the sand dunes where Orville and Wilbur Wright first launched their motorized aircraft. Beginners start with a session of ground school before being introduced to flight, with a minimum of five flights daily. Classes are about three hours long, giving you the rest of the day to swim, sunbathe or explore the penisula and islands that form the Outer Banks.

Classes, which are limited to five students per instructor, are given seven days a week year-round. Fall is probably the best season, because the winds are more stable; August can be hot and uncomfortable; summer is the expensive season because of lodging costs.

The lesson site is at Jockey's Ridge State Park at Nags Head, famed for what is believed to be the tallest "living" sand dune on the East Coast.

A six-day series of lessons earns you an official Hang-1 and Hang-2 rating. a 12-day series prepares you for a Hang-3 rating, but you will need more hours in the air to qualify. As lessons progress, you move higher up the sand dune and use increasingly more sophisticated equipment. All equipment is provided by Kitty Hawk Kites, which has been teaching hang gliding for about a dozen years.

A six-day series of lessons only is $170 per person. With beachside hotel lodging, the package ranges from $319 to $400, depending on the season. A 12-day series is $299 for lessons only and from $400 to $550 if lodging is included.

For information: Kitty Hawk Kites, P.O. Box 340, Nags Head, N.C. 27959 (800) 334-4777.

*CREATION AROUND THE CHESAPEAKE. This five day program is held each summer in historic St. Mary's City in southern Maryland. You learn about the bay while enjoying its recreational benefits: canoeing, swimming and hiking along the shore.

Founded in 1634, St. Mary's City, about 75 miles from downtown Washington, ws the first colonial capital of Maryland. That colonial atmosphere remains in this quiet, out-of-the-bustle community -- in the reconstructed State House of 1676; in a replica of the Dove, the small English ship that brought the first settlers to Maryland; and in a number of other historic sites, including the Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation and Farthing's Ordinary.

It makes an excellent setting for Creation Around the Chesapeake, a live-in conference designed to "broaden an awareness of the bay and deepen our appreciation of its legacy." The program is sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and Trinity Church of St. Mary's City. There is a low key theological element to the conference.

Workshops led by Chesapeake experts focus on such topics as the history of the bay, its wildlife, current archeology in St. Mary's City and the design of a proper colonial herb garden. And time has been set aside for charter-boat fishing. Films, a crab feast, a Shakespearean performance and musical presentations customarily are part of the evening's entertainment.

Accommodations are in the residence halls of St. Mary's College (private or semi-private rooms, all air-conditioned), with meals served in the cafeteria.

This year's session is scheduled for June 22-27, and the enrollment is $270 per person, based on sharing a two-person room. This price also includes meals, workshops and use of recreational facilities.

For more information: Creation Around the Chesapeake, Episcopal Church House, Mount Saint Alban, Washington, D.C. 20016. (202) 537-6535.

*SAILING. Annapolis, the lively and lovely capital of Maryland, makes a splendid setting for a learn-to-sail vacation. In the 18th century it was one of the busiest commercial ports on the East Coast; today it is one of the country's most popular ports for pleasure craft.

When the day's lessons are over, students have a choice of harbor pubs and fine seafood restaurants in all price categories.

Among the city's sailing schools, here are three that blend learning with vacation fun:Annapolis Sailing School, P.O. Box 3334, Annapolis, Md. 21403. (301) 267-7205. This is the grandaddy of local schools. Founded more than 25 years ago, it has trained about 100,000 weekend sailors from all over the United States. Among its classes, the school offers a two-day weekend package of lessons for beginners. The charge is $150 for the first person in the party and $130 for the second member.

A week-long series of lessons for beginners is $695 for one person and $1,095 for two. This price includes six nights' lodging at an Annapolis inn and an overnight live-aboard cruise on a 37-foot sloop. Lessons are scheduled from the end of March through October. The school's claim is that in a weekend's time beginners will learn enough to manage the school's 24-foot boats in Annapolis waters in daylight hours when the weather is good.

Chesapeake Sailing School, 7074 Bembe Beach Rd., Annapolis, Md. 21403. (301) 269-1594. The school offers two-day weekend and three-day and five-day midweek sailing classes. About two hours are spent daily in the classroom and five hours on the water.

The price for two days is $145 per person; three days (Monday through Wednesday) is $195 and five days (Monday through Friday) is $290. Lessons are given from April to mid-November.

The school can arrange for lodgings in an Annapolis hotel or bunk you in one of its 30- to 44-foot charter boats, at a cost of $25 per person a night. The idea is to give you a feel for life aboard ship.

Womenship, 137 Conduit St., Annapolis, Md. 21401. (301) 269-0784. For women only, the school offers a variety of packages, including lesson series on weekends, weekdays and nights.

Among the possibilities is a five-day, Monday-through-Friday series for $595, which includes lessons, all meals and accommodations aboard ship. The seven-day package is $695. Or you can sign up for a series of three weekends (Friday and Saturday nights aboard ship) for $675.

Why only women? Because women who sail rarely get to experience the thrill of taking charge, according to the school.

*AUGUST HERITAGE ARTS WORKSHOP: Now more than a dozen years old, the annual five-week Augusta Heritage Arts Workshop is a festival of traditional Appalachian Mountain arts, offering week-long lessons in dance, music, crafts and folklore for teens, adults and families.

Classes are held on the hilly 170-acre campus of Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, W.Va., a small town (pop. 10,000) located in the state's scenic Potomac Highlands, about a four to five-hour drive from Washington.

You can sign up for lessons in beginning banjo, Cajun fiddle, hammered dulcimer, mandolin, basketry, bookbinding, chairmaking, needle arts, stained-glass making, herb identification, whittling, storytelling and dozens of other old-fashioned skills. Classes meet morning and afternoon from Monday through Friday. Tuition for most classes is $145 per person a week.

Accommodations are in campus dorms, with some suites available for families. Room and board, including three meals a day Sunday evening through Saturday morning, is an additional $122 per person.

Nightly entertainment includes folk concerts, panel discussions, movies and square-dancing. For recreation, you can choose from white-water rafting, hiking, caving and swimming in nearby river pools.

The workshop runs this summer from July 13 to Aug. 17, and participants can attend one or more weeks.

For information: Augusta Heritage Center, Davis & Elkins College, Elkins, W.Va 26241. (304) 636-1903.

*ELDERHOSTEL. Elderhostel is an inexpensive learning-vacation program for seniors over 60 held each summer At more than 700 colleges and universities in the United States and abroad, including dozens of campuses in the mid-Atlantic region.

Among the wide variety of programs offered recently in this region have been an intensive course in the lives andideas of Freud and Einstein at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va.; freshwater casting and fishing at Frostburg State College in western Maryland/ a study of the life and music of Chopin at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore; and a study of the summer skies at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, W.Va.

These are not luxury vacation. Accommodations are simple but comfortable in student dormitories, and generally they are available on a two-person share. Often the bathroom is down the hall. Meals tend to be served cafeteria-style. On the positive side, however, these vacations are inexpensive; the instruction can be superb; many campuses are lcoated in scenic and historic areas; and the casual classroom and campus atmosphere fosters an active social life.

The all-inclusive fee for 1986 at most campuses is $195 to $205 per person, which includes six nights' accommodations; all meals from Sunday evening through Saturday breakfast; five days of classes and many extra-curricular activities.

For a complete summer catalogue of classes: Elderhostel, 80 Boylston St., Suite 400, Boston, Mass. 02116. (671) 426-8056.

*OUTDOORS SKILLS. For an area as heavily populated as Washington, there is an amazing amount of wild countryside not far away -- and a number of outdoor schools that offer lessons in specialized outdoor skills, including rock-climbing, backpacking, white-water canoeing, kayaking and caving.

Prices and lesson dates are so varied that listing them is impractical. Schools tend ot offer scheduled classes from early spring through late fall as well as private classes arranged for individuals and groups. Most offer help with nearby lodging arrangements.

Brochures describing classes are available from these wilderness schools:

Outdoor School Inc., P.O. Box 815, Great Falls, Va. 22066. (703) 759-7413. Lessons in rock-climbing, white-water canoeing, wilderness survivial, caving and kayaking.

TransMontane Outfitters Ltd., P.O. Box 325, Davis, W.Va. 26260. (304) 259-5117. Caving, backpacking, rock-climbing, white-water canoeing.

Seneca Rocks Climbing School, Box 53, Seneca Rocks, W.Va. 26884. (304) 567-2600. Three-day basic and intermediate rock-climbing courses.

Nantahala Outdoor Center, U.S. 19 West, Box 41, Bryson City, N.C. 28713. (704) 488-2175. Rock-climbing, backpacking, white-water canoeing and kayaking (and canoe and kayak instructor courses) and river-rescue workshops. A variety of accommodations is available at the center.

*RUNNING. so many people in past summers who signed up for the six-day Potomac Highlands Running Camp called it "a vacation" that the organizers have changed the name to Potomac Highlands Running Vacation.

It is offered annually for one week, usually at the end of July, at the Canaan Valley Resort State Park near Davis, W.Va. The camp, or vacation, is designed for runners of all experience levels, from beginning jogger to elite racer. Clinics, workshops and video-taped performance critiques are given by trainers, medical doctors, dietitians and world-class runners.

The instruciton focuses on running styles, injury prevention and treatment, aerobic conditiong, traing for specific goals, hill-climbing and nutrition and diet. There's a lot of time devoted to actual running, too, with before-breakfast and afternoon runs scheduled daily through the scenic Canaan Valley countryside.

The clinic, open to men and women from teens to seniors, is scheduled this year from July 27 to Aug. 1. The cost for the six-day program -- including five nights' accommodations at the excellent Canaan Valley Lodge in Canaan Valley Resort State Park, all meals and instruction -- range from $275 per person (four in a room) to $385 per person (single room).

For information: Potomac Highlands Running Vacation, 712 South Chestnut St., Clarksburg, W.Va. 26301. (304) 624-9239.