Joe and Charlene think there is a need for a business that provides cheap, private transportation to the handicapped on a daily basis. Jim Reese believes he is ready to parlay his knowledge of medical instruments into a business of his own.

Dave Smith wants to open a showcase for local talent in Montgomery County, patterned after clubs he has visited in New York and Los Angeles.

They were among a dozen suburban Maryland residents who attended a recent Learning Works class on running a small business with the hope of learning how to transform their ideas into enterprises.

Like most courses of the Bethesda-based adult education program, the business class was short and to the point. Learning Works founder Arthur House, who began the operation in April with law partner Donald Hadley, said their aim was to offer brief, inexpensive skills courses for suburban residents near their homes.

The business class, taught by Bethesda lawyer Rebecca Newman Strandberg, began as a lesson for people who had big dreams but little information.

Within two hours, she had acquainted her students with the various departments of the Small Business Administration, outlined the steps of planning business growth, illustrated month-by-month financial progress of a business during its first year and asked the students to consider several questions to determine their commitment to a business project.

By the end of the second and final two-hour session the following week, the students had learned about partnerships and corporations, licensing and zoning concerns, loans and grants, credit and lending laws and sources for further research.

Learning Works courses are one to six evening sessions, cost $15 to $90, depending on the length of the course and supplies, and are nearly always in Montgomery County. (A few courses are given in Northwest Washington.)

Other courses Learning Works offers include "The Care and Styling of Long Hair," "Self-Hypnosis for Self-Improvement" and the preparation of Japanese meals, "Sashimi and Sunomono."

Although Learning Works does not offer the most unusual classes for adults in the metropolitan area -- that distinction belongs to Washington's 8-year-old Open University, which invites students to learn "How To Earn $1,000 A Week (And Still Keep Your Own Job)," among its 320 course offerings--it does teach what House called serious skills for the "goal-oriented" student.

"We knew there was competition, but we felt there was an area in which we could make an offering," House said. "We see, for instance, less interest in interpersonal relationship classes like 'separation and divorce' and 'assertiveness,' which I think have come and gone. We're seeing a specific goal-oriented direction more than interest in general self-improvement."

For that reason, House said, Learning Works offers courses in specific social skills, such as "Jazz Dancing," rather than general social enhancement, such as Open University's "How To Pick Up Men (and Women)."

Sandra L. Bremer, director of Open University, said her institution is able to offer its 7,000 students "fun courses" in addition to skills courses similar to those offered by Learning Works, simply because it is "bigger and more firmly established."

About half of Open University's courses are given in District locations, and a fourth each in Maryland and Virginia. Catalogues for Open University and Learning Works are issued every two months.

House said Learning Works has grown from 125 to 1,200 students since it was founded in April. Course fees are split between the school and instructors, who, in most cases, professionally practice what they teach.

For example, the teacher of several courses on beauty, Efrocine, is an artist and clothes designer whose works have been featured in the designer salons of I. Magnin and Neiman-Marcus. She is a design consultant to the Washington Ballet.

Among her courses for Learning Works is "Wrinkles, Wrinkles, Wrinkles," which 13 women and one man recently attended.

Several of the students, including the lone male, John Stevens, said they wanted to learn how to cope with facial wrinkles following dramatic weight loss caused by illness. Others said they came to learn how to make themselves "more attractive" by thwarting facial wrinkles before they began or increased. A 39-year-old woman expressed the hope she would learn enough about wrinkles to avoid plastic surgery.

Efrocine's two-hour course included information on facial skin and the causes of wrinkles, cleansing, toning and moisturizing products; nutrition and cleaning rituals and exercises likely to minimize wrinkles.

Students who attended Gary Hayman's course on "Body Language" said they wanted to increase their awareness of other people.

Hayman, a certified hypnotherapist who directs Professional Hypnosis Services in Bethesda, also teaches "Self-Hypnosis for Self-Improvement," "The No-Diet Way To Weight Reduction" and "Relax and Eliminate Stress" for Learning Works.

House's hope that courses offered by Learning Works will quickly teach practical skills was tested in Hayman's body language class when a woman named Christine tentatively raised her hand.

"I've been trying to tell you it's cold in here for the last half hour," she told Hayman. "You haven't been reading me."