Three Factors That Help A University Stand Out in the Employee Education SpacePaulina Nozka | Lead Career Consultant in the Ryerson Career Centre and in the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education Career Centre, Ryerson University
As a working professional, how would you go about choosing an educational provider when the time came to upgrade your skills?
I was recently asked about the main factors that help a university stand out in the employee education space. In order to answer that question, I think it’s important to start by looking at what motivates an employee to want to add such a significant commitment to their already full plate. Most of the students that I work with are juggling family responsibilities, volunteer work and other extra-curricular commitments in addition to their jobs. Taking even one course will add another 10 or so hours to their week, between the time spent in lectures, class preparation and assignments, and it is common for students to take up to two courses per term, adding up to a significant commitment of resources. Given this reality, it may seem surprising that many individuals do take this on and I would be hard pressed to recall meeting a past or present student who has regretted this choice, or even failed to enjoy the process.
Having had the pleasure of working with current and past Chang School of Continuing Education students on their career planning and job search strategies, as well as having talked to many individuals who are considering taking the plunge into continuing education courses or certificate programs, I can tell you that certain patterns emerge in terms of what they look for. I believe that meeting the needs of the learner and ensuring their positive experience comes down to meeting the following criteria:
- Return on Investment
The reason so many of the individuals I meet are happy with their continuing education experience is that they get a good return on their investment of time and money (or their employers’ money). One of the first things that they mention when I ask about the highlight of their time at the Chang School is being able to apply what they learned in class directly to their work. This is not surprising, since as adult learners, we are internally motivated and anything we commit to doing must serve a purpose. If the education provided has immediate relevance and impact to your job, not only will this translate to a return on investment in the form of job growth and increased opportunity, but will be intrinsically rewarding. The learners I work with speak of increased opportunities at their current workplace and in the industry as a whole, and satisfaction as a result of being able to take on more challenging work. So, the university that provides a relevant, current offering that can be easily integrated and applied to meet immediate work goals will be attractive to potential learners.
Given busy work schedules and other responsibilities, students value having a flexible schedule. I am often asked by individuals considering continuing their education about the flexibility of our programs – they are concerned with the ability to make classes fit with the rest of their lives. They want to have the option of learning via distance education, or in person and being able to access resources wherever and whenever they are. There is no one-size-fits-all solution here, as we all like to learn in different ways and I hear from as many individuals who prefer the online, distance education option as I do from those who prefer the in-person, classroom experience. The key for the university is providing the flexibility for learners to work at their own pace, to allow learners to take as little, or as much time to complete their programs as they wish and be able to access the instructors and materials in multiple ways.
The quality of the teaching, relevance of the material, access to a network of other professionals and supportive staff and faculty all contribute to a positive experience for the learner, from the initial inquiries, to the student experience and through to alumni. For instance, the individuals that I work with appreciate the fact that the instructors have first-hand knowledge of their industries, deliver high quality programs and are responsive to their concerns and questions. They also appreciate the out-of-the classroom support they receive, such as access to the university’s career services, which allows them to plan out their career strategies and reach their professional goals sooner then they may have otherwise. A university that shows respect to the learner by listening to their needs and providing professional service, high quality teaching and relevant support is likely to be a place where learners want to go.
Although I focused mainly on the employee’s perspective here, ensuring that the above criteria are met will make a university stand out in the employee education space. It will give the organization employees with the relevant, current skills they need, while ensuring a positive and rewarding learning environment for the employee.