Published on 2012/12/12

The Four E's of Continuing Education: The Second E is for Experience

A student’s non-academic experience can make or break their overall impression of a program or institution. While creating a good student experience takes a significant time and resource investment, it pays off in the long run.

Continuing Education units can be structured around four inter-connected areas of focus, all starting with the letter E. The second, and often most discussed by students when talking about their time with your program, is Experience. For purposes of this framework, ‘experience’ is defined as ‘offering a positive, educational, and comfortable time while in class’. Added to this common language definition is the teaching faculty and classroom environment.

In talking with our non-credit continuing education students, I’ve heard a variety of concerns from students about returning to class. Homework, workload, exams, textbooks, and ID cards are all common topics of discussion. Once they get into the classroom, they frequently comment on how pleased there are with the lack of exams, the homework being based upon assigned readings from the supplied textbook and materials, and the lack of required ID card, parking pass, or other small but possibly concerning items. This collection of little items, if not addressed, could add up to the difference between a student returning or not, so communicating up front about the lack of barriers is a key process.

The experience we offer our students is excellent, and I’ll share our story with you. Feel free to comment below on ideas to improve – we’re always looking to improve!

The Student Experience

A student’s experience with us begins with their confirmation email about their upcoming class. The email includes class days, hours and location as well as narrative directions based on nearby landmarks, along with links to maps with parking information. The email includes information about what to expect, supplies needed, food options, technology options, and a name with a direct phone number and email to contact for additional questions. In addition, it provides a ‘day of class’ phone number to call or text if the student is lost or if emergencies come up before the office opens for the day. Our staff frequently meet students in the parking lot and walk them right to the classroom door. It’s a great chance to visit with students and provide a higher level of service.

Once a student arrives in the classroom, they are greeted by name by the instructor and a staff member, guided to a seat labeled with their name, with supplies for class there waiting for them. The supplies include the textbook and materials, along with notepaper, pen, and coffee cup (all branded for the university). Our classroom projectors previously had cable TV available, and we’d show news shows on the screen/dry erase board until class started, which often created casual conversations among the students. We now play soft music and informally discuss community happenings.

The back of the classroom has a mini-fridge with whisper-quiet motor, fully stocked with beverages and water, and on top, a collection of salty (and sugary) snacks available, along with common supplies like extra pens, paper, staplers, et cetera. Business cards for staff and program brochures, along with information about other university resources/degrees, are also available. On the wall is a calendar for the year, showing some upcoming classes, and a clock. The clock purposely is on the rear wall, so the instructor can watch while lecturing, and the students can’t ‘catch a glimpse’ of the time without effort, allowing them to focus on the class content and not the clock.

Instructors wear university-logoed polo shirts, have their name and university email displayed on the dry-erase board, and are qualified instructors with experience in the field being taught. Some are internal to the university as faculty or staff, while others are outside contractors from the community. All have “engagement agreements” that spell out the expectations for the class and payment process. Pay ranges based upon topic, class length, and enrollment, with payment being all-inclusive of content development, any travel, and teaching time.

One the final day of class, students are presented with a certificate of completion. Although the certificate is printed on a plain color printer, we frame them into a low-cost attractive frame, that often finds its way to a student’s place of work to hang on the office wall. The certificate serves as a reminder to the student and a marketing piece for the university.

The non-academic experience can require significant development time, but its importance within the program overall cannot be overlooked as you plan your program offerings.

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Join us every Wednesday and Friday in December as DeLalla discusses each of these elements in more detail. On Friday, DeLalla will explain the third E, Enrollment.

The Four E’s of CE:

  1. Education: Academic topics and format (distance, in-person, etc) offered for students.
  2. Experience: Teaching faculty, classroom environment and campus life.
  3. Enrollment: Marketing, sign-up process, and alumni relations.
  4. Economics: Do the first three steps right, and the balance sheet should be in the black.
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Readers Comments

Charles Zahn 2012/12/12 at 11:28 am

Since we are talking about continuing ed, I assume we are talking about adult students. And I am wondering if there has ever been any backlash from these techniques? I ask because, in general, I think many adult students come back to school with an attitude of self-sufficiency and knowledge and may react poorly to being coddled–walked to class, led to a desk with their name on it–it all sounds very elementary school.

Perhaps I am underestimating the powers of personalization and targeted customer service; perhaps your students are delighted to feel so important and valued. I just wonder if some adult students, especially those in technical education, might not warm to this right away.

    John DeLalla 2012/12/12 at 5:26 pm

    Mr. Zahn –
    I had the same concerns as you with the high-level of customization for the adult learners – I didn’t want to ‘baby’ them. Some students point out they don’t like the pre-assigned seats, so we simply hand them their name tag and tell them to move wherever they like in the room, which is typically the back corner seats.
    Walking them through campus from the parking lot is a great chance to build a slight relationship, so any future marketing messages are received with a ‘hey I know that guy’ response. Buying from friends over strangers, right? 🙂
    Thanks for your comments, and keep the communication going – we’re all in this CE world together!

Vera Matthews 2012/12/12 at 1:37 pm

I think the confirmation email and pre-class contact with the student that you have designed is absolutely fantastic. Not only does it provide them directions and all the information they need about the course, it provides them with a personalized contact (name as well as number: crucial) if they have further questions.

They automatically feel important, and through this process, whatever questions students have can be easily tracked and the confirmation email can be later tweaked to reflect the biggest student concerns. Walking students to class is a pretty great idea too, and frankly I’m shocked that your staff has the time and resources to provide that.

    John DeLalla 2012/12/12 at 5:30 pm

    Ms. Matthews –
    The personal point of contact does result in a high frequency of calls on class start days with lost or late students. There are times with many classes starting at once, and nearly 80 new adult students arriving, that I’ll be on the phone for an hour straight in little one-minute calls. But it helps the students, and that is the bottom line for us.

    Walking students from the parking lot to the classroom does take time, but it keeps me from the gym and allows a chance to visit with the students and answer any questions, as with building a slight relationship with the student.

    Thanks for the comments – I appreciate it!

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