The Four E’s of Continuing Education: The First E is for Education

The long-term success of a continuing education unit is dependent on its ability to provide relevant learning opportunities that are in-demand and responsive to workforce needs.

Continuing Education units can be structured around four inter-connected areas of focus, all starting with the letter E. The first, and arguably the most important, is Education. For the purposes of this framework, Education is defined as “offering the right educational offerings to the right audience.” Added to this common language definition are the areas of academic topics and format of course delivery.

An example of this focus on “Education” would be one of the markets our non-credit continuing education serves: a small community of federal government civil servants focused on engineering and cyber activities. This workforce segment is typically looking for professional development courses related to their career path, so the University of Arizona South offers a selection of cyber/IT courses related to industry certification courses. Yet we found through our informal discussions with students and training managers a need for other skill sets, not related to their IT-centric career choices. As a result of these conversations, we began offering classes on project management, technical writing, leadership, customer service, and soft-skill classes. These courses, seemingly unrelated to IT, were the result of a logical expansion in educational offerings with the right audience at the right time.

The format for class delivery—whether it is the traditional in-classroom face-to-face experience, online, or a mix of the two (hybrid)—falls under the Education umbrella in this model. The federal workforce has access to a variety of online training options, including topics the same or close to what we offer through our continuing education program. Yet the workforce was finding that classes in customer service, technical writing, and leadership, for example, were difficult to master online. They requested for the same topics to be offered in a face-to-face format. Not all student learning styles or course topics lend themselves to effective online delivery, so as continuing education leaders, we should be prepared to adapt to differing student requirements for learning.

“Chasing the almighty dollar” is a common phrase in the business world, and it rings true in the self-supporting continuing education arena, where securing the funds for payroll next week can be a concern. Securing workforce investment grants, through our community partners, has been an excellent way for us to expand our offerings into new course topics. We often find that although the grants kick start our program development process, the community need for the topic is strong, and as a result the new programs continue long after the grant funds have ended. Researching what topics grants will fund is an easy way to get an idea of which new educational areas your institutions should expand into.

The long-term success of a continuing education program requires a healthy balance of focus in a variety of areas. Education—the programs and courses offered—is the cornerstone of a solid program.

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Join us every Wednesday and Friday in December as DeLalla discusses each of these elements in more detail. Next Wednesday, DeLalla will explain the second E, Experience.

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

Ravi Narayan 2012/12/07 at 11:49 am

I agree that it is crucial to make the most of federal funding through workforce investment grants; not only is it a great way to inform new programming/educational options, but it usually tells you where the gaps are in the workforce that need to be filled, and where the jobs are going to be.

This can inform your program offerings and really empower your community to have exactly the skills they need to succeed today. Besides the allocations available through the Workforce Investment Act, other, more specific government departments have begun to make workforce funding available: the Dept. of Energy, Veterans Affairs, the National Science Foundation– they are putting money into causes and initiatives that concern their field specifically, and they are a great source of information re: what to offer and, hopefully, funding as well.

Chuck Schwartz 2012/12/07 at 3:42 pm

Great to see recognition of the fact that not all courses or topics lend themselves to online delivery–it shows a depth of thought and a commitment to quality.

That said, I think that if an institution gets that kind of feedback from students (that this course is better face-to-face), that feedback is better faced as a challenge to improve the effectiveness of their online delivery methods, finding creative and innovative solutions to whatever barriers to learning these students perceive in the online classroom.

There are so many ways to deliver online content, and if it’s done right, it is not uncommon to hear students say that they feel more engaged in their online class than their face-to-face one. This is not only in the best interest of the student but, for the university, it is an opportunity to cut costs and increase scalability and access for their programs and courses.

Vera Matthews 2012/12/10 at 7:48 am

John seems to really understand the nuances of competing for the same market. By creating what seem like close and lasting industry partnerships, and by listening to student feedback and then creating a niche to meet their needs, it seems like the University of Arizona South has secured their target demographic very effectively. A great example.

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