Continuing Education




Some thoughts I had while reading this report about Continuing Education offerings.

Now, I’ve taken a lot of CE offerings through several different sources, and I’ve even taught others how to design CE, so I have a lot of thoughts about how it can be best. I’ll close off this post with how I would create my preferred model.

First the assumptions.

  1. CE is revenue generating for the institution offering it
  2. It is easy to change offerings and responsive to learner and employer feedback
  3. It is short and fits into the schedule and budget of its audience
  4. The audience is
    • Retired people looking for interesting things to learn
    • New immigrants looking for connection of prior experience with the Canadian context
    • Individuals looking to upskill for their current or planned profession
    • Groups and individuals looking to learn something new and interesting
    • Company and organizations looking to train their employees
  5. Offerings end with some form of recognition of learning

A lot of this can be reimagined differently into:

  • Learner needs
    • Lifelong learning
    • Formal requirements
    • Informal requirements
    • Job transition
  • Labour market demands
    • Skills development
    • Changing nature of work
  • Institutional governance
    • Revenue generation
    • Building paths for “non-traditional” students
    • Industry partnerships

Now those assumptions are interesting because they also often line up with how we talk about micro-credentials. Which is of course why in Canada they are merging (a good idea in my opinion), something that Alex Usher over at HESA pointed out last week as well.

A big discussion in CE and in micro-credentials is competency based vs time based. In practice time based always wins. This comes back to assumptions 1 and 3. If it’s truly competency based then you may have some people accomplish it quickly and others slowly, this makes scheduling and cohorting difficult, so it either needs to be a non-cohorted training (asynchronous online does this) or it will be very labour intensive. The flip side of scheduling is that if schedule overruns happen then it will either be longer or more expensive than assumption 3 allows. Finally, competency based means that the course ends up revolving around the assessment. Unfortunately a strong competency assessment is rarely flexible, adaptable, or budget friendly.

Before you think I don’t like competency based education, please know that I feel competency based education is the best way to go. It is stronger, and when done right allows for progression in innovative ways. It is more akin to how humans actually learn and is flexible. However, it is also much much more expensive to do well than time based is, and I have no illusions around what wins between the B grade cheaper and A grade expensive options when brought before a government.

With all those assumptions out of the way, let me build my preferred CE program for you.

My goal is for it to focus on short run offerings that are targeted and flexible, and are stackable and transfer as credit when stacked. It’s that last one that makes the system require it to be a system.

A three credit class takes generally about 35 in class hours plus 35-70 out of class hours to complete. Most CE classes have the total in class and expected out of class time listed as a component of it, making this a little easier. In my proposed model you would be able to take any 15 hours of cumulative courses within a broad discipline to apply as one credit. That does mean that it would generally take multiple CE classes to get the equivalent of a standard university class (3 credits).

If all four of Targeted, Flexible, Stackable, Transferable are in place then not only can the system be built as a CE system, but they also fit into a micro-credentials framework.

In essence the process goes like this:

  1. Identify a need
  2. Define the problem
  3. Research the context
  4. Develop a solution
  5. Map the solution
  6. Operationalize the solution

Lets use Underwater Basketweaving as an example.

  1. Identify a need
    • In my fictional town there’s a great interest among retired people in underwater basketweaving
  2. Define the problem
    • UB is a difficult but rewarding hobby and art that has a fairly high level of skill required and specialized tools
    • It’s difficult to learn on your own and requires someone to guide the beginner through it
  3. Research the context
    • Space: needs to be physically located near a body of water or deep pool that is safe, controlled, and accessable.
    • Students: no prior experience required, recruited from the local region, primarily retired and looking for in person connection with others as well as learning a new skill
    • Staffing: moderate expertise required in the UB as well as strong safety understanding and certification
    • Content Development: contract development of content to first staff member in coordination with in-house course designer
    • Modality: in person facilitated with experiential component
  4. Develop a solution
    • Title: Underwater Basketweaving
    • Background & Context: context of institution, location, assumptions and constraints
    • Purpose: Provide training in the rewarding art and hobby of underwater basketweaving
    • Audience & Positioning: hobbyists in the local community, primarily retired, looking for in person classes with others who share their interests, as it is an expensive hobby the interested audience has less restricted income than some; no local competitors
    • Objectives & Deliverables: Creation of three classes in increasing difficulty to train the basics through intermediate skills of underwater basketweaving
    • Key Stakeholders: Community, practitioners of the hobby
    • Budget: First run recovers full content development costs, future runs based on the same cost per course, but with fewer development costs attached
  5. Map the solution
    • Three courses at level 1, three at level 2, and two courses at level 3
    • No requirements for level 1, level 2 requires experience or completion of level 1, level 3 requires completion of level 2 or completion of an assessment test that mimics course 2 outcomes
    • Time per course: 8 hours over two or three days, no out of class time expected
    • Completion of each class receives a recognition of completion (stackable micro-credential?)
    • Completion of the two level 3 courses receives an Underwater Basketweaving Certificate
    • Two transfer options for those who are then, or later, enrolled in a credit program at the university:
      • Those with the certificate can be transferred into the university credits as three credits of CON 1xxx (note, some students may have achieved levels 1 and 2 through competency assessment, so these three credits would be based on the credential not the hours)
      • Alternatively, because completing all courses would give 4 credits students could instead convert each fifteen hours worth of courses as one credit for each 15 hours as CON 1xxx
  6. Operationalize the solution
    • Determine full budget and timeline including space, staffing, supplies, and other requirements
    • Hire course developer/instructor
    • Collaborate with local underwater basketweaving community to drive interest and develop community connections
    • Develop assessment for those challenging levels 1 or 2
    • Begin marketing for the first courses

Thus ends the fictional example. It’s a learning solution designed around a community need, that supports the community by offering a course of interest. If one of the students who took it later wants to come to the university for a credit program they can transfer in some of that as elective credit.

What if instead of courses to meet a community need it’s to meet employment upskilling or employee training, for example Project Management. It requires more because it’s connected with an industry need, a personal interest from students, employees, and the community, and it is connected to a voluntary certification through the Project Management Institute. Only 35 hours of courses are required for the PMP designation, but more is normally taken.

In that case the context and key stakeholders add in more things, but the structure of creation remains the same. As you add those stakeholders you also get to change the type of credit it grants. If someone takes only the minimum 35 hours they’ll still be able to convert it as a credit, but now since project management is something that aligns with other curriculum in University it isn’t a CON credit any more, it now becomes BUS credit. If someone were to take a substantial amount of classes in project management, like through Mount Royal University’s 115 hour program that could transfer in as perhaps 9 credits, or as the 15 hours per credit (so 7) method.

Final thought: a good continuing education system is one that is Targeted, Flexible, Stackable, and Transferable. That requires a lot of pre-planning and organization from the institution offering it, but a well designed and responsive CE department isn’t just about revenue generation (though that is of course a key part of this), it’s an opportunity to build closer connections with local communities, industries, and groups.


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