The term “continuing education” has evolved and refers to different things depending on where you are located, but “continuing education programs” in the United States and Canada refers to post-secondary education that teaches through learning activities and programs. Many different career paths require continuing education as a part of continued licensing and certification.
A wide variety of learning activities may be included in continuing education programs. Some of these include:
- Degree-earning classes: Nontraditional students (those who are not the “typical” age for college attendance) may take college and university courses that earn credit toward an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree. Courses may be considered general education credits, liberal arts credits, or courses particular to one’s major area of study.
- Non-degree-oriented career training: Studies that prepare a student to practice a trade may be considered career training. For instance, certificate programs in dental hygiene, cosmetology, HVAC, automotive repair, and other skills are considered trade education. Trade education is career-based education and is included in many continuing education programs.
- Workforce training: Many companies or industries offer career-specific or company-specific classes or courses that help to build skills, knowledge, and expertise for particular aspects of a profession. Workforce training may be administered on-site or via another method, such as distance learning.
- Formal personal enrichment courses: People often take courses that teach them a new skill or build on a talent. Art, music, gardening, and other such classes are common personal enrichment courses. These classes are often available as online courses or may be taken onsite at a college or university.
- Self-directed learning: Learning may be achieved when people take it upon themselves to research topics of interest to them through Internet interest groups, clubs, or organizations that focus on a particular subject. For instance, bird watchers gain knowledge through being a member of the Audubon Society. This type of learning is considered continuing education because it helps to further the educations of nontraditional students.
- Experiential learning: Nontraditional students may acquire knowledge through sessions that challenge them to find solutions to problems. Knowledge gained from experiences is often equivalent to information that is taught in other classrooms.
Continuing education programs date back to 1907 when the University of Wisconsin-Madison established the first continuing education courses. In 1969, the Empire State College (a division of New York University) focused strictly on higher education for adult learners and nontraditional students. This trend caught on, and the University of Florida followed suit by founding its own full-blown Division of Continuing Education with courses offered on weekends and during evenings to meet the needs of employed students. This trend continued, and educational opportunities became more accessible to those who had families, worked full time, or had other obligations that didn’t allow them to attend school full-time.
There are many uses for continuing education programs in the United States. Many professions that require licensing and certifications mandate that continuing education is required for maintenance of the license or certificate. For instance, massage therapists, nurses, cosmetologists, and doctors must acquire certain amounts of continuing education credits to maintain their credentials. Continuing education helps to make certain that professionals stay up to date with new developments and trends within their industries and provides them with opportunities to expand their knowledge bases.
Most groups require professionals to earn CEUs (continuing education units), which are equivalent to 10 contact hours of education, or CEs (continuing education credits), which are equal to one contact hour of learning. Professionals usually receive their continuing education credits or units from colleges or universities, worksite classes, conferences, extension courses, or seminars. There are many different continuing education programs in the United States.