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The Benefits of Continuing Education

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Most of us associate secondary education with images of young, fresh-faced and wide-eyed high school graduates. We often think of the college experience as messy dorm rooms, the freshman 15, homesickness, and the beginning of a bright and fruitful career. While this is definitely an accurate depiction of the college experience, it is not the only college or post-secondary experience. According to Universities Canada, there were an estimated 400,000 continuing education students across Canadian universities in 2017.

“We full-heartedly believe in the benefits of lifelong learning. Just because you have graduated, settled into a career, or retired, that doesn’t mean you should stop growing, discovering and improving. Continuing education is an opportunity to fine-tune existing skills, explore new passions, and expand your knowledge. It allows individuals to easily adapt to new situations, to better communicate to coworkers in different disciplines, and more easily take on new tasks,” says Dave Jones, the director of Metro Continuing Education.

The University of Alberta (UAlberta) also offers continuing education programs and courses. Christie Schultz, assistant dean (Academic) at UAlberta’s Faculty of Extension, says that the majority of students choosing to continue their education are in their early- to mid-career phase, and are seeking to develop and enhance skills or build a new career entirely. In a typical year, approximately 60 per cent of UAlberta’s Faculty of Extension students are women, and 40 per cent are men. Since 2010, the faculty has noticed a steady increase in enrolments of people in their 30s.

“There are three main reasons people choose continuing education at UAlberta’s Faculty of Extension. First, students come here to advance their skills through a wide range of unique career development courses that can be taken alone or as part of a certificate or diploma program. Second, our continuing education courses and programs are flexible as they are designed to meet the needs of busy working people. Third, the reputation of our instructors is a key factor in enrolment. They are professionals with real-world experience and contacts, and are committed to creating high-quality learning experiences,” she explains.

According to Schultz, students at UAlberta are gravitating towards courses in areas such as project management, change management, business analysis, supervisory development, information access and privacy, occupational health and safety, and leadership.

“These courses are popular because they help individuals achieve specific professional development goals in their current occupations, or because they are part of a path to a new career,” Schultz concludes.

Elk Island Public School’s Next Step Continuing Education sees a very different trend in popular continuing educations courses.

“Our most popular courses are cooking and baking classes, life balance courses which cover different health topics, mindfulness classes such as meditation, craft and skill classes like woodworking, chalk art and painting – and our unique offerings such as Women and Wine (a topic of interest is presented in a relaxed setting with wine). Another class garnering a lot of attention is our heART Paint Café, with 30 per cent of the registration fees going to support various local non-profit organizations such as The Strathcona Christmas Bureau and A Safe Place Women’s Shelter. Our courses appeal to our customers because they meet a need in the community for lifelong learning, acquiring a skill, solving a problem – and the instructors are exceptional; they develop a following of students who will take other classes from them,” notes assistant principal, Denise Charbonneau.

Thanks to ongoing infrastructure construction, getting to classes in Elk Island is easier than ever. “With the completion of the Anthony Henday ring road, Sherwood Park is now a very short drive for most residents of Edmonton and St. Albert,” she adds.

Charbonneau says that the type of classes that students attend at Next Step is greatly influenced by their age.

“We offer Grade 12 courses at night during the school year and a full roster of high school classes in summer school for students entering grade 10. Although we do have students well unto their 40’s taking academic upgrading classes, the majority of students attending these types of continuing education courses are between 18 and 21 years old. Our career development and professional learning programs are the most popular among those 30 to 55 years old. We purposely developed a number of certificates for people who are underemployed, unemployed, re-entering the workforce after they have spent time raising their children, or people who are underpaid because they don’t have a certificate for the job they are currently doing. These can be stand-alone courses either in class or online, as well as full online certificates at very affordable cost-recovery prices. The topics range from supporting struggling students (aimed at educators and childcare providers), computer courses such as Excel training, and full certificates in Office Administration and Professional Life Coaching,” she explains. “Our cooking, languages, photography, art, and life balance courses are usually attended by people looking to acquire a skill, explore an interest or develop a hobby. We see students between 30 to 60 years old attending these programs. Some use the courses as a date night or a way to connect with an adult child or friend.”

More and more businesses are also investing in their employees’ professional development with custom corporate training. NorQuest College’s Colbourne Institute for Inclusive Leadership seeks to become a leader in consultation services, applied research, education resource development, and customized training solutions that encourage and support organizations in developing and sustaining inclusive cultures.

“We have to keep moving forward positively, despite the historical, political, and economic forces that sometimes make us feel that our actions are not having the impact we’d like them to. Eventually we all, within our community, come to a point where we need to develop the capacity to work with people that are different than we are and to see that as a strength of relationships. It is just a fact of our lives, and the sooner we can get people to think about that from a leadership standpoint, the better the organization will become,” says Lori Campbell, principal.

“We want to be prepared to equip people with expertise, knowledge, and support to take on a more inclusive leadership role. I once heard a speaker say ‘inspire before you require’ about diversity and inclusion training, and I think that makes great sense. Mandatory training is sometimes not as effective,” she concludes.

Continuing education doesn’t necessarily have to take place in an academic setting. People looking to expand their skill set or gain new knowledge can also enroll in a variety of workshops, seminars, or conferences. Janis Galloway, agency director for Publicity Room, recently led a course on public relations and social media at PARKFORUM. The course was a two-day seminar for entrepreneurs from all levels of experience and was hosted by PARK, a non-profit organization.

“Continual education is especially crucial for business owners. Hearing from other entrepreneurs about their successes and failures is really helpful! Business owners can feel alone, especially since Instagram makes it look like everyone else has it all figured out. Attending an event, especially in person, really helps remind people that they are not alone in their challenges,” says Galloway. “Workshops and seminars are often much more affordable and take place at more convenient times for those with busy schedules. You are usually hearing from people who work in a similar field, and because the business sector moves so fast, it is really beneficial to learn from people who are in the thick of it and understand modern opportunities and challenges.”

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