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The Rise of Alternatives to University Continuing Education

cropped-chalkboard.jpegHistorically, continuing education schools (CE) assumed responsibility for tackling some of the more important tasks facing universities. Online programs were often first tested in continuing education. CE catered to the non-traditional learner long before this group became the norm across higher ed. The financial model of CE forced these schools to be market focussed, well before the budget/tuition crisis hit higher ed proper.

Things are not about to get any easier for CE, particularly for those schools that rely in whole or in part on non-credit programming. Alternative education providers – from outside of colleges and universities – are getting their acts together and are likely to capture a growing share of the non-credit education market.

Examples include:

  • General Assembly offers both f2f  (London, New York, Toronto) and online courses in the related fields of technology, small business and design.
  • Codecademy provides free programming lessons on Python, JavaScript, PHP and more. 
  • Nomadic Learning offers a set of short courses (e.g. 5 hours in duration) on topics such as Critical Thinking and Strategic Thinking.
  • Udemy  offers online courses on a number of practical subjects like Excel as well as general interest courses like “Capitalism in Crisis: The global economic crisis explained.”
  • “Maker” culture, which really took off in 2013, promotes the idea that we need to get back to “making stuff” (rather than just consuming or manipulating); it’s the ultimate in learn-by-doing. See here for more on their education dimensions of Maker culture.

Alternative providers like these are growing in number. Course quality is improving and learners seem more inclined to accept the legitimacy of non-university learning providers.

The days when colleges and universities could use their formidable reputations to reach into the non-credit market unchallenged are over, and the economics of the Internet makes it easier than ever for small companies to compete with the once dominant footprint of higher ed.

Let’s be clear, we need these new learning providers. We are living through what appears to be a “jobless” economic recovery and people need a way range of options – at different price points – in order to quickly retrain themselves for a rapidly changing job market. A robust and diverse continuing education market is a priority for the 21st century and our government leaders and regulators should be crafting policy to make it happen.

In a second post on this subject, I will consider some of the tactics continuing education schools might explore as they adjust to the rise of alternative education providers. 

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Dr. Keith Hampson is Managing Director, Client Innovations at Acrobatiq, a Carnegie Mellon University venture born out of CMU’s long history in cognitive science, human-computer interaction, and software engineering. In addition to adaptive “intelligent” courseware and learning analytics, we offer a range of consulting and professional development services for colleges and universities that increase the quality of their digital programs.

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