Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning Trends

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Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning Trends

Continuing education, professional development, and lifelong learning are all terms used to describe an educational or training process that is a key component for successful organizations. The term continuing education often elicits several definitions, however one of the most comprehensive and applicable is Liveright and Hay-good's 1969 version, a process whereby persons who no longer attend school on a regular full-time basis undertake sequential and organized activities with the conscious intention of bringing about changes in information, knowledge undertaking, skill appreciation and attitudes or for the purpose of identifying or solving personal or community problems.

Continuing education and the adult education movement began with the twentieth century. As the world moved to an industrialized economy, the need for continued education and improved access for adults challenged traditional educational venues and created opportunities for both professional and personal skill enhancement and enrichment. Several environmental factors are driving the demand for lifelong learning in the twenty-first century: abundant access to information, rapid technology changes, increased global interactions, industry shifts, as well as increasing entry-level-credentials and skill requirements.

Employers depend on continuing education as a tool for ensuring a highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce. Individuals use continuing education for upward career mobility, job enhancement, and personal enrichment.

The continuing education activity can take place at virtually any time or any place. The format for the continuing education learning should be driven by the content and learning goals. Internet and satellite technology allow employees to engage in educational coursework on the job or at home, which results in a tremendous savings of travel costs and time. Continuing education courses are offered for academic or university level credit, and as non-credit courses. Universities, community colleges, k-12 school districts, private consultants and corporations all participate in offering continuing education content and courses.


Many industry boards, accreditation agencies, and associations have established mandatory continuing professional education (CPE) requirements for licensure or certification. For example, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has established mandatory continuing professional education (CPE) for all members. Most state boards of accountancy have also phased in mandatory CPE as prerequisites for licensure of accounting and auditing practice units. Research has supported this trend. In a 1998 empirical study of the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy, Thomas, Davis, and Seaman found evidence of an association between results of an employee's quality review and levels of continuing professional education in the profession. Other organizations have established a certification process for their respective field such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), which has partnered with educational institutions to deliver the Professional Human Resource Management (PHRM) content and certification test nationally. Non-credit continuing education courses

often carry state-board or association continuing education units (CEU). Participants generally receive a certificate of completion and should maintain personal records of the units earned.

Post-secondary higher education also falls within the sphere of continuing education. As entry-level requirements continue to increase (such as the demand for graduate level credentials), employers and employees search for flexible degree programs. Many employers offer a tuition reimbursement program for employees enrolled in college-level degree programs when applicable to the workplace. Colleges and universities recognize the growing demand from adult learners for academic degree programs, and many offer academic courses off campus, online or at the workplace in accelerated and non-traditional formats.


The corporate university is generally some blend of higher education and organizational training and development. Corporate colleges or universities are characterized as institutions that may grant degrees, academic credit or non-credit training and are chartered by a parent company whose primary mission is not education. Some corporate universities have evolved from a mission to serve the corporation's training and development needs to a full-service private higher education institution. Northrop University began in 1942 as a training division of Northrop Aircraft and evolved to an institution offering undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Kettering Institution (an independent university) grew out of General Motors. Many corporations identify a university or college partner to customize training and academic degree programs specifically to the corporation's business practices. Corporations are using these customized programs as a source for developing future corporate leaders and a means to focus on content areas that are critical to the company's strategic business plans. Multinational companies are developing corporate universities that allow employees around the world to participate in training and educational programs with cost-effective delivery methods. The American Council on Education (ACE) consistently evaluates corporate college or university credits that are offered independent of a regionally accredited institution. ACE establishes recommendations for transfer credit to regionally accredited universities and colleges. Most of the individuals participating in corporate college or university programs are employed full-time which requires that the educational programs are offered in flexible formats. Generally, employees do not have the luxury of attending academic programs on a full-time basis or in a traditional fifteen to eighteen week semester format. Accelerated formats as well as weekend and distance education designs address the needs of working adult learners.

Companies choose to form corporate universities for many reasons. Different colleges, such as a College of Finance or a College of Manufacturing, can teach employees necessary skills, raise the overall quality of the organization, and give the business a new focus and collective concept. Rob Paton and Geoff Peters define the unique qualities of corporate universities in their 2005 book, Handbook of Corporate University Development, listing three features that set such institutions apart:

First, corporate universitiesdescribed as corporate-level initiatives in large, highly complex and differentiated settings,clearly separate from the regular departments of the company. Corporate universities (CUs) are usually located near a central office or corporate headquarters, and they strive to give employees skills that they would not receive at normal, local-level posts with normal training. For this reason, CU structure is planned and overseen by the lead managers in the company, and there is often a seat on the board devoted to the education system.

Second, corporate universities serve as an attempt by the organization to follow its strategy and reach its goals. A CU is established as a means to reach a level of education, skill, and ability that the organization has previously planned for in its mission statement. CUs are purpose-driven: they exist only to give the organization particular focus. What that focus is, and how the university achieves it, are decisions made by the lead managers.

Third, corporate universities raise the standards, expectations, and impact of the organization's training and development abilities. CUs go beyond human resources services, creating a new kind of training the company did not have previously. This allows employees to evolve and grow into leaders and managers within the organization.

Organizations looking to create a CU must consider its structure carefully. Areas such as the scope of the university, the range of learners to attend, and the nature of the university's contribution to the organizations must all be examined and defined. As Lori Freifeld advises in her 2006 article, CU There, employees should be aware of any plans to create a corporate university ahead of time. If the employees are not comfortable with the courses and teaching methods of the new CU, then they will not participate fully in the necessary corporate development. Freifeld gives several points to consider when formingor planning to forma CU:

  • The support of leading managers and board members should be obtained. Full analysis and business plans are required, with supporting evidence that a CU would increase a company's profitability.
  • Determine what a CU would accomplish.
  • Decide on specific strategies and fund allocations.
  • Create a governing board capable of good administration, with representation from all necessary areas of business.
  • Hold concept meetings.
  • Choose a technology that is easy for employees to use.

Corporate universities have gone through several phases since their inception. Paton and Peters define three different types of CUs. The first and most original is the campus-based CU, created in the classic college structure with centralized buildings, professors, and classes that employees attend. Many of the most notable CUs belong to this classic model. The second type of CU involves CBT (computer based training), most often conducted over a company's intranet. This type of university does not need a centralized campus and can stretch across an organization's borders. The third type of CU is a management-training concept, a place or meeting where the leaders of the company gather to reform their vision and create new ideas.

There are several facets to the CU concept that make critics uneasy. Some argue that corporate universities pose a danger both to colleges and corporate stability by blurring the line between education and training. They fear that corporation-sponsored classes in universities may compromise university integrity, and that potential employeesinstead of seeking higher education or trade schoolswill simply bypass these options and attend corporate universities to gain the skills they need.

Notable companies who offer CU training include Bank of America, Coca-Cola Enterprises, FedEx Ground, IBM Corporation, Harley Davidson, MasterCard, Home Depot, Gap International Inc., Proctor and Gamble, and McDonald's.


The second form of CU involves the use of intranet-based training. This is part of distance education, or the idea that classes and skill-courses can be taught by organizations online, creating a university situation through their electronic network. This has been successful for several state universities, who have well-established e-Learning programs that students can participate in online. This system has great potential over a company's more secure intranet system, and is an option for organizations that do not wish to invest as much in a corporate campus but still want a system to teach their employees new skills.

Distance education began with correspondence study and has grown significantly as technology advancements create new opportunities for learning and content delivery. As computer technology became prevalent in business, the print-based correspondence courses progressed to computer-based training, which included simulations and ultimately interactive course content that provided participant feedback and enhanced learning. At the end of the twentieth century, educators and employers invested in telecommunication equipment that distributed educational or training activities from one video conferencing site to another. These interactive television programs allow companies to synchronously connect employee groups regardless of their physical distance.

The online training and education market is very competitive offering many choices for organizations and learners. Colleges and universities throughout the world are offering online courses as well as thousands of training and consulting groups. Organizations either select educational programs and courses ala carte or build a portfolio of e-Learning options. Many large organizations have integrated e-Learning into their corporate university entity. These groups generally have a planned web presence that includes a portal and learning management system (LMS) or course management system (CMS).


There are other types of training and education services that companies give beyond corporate university courses. Many organizations offer training programs for many things, from new technology to advancement positions. Such necessary education is on-site training, meaning that employees are trained in their own offices with the technology they will be using. On-site training can include company updates, meetings to improve marketing skills, and management concepts. The advances being made in globalization and economics require much training by organizations so that their employees are able to successfully adapt to the changing world.

Rana Sinha divides the concept of corporate training into three elements in the 2008 article Corporate Training: A Capital Idea. These three skill sets are human capital, cultural capital, and social capital. Human capital refers to the skills that employees personally develop-talents to use technology or understand processes, the most common type of training that occurs within organizations. The second element, cultural capital, refers to the interactions, morals, and understanding of the applicable nations where the employee works. Cultural capital training would impart the moral guidelines and helpful practices of the culture to the employee. Social capital refers to the connections employees have with each other and suppliers, which with training they can use more effectively.

Organizations considering new branches of training should attempt to succeed in several areas. Training should be agreed to be the best way of communicating the necessary information. The employees and teams who will be trained should be involved in the process of creating the training system. Changes should not be expected too rapidly, but instead be segmented into a certain number of levels which employees can climb. Strategies should be in place to continue helping employees learn and change with the new software or skills after the main phase of training is completed. There are many other elements to be considered when training employees, but most are company-specific and should be decided by leaders of the organization.


The global economy has increased the need for organizations around the world to understand the culture and business practices of their peers, competitors and partners. Both foreign and domestic organizations abroad are implementing continuing education experiences in an effort to enhance cultural understanding and address skill and knowledge gaps. U.S. universities are partnering with both U.S. and foreign companies around the world to deliver educational courses and programs that are critical to organizational competitiveness. A central ministry of education in collaboration with a ministry of commerce generally drives these programs. For instance, China has placed a high priority on the field of Human Resource Development and Entrepreneurship as well as encouraging Chinese organizations to partner with foreign organizations in an effort to implement vocational and applied skill training. India has created a new industry as an outsource venue for customer service which creates customer service training opportunities in India. Korean manufacturers have a solid history of identifying corporate and educational partners that satisfy their organizational educational needs. Continuing education helps global companies to connect the workforce with the organizational vision.


The abundant access of information, rapid technology changes, increased global interactions, industry shifts as well as increasing entry level credentials and skill requirements ensures that continuing education will remain a valuable resource for managers in the future.

Managers will continue to depend on continuing education as a tool for ensuring a highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce. Individuals will engage in lifelong learning as a means for upward career mobility, job enhancements, and enriched quality of life.

The increased interest in lifelong learning coupled with rapid technology advancements and demands on individual personal time will guarantee that educational options will continue to be flexible and fit within the constraints of personal time and organizational priorities. The growing global economy will continue to drive the development of learning activities that span geographical regions and time zones allowing individuals around the world to collaborate and learn together.

Organizations around the world will depend on continuing education to maintain competitive positions and adopt current innovations. Managers will depend on lifelong learning to produce a workforce with the knowledge and solution-based skill-set that is required for organizational growth.


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Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning Trends

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