Spokane Journal of Business

Continuing education evolving with skills demand

Open online, hybrid courses gain enrollment

  • Print Article

The emergence of new competition and opportunities created through economic and workforce developments have ignited positive change in higher education through continuing education opportunities.

Continuing education has evolved and grown over the last decade to keep up with the changing needs of the adult learner. Online learning, digital badging, “de-bundling” of degrees, and customized workplace learning opportunities have replaced the traditional one-size-fits-all approach.

Technological drivers of change have increased the accessibility and opportunity for online learning. Online courses offer not only flexibility, but they are a resource for media-rich training fully capable of educating individuals anywhere in the world, at any time, and through any connection from their desktop to their mobile device.

Massive open online courses, known more commonly as MOOCs, are online courses aimed at open access, open licensing of content and learning goals via the web with unlimited enrollment of students. MOOCs were first introduced in 2006. In 2015, enrollment was 35 million users, growing to an enrollment of 58 million in 2016.

In 2016, over 23 million people registered for a MOOC for the first time. More than 700 universities offer almost 7,000 individual MOOC courses.

While online learning has changed the way in which an employee seeks and receives training, there are some potential disadvantages that each individual must evaluate. Online education requires self-discipline; there’s no direct interaction with the instructor, there’s a lack of collaboration from other students, and with today’s busy lifestyles, the amount of time required for course completion may be underestimated.

A blend of online instruction with traditional face-to-face instruction, called hybrid courses or blended learning is expected to rise in the next few years and is already on college campuses for the traditional student. These hybrid courses will allow for the traditional classroom experience while blending an online component to link to a more individualized learning experience.

The benefits of a hybrid course are multi-faceted for the adult learner. There’s a cost savings in transportation, textbooks, time lost from work, and childcare expenses. There’s also the advantage of the face-to-face time, some that may be required for specific specializations.

Awarding certificates of completion to recognize achievements is being replaced with digital badges. Digital badging offers new ways to recognize learning outcomes and motivate learners, providing confirmation of skills and achievements in a variety of settings. Badges can display learning outcomes in an email signature, e-portfolio or on web sites and are highly transportable to social media sites. Digital badges aren’t replacing the bachelor’s degree, but they will be used as an add-on to degrees to assist students in displaying skills, competencies, and accomplishments that the traditional transcript fails to capture.

In 2003, iTunes changed the way in which consumers purchased music by de-bundling the CD. Consumers could purchase only the songs they wanted rather than the compilation designated by the artist and label. This idea has motivated higher education institutions to do the same with degrees.

The adult learner is now an average age of 25 and is looking beyond the traditional degree to its component parts of discrete skills and competencies. The millennial is looking for alternative credentialing. A 2015 millennial survey from the University Professional and Continuing Education Association demonstrates that demand for the professional certificate, coursework badging, and competency badging requests is increasing.

The state of Washington is predicted to have population growth over the next decade. The eastern part of the state, which has a different industrial and demographic profile than the western region, will more than likely grow at a slower rate.

Eastern Washington University has been re-strategizing its approach to continuing education programs based on market demand with an eye on program quality, while paying particular attention to the needs of businesses and the surrounding communities. This will position EWU to provide the Spokane and Eastern Washington region with continuing education opportunities for the sake of keeping our local workforce competitive in today’s fast-paced economy.

Brenda Blazekovic is the director of professional and continuing education for the summer session at
Eastern Washington University. She can be reached at bblazeko@ewu.edu.

  • Brenda Blazekovic

  • Follow RSS feed for Brenda Blazekovic

Read More

Sign up for our E-mail updates

including the
Morning Edition

Join our list