Continuing Education 688
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Continuing education—the acquisition or improvement of work-related skills by people already in the workforce —became increasingly vital throughout the 20th century partially as a result of technological advances, which led many industries to depend on high-tech equipment. Furthermore, the corporate downsizing of the 1980s and 1990s added to the need for workers to upgrade their skills in order to retain their positions or to compete effectively for new ones.

During the 1990s, the number of continuing-education programs as well as the number of adults in enrolled in such programs rose rapidly. For example, more than 50 universities offered industry-driven certificate programs by 1997, up from only 25 in 1990. Moreover, the number of people enrolled in university continuing-education programs grew to 76 million by 1997, according to the National University Continuing Education Association.

Continuing education includes formal and informal training. Workers may earn college degrees through formal programs, concentrate on professional development courses aimed at personal enrichment in informal surroundings, or participate in programs that include both formal and informal elements. Generally, continuing education refers to classes and seminars that focus on job-related skills and knowledge.


Ideally, continuing-education programs benefit both businesses and workers. Businesses encourage continuing education in order to sustain a highly skilled and specialized workforce—a workforce with the skills to perform a variety of tasks or workers with "cross-functional" skills. Workers, on the other hand, may receive promotions, gain more power in the job market, or become more valuable employees by enrolling continuing-education programs.

Courses are available through a variety of channels. High schools, community colleges, universities, and trade/professional societies and organizations all provide continuing-education programs. Many offer night courses or run weekend-only programs that provide a convenient alternative for those with traditional Monday through Friday schedules. Schools sometimes team up with businesses and organizations to offer programs jointly. In addition, many companies run their own continuing-education programs, ranging from workshops and seminars to full-fledged college-credit curriculums.

For example, Associated Spring, of Bristol, Connecticut, a division of the Barnes Group, cosponsors a voluntary on-site training program for employees that allows participants to earn credits toward associate degrees. The classes are run by instructors from Tunxis Community-Technical College in nearby Farmington. Classes range from basic subjects such as English composition to advanced managerial courses, such as organizational behavior, business and society (the study of public policy), and labor relations. By offering such courses, businesses can ensure that they have a steady supply of qualified workers.

While advancing technology played a role in creating the need for continuing education, it also created new avenues for providing continuing education. The Internet, for example, eased the burden of enhancing business skills by allowing professionals to learn at home whenever convenient, alleviating the commuting and the time constraints associated with traditional classes. Universities as well as professional societies and organizations set up Internet classrooms or web sites that provide audio and visual instruction in such fields as insurance, accounting, real estate, and computer software.

Not all continuing-education courses are aimed at professionals. Some schools offer training facilities and programs for tradespeople such as plumbers and carpenters. Classes in such programs provide not only practical information on the tasks of the trades, but also information on how to start and manage businesses.


People who upgrade their work skills and knowledge not only can keep up with the latest technologies and business techniques, but they also can receive other benefits, such as the training needed to climb the corporate ladder and to realize additional career goals. Training facilities often house state-of-the-art equipment such as computers and computer-based training equipment. Computers can facilitate interactive training through computer networks such as the Internet. With this technology, learners have instant access to experts in virtually every vocation.

While continuing education is sometimes perceived as largely a means to career advancement, researchers in the late 1990s argued that continuing education was becoming less of an option and more of a necessity. Hence, one of the greatest benefits workers may derive from continuing education is simply keeping their jobs. Nevertheless, additional education still can help employees receive promotions and land better jobs.

Besides these basic advantages, some experts contend that continuing education provides additional benefits at a more abstract level. Continuing education allows workers to clarify and understand the purpose and goals of their occupations. In addition, continuing education can help advance various occupations by giving employees the opportunity to acquire both theoretical and practical occupational knowledge and to improve their problem-solving skills. Continuing education also facilitates establishing and regulating occupational standards for some professions.

Perhaps the ultimate benefit of continuing education, however, is its ability to impart an attitude or disposition that encourages workers to find and use the best techniques available at any given time and to realize that these techniques will need to be improved or replaced, according to Cyril 0. Houle in Continuing Learning in the Professions. This attitude became all the more important late in the 20th century with the persistent technological advances, the growth of competition for jobs, and the shift from a manufacturing-based economy to a service based economy.

[ Arthur G. Sharp ,

updated by Karl Heil ]


Brookfield, Stephen. Developing Critical Thinkers: Challenging Adults to Explore Alternative Ways of Thinking and Acting. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1987.

Evans, Norman. Post-Education Society: Recognizing Adults as Learners. London, England: Croom Helm, 1985.

Houle, Cyril 0. Continuing Learning in the Professions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1980.

Kim, Nancy J. "Continuing Education Is No Longer an Option." Puget Sound Business Journal, 15 August 1997, 27.

Lamdin, Lois. Earn College Credit for What You Know. 2nd ed. Chicago: Council for Adult & Experiential Living, 1992.

Mandell, Alan, and Elana Michelson. Portfolio Development and Adult Learning. Chicago: Council for Adult & Experiential Living, 1990.

Smith, Peter. Your Hidden Credentials. Washington: Acropolis Books, 1986.

Also read article about Continuing Education from Wikipedia

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