Everyone knows what to expect from a university education: deep knowledge attained over multiple years through traditional teaching methods.

However, as Gary Hepburn, outgoing President of the Canadian Association for University Continuing Education (CAUCE) explains, “the challenge [for universities] is how they respond to a changing world.” CAUCE, which represents 42 schools nationally, has found that university continuing education courses are growing part of the answer.

Crash course in career-building

Continuing education courses respond to specific professional needs, such as learning to work with artificial intelligence or conflict resolution strategies. Data analytics programs develop immediate core competencies that employers find essential  and are designed to attract both recent graduates as well as mid-career professionals.

“We’re more adaptive and responsive,” Hepburn says. “We can revise and re-develop much more quickly to meet lifelong learning needs.”

Demand is surging, especially for accelerated and fast-track programs, notes Carolyn Young, incoming President of CAUCE. Many schools are participating in badging projects, where participants receive acknowledgement for completing certain learning objectives.

Human intelligence

Many courses offer certificates of completion and standalone diplomas. University tuition for degree programs can cost thousands of dollars per year, whereas continuing education is affordable, and can typically be completed part-time and online, so students can continue working.

Governments predict that both high-skill and low-skill employment will be affected by automation, influencing  thousands of jobs in the coming years. A 2017 report from the federal government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth urged the creation of a “third pillar” of education— continuous learning and skill development— to support working Canadians in an era of profound technological change.

“Some skills will be more valuable than ever before,” Young says. “Abilities to resolve conflict, communicate, manage a project— those skills will continue to reside in human intelligence, and that’s where continuing education excels.”