What advice would you give a potential student considering an online education program?

A critical component is to know yourself. Know how you study and learn, how you manage your time, and what kind of support you will receive from your family and workplace.  If you are not sure about these things, seek out an advisor who will give you “straight talk” on how to integrate your goals into the many education options that exist today.  Online learning environments are not all the same. Some are self-paced study, some are cohort-based so you are in a virtual community of learners and instructor while taking your course and program, and some are blended formats that give you the flexibility to study in several different ways.

Research the integrity and accreditation of the institution offering the program. You want the best overall value and learning experience as well as knowing that the credits you earn will count in the future. Have the right equipment and internet connections to take full advantage of your online learning experience.

Explore the programs/courses and the type of support you will receive. Returning to formal study can present its own challenges and you want to know you have support to navigate your way through.

You have many options – choose one that best suits your purpose and goals.

What would you say is the greatest advantage of distance learning programs?

Access to a variety of courses and formats based on your needs, ability and resources, and flexibility to study when and where you want (anywhere, anytime). Distance learning helps you to develop self-direction, take ownership of your learning, and effectively navigate and communicate in an online environment.

Learners can revisit content and master it in a more self-paced environment. Overall there can be less cost in terms of time and money. Distance learning also offers solutions for students to fast track their programs or pick up required courses.  

Distance education expands the options students have in terms of choosing different types of programs or courses that they could not source locally.

"Learners need targeted, relevant skills and knowledge to help them meet their current situation as well as prepare for growth and transferability of skills to new jobs. Continuous learning is a necessity regardless of what form it takes."

How have innovations in technology improved the online learning experience?

If you compare the online learning experience a few years ago to now, you will find more tools and resources to assist in learning, access to a broader range of experts, more interactive ways to communicate with other learners and instructors, better online support that can enhance online experiences, as well as digital enhancements that open up ways to interact, communicate, and engage learners.

You have access to more immediate results in grading and feedback through the use of online tools, and clever designs and technology that support retention, maintain your interest, and encourage interaction in more complex ways.

As innovations evolve, learners will discern the importance and value of these changes and how they ultimately support the learning experience or not.

In today’s challenging job market, why should someone consider continuing their education?

More than ever, we live in an environment of constant change, with new information and skills quickly replacing the old.  We work in a highly competitive market. The need for more diverse and ever changing skills requires re-education and refining of knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Learners need targeted, relevant skills and knowledge to help them meet their current situation as well as prepare for growth and transferability of skills to new jobs. Continuous learning is a necessity regardless of what form it takes.

What is your advice to someone who’s exploring the possibility of going back to school to continue their education?

Do your homework. There are numerous professional development programs and courses that can effectively help learners gain new skills and knowledge as well as enhance existing talent. Much depends on what type of education the learner is considering and for what purpose.

Formal programs such as a degree may be a larger step that requires a longer commitment, so a learner really needs to seek an advisor to discuss options based on individual goals and interests – then explore programs or pathways that will help you move forward.

Look at support frameworks available that will help you be successful – consider what challenges you might have in trying to complete the course or program. This gives a better picture of individual learning needs and expectations so that you can make an informed decision.

What are some of the biggest challenges in growing the continuing education sector?

There is so much choice and such a need for a diverse offering of programs and courses for audiences with very different needs. As much as we want options as learners, providers need to be strategic about what can be supported based on how they want to be positioned in the market and what makes sense for them based on their audience and resources.

With the market changing constantly, learners look for relevant and targeted learning. Providers need to be adept at positioning themselves as leaders who are able to respond, adapt, and be proactive in their solutions.

Where do you think that the continuing and online education industry is headed in 2015?

Industry. In the field of continuing education and online learning, anticipate growth of different types of offerings that are targeted to learner needs. More engagement in learning through strong design, use of technology, expert teaching, and support.  There is increasing competition yet a growing market of both non-traditional and traditional students who want flexibility in their educational choices.

Providers must continually reshape to meet learner needs, acknowledge trends, and improve quality, rigor, and services.

There will be a greater need for collaboration and more partnerships to share resources and provide learning opportunities that a growing audience needs in formats that work for them. As adult learners look for recognition of their continuous learning, look for micro-credentials and short, highly targeted programs.