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From nights to bytes: How continuing education has changed

High speed broadband is a factor driving a new era of self-education and empowering Australians to take their businesses, skills and hobbies to the next level.

Believe it or not, chances are you’ve engaged in Continuing Education whether you have heard the term before or not. It refers to education provided to adults after their formal education journey through primary, secondary and (possibly) tertiary institutions.

As these are undertaken generally around work, lifestyle and family commitments, Continuing Education often involves short courses undertaken on a part-time basis.

Australians might turn to Continuing Education as an opportunity to broaden or refresh their understanding of areas outside their core career path, but which may crossover on occasion. For example, someone in sales might wish to take a design course to learn the best production practices behind the ads they are selling.

They might turn to Continuing Education to widen their employment possibilities; like taking a management course in the hope of earning a promotion, or securing a new job thanks to a freshly bulked-up resume.

And, more increasingly, they might take a Continuing Education course simply to support a hobby – like taking a cooking tutorial in order to improve the tasty treats whipped up in the kitchen, or learning history simply because they’re fascinated by it.

Continuing Education isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s a rapidly evolving one. Increased access to fast broadband has opened up a world of opportunity for professionals, start-ups and hobbyists.

Continuing education before high speed internet

The first centre for Continuing Education potentially dates back to 1874. In New York, the Chautauqua Institution opened its doors as “as an educational experiment in out-of-school, vacation learning,” and was an instant success.

Through the late 1800s and early 1900s, the concept began to emerge across other universities, primarily focused on extending the knowledge of teachers into new and emerging disciplines.

In 1969, the Empire State College launched as a division of the State University of New York, and it was solely set up for Continuing Education. In the years since, the concept has been further refined, with courses offered on evenings and weekends, and topics becoming more niche and varied.

Australia hasn’t been left behind. One notable, but certainly not the only, example being the University of Sydney’s Centre for Continuing Education, which is available to the general public. Many other Australian universities all across the country also offer similar services.

These traditional bricks and mortar establishments sometimes offer their Continuing Education courses in a manner not-unlike formal education. Students can travel to a central location, be taught by a teacher, and look to finish with an official certification to acknowledge what they have achieved. Alternatively, many of these courses are now mostly online, with only exams and occasional classes being held on-site.

The effect of high speed internet

Increased access to high speed internet has helped change the Continuing Education landscape in Australia and around the world dramatically. High speed internet is allowing Continuing Education to burst from a restrictive physical premises into the unbounded opportunity of a virtual classroom without diminishing its effectiveness.

There are four key ways high speed internet has contributed to this:

  1. It has allowed large numbers of people to remotely connect and communicate with each other in real time. This creates a virtual classroom experience, where teacher and students can have a fluid discussion together alongside a live video and/or audio content feed. Webinars operate in such a fashion, and we’re now starting to see similar services emerge through live video streaming channels like Facebook, Twitch and YouTube.
  2. It has enabled the distribution of large files. This not only refers to the bandwidth required to enable video tutorials and audio casts regardless of the student’s device, but also the delivery of required coursework files or assessments. For example, teachers on sites like Lynda often supply large files that students can work with as they follow the video lessons. Apps are also frequently used as a way for students to test themselves and practice what they have learned, while large “How To” guides can also be accessed on websites or as literature through storefronts like Amazon.
  3. It has opened the door to global opportunities. Online Continuing Education businesses aren’t generally limited by the number of staff, or number of seats, in a building. Not only does this provide more opportunity for students to find a place, but could also reduce the cost thanks to the reduction in overheads. In addition, the ability to take courses here or abroad greatly increases the variety of options. Niche study areas or even those that are more prominent in other cultures are now accessible.
  4. Ongoing Support. Once the course has finished, the support can continue. Social media groups, forums and websites often form around Continuing Education experiences. Highly-connected devices then allow students to continue to help and improve each other as their own journeys continue.

What’s next for continuing education?

As technology improves, the sector may very well continue to boom. Live streaming seems like to be a big growth area in the near future, but we can also expect virtual reality – where students can be in a computer-generated destination with their teacher – to play a large role.

The rise of machine learning should help improve the efficiency of lessons as well, and as connectivity comes to more devices, so too will the ways and places that Continuing Education can be delivered.

Whether it’s for work, for fun or as a first step to creating your own start-up, Continuing Education over the internet is set to have a huge role in Australia’s future.

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