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Continuing education formats: Which is the right one for me?

“I am currently participating in continuing education.”

Have you also heard this from acquaintances? Or are you dallying with the idea, yourself? Then you are not alone: Many have decided to make the most of the winter of 2020/21 with its restrictions due to the coronavirus and to continue their education.

But not all continuing education is the same. We explain what you should keep in mind when choosing your offer.

What actually falls within “continuing education”?

Three broad areas are commonly grouped under the term “continuing education.”

  • non-formal learning
  • formal learning
  • informal learning

The first area is non-formal learning. This includes, for example, a language or creative course at an adult education center, a short online workshop or attending a motivational seminar. These formats take place in a systematically planned manner, but do not aim for a recognized degree or certificate.

The second option is formal learning, that is, continuing education with a degree. The classic example is a part-time degree program. However, there are also other ways: Certificate courses and programs are offered by many universities in Germany, and their importance now significantly exceeds that of part-time degree programs. These short formats account for about 75 percent of the offering portfolio at higher education institutions.

Then there is informal learning: We all learn new things every day, for example, through a conversation with a supervisor or colleagues, or an article or book with professional relevance. However, there is usually no official proof for this type of learning – but it should still not be underestimated!

Part-time degree programs while employed

If you want to earn an academic degree, the way is obvious: A university or university of applied sciences offers you the opportunity to take up a part-time degree program and obtain your master’s degree, for example.

A modular degree program, such as the master’s degree program in Interdisciplinary Health Promotion or in Instructional Design, is particularly attractive to working professionals. Here you can start with a single continuing education module to dip your toe in the water, so to speak. This allows you to clarify questions that are important for your success without having to matriculate directly in the program: Does it fit my expectations in terms of format and content? How do I cope with the additional workload?
Then you can combine further modules to obtain your degree in a flexible way.

Faster ways to obtain a degree: continuing education at Universities and Universities of applied sciences

urrently, the demand for and offers of shorter continuing education formats is on the rise. Toni Charlotte Bünemann, Head of the Continuing Education Department at the University of Freiburg, explains:

“An academic continuing education degree is nice, but if you already have one or do not need one, short continuing education formats are even more attractive.”

Your advantage: They are more focused in terms of time and subject matter and thus enable targeted further training. They can have different functions and can serve as professionally required qualification certificates or be attended for purely intrinsically motivated learning reasons. From the respondents’ point of view, the main advantages of short formats are their flexible use in a rapidly changing working world and greater time and financial flexibility.

In the future, Ms. Bünemann expects a continuing trend toward shorter continuing education formats:

“The main target group of academic continuing education is working professionals who want to gain further qualifications. The current corona recession will increase demand for short formats because they offer a more flexible short-term response to learners’ ideas about content and time. More comprehensive certificate programs are used much less frequently in the current context. Expectations of quality do not only refer to the professional level, but also to up-to-dateness, interactivity, and usability in professional life.”

At universities, there is a growing number of stand-alone short formats that are offered independently of a degree program. The outlook for further growth is positive, with 68 percent of higher education institutions expecting an increase in demand for and offers of certificate courses and programs. In addition, part-time degree programs continue to make their way through modularization and recognition opportunities.

For you, this means: More options when choosing your individually suitable continuing education program!