The purpose of continuing education is to help adults improve their employment and income prospects by learning new skills or improving those they already have. Continuing education is for everyone, not just professionals. In this guide, we'll survey the major categories of continuing education and offer numerous examples of reputable providers.

The scope of continuing education is quite large, extending to post-secondary school learning activities of many types, including:

  • Career training, perhaps ending in certification or satisfaction of professional requirements
  • Non-traditional students taking credit courses
  • Workforce training
  • Personal enrichment learning at schools or online
  • Learning through self-directed activities, such as personal research, membership in clubs or Internet groups

It's important to distinguish between continuing education and adult education. While both are undertaken by adults who wish to learn, the purpose of adult education is usually considered to be basic or remedial, such as learning to read, or taking classes to earn a general education degree (GED, the equivalent of a high-school diploma). On the other hand, continuing education presumes at least some post-secondary school learning that you want to continue after completing some formal goal or degree.

The venues that deliver continuing educations include colleges and universities, industry associations, extension schools, community colleges, government or private agencies, and private learning facilities. Many fields of continuing education are taught via the Internet or some mixture of online and in-person learning. Motivations for taking continuing education courses are varied, including professional mandates, desire to improve job skills, receiving specialized knowledge, or simply intellectual/social stimulation.

While guilds and private social groups have offered continuing learning for millennia, the advent of formalized continuing education in the U.S. is generally attributed to the University of Wisconsin, which in 1907 created its Extension Division that was organized around the educational needs of adults and which emphasized innovative methods. Soon, 2- and 4-year colleges were popularizing continuing education courses, and many professionals decided to formalize continuing education requirements, often overseen by an academic society or similar institution. Today, the opportunities are numerous, and it's also possible to enjoy tax benefits for continuing education related expenses.

In this guide to continuing education:
Continuing Education For Professionals
Massive Open Online Courses
University And College Courses
Night And Weekend Classes

  1. Continuing Education For Professionals

    Doctors, lawyers, accountants, scientists, financial advisors, realtors, programmers and many other types of professionals and skilled workers take CE courses to:

    • Satisfy governmental licensing board requirements
    • Satisfy professional membership requirements
    • Extend knowledge and/or keep up to date with the latest developments
    • Specialize in one or more subfields
    • Be eligible for jobs that require continuing education

    Each profession has its own CE requirements, often regulated by state governments. Providers of CE credits may themselves be accredited by governmental entities and/or by professional organizations. Normally, well-established professional associations maintain a registry of approved CE providers, and generally CE credits from these providers are the most valuable, as they are recognized throughout their profession. On the other hand, the CE credits accumulated under the auspices of a little-known or fringe professional association might be open to question.

    There are thousands of professional associations and CE providers in the United States. In this guide, we will point out some examples of the biggest and most important institutions for several different professions. You can use the links to gather further information about the associations we cover, but you should be prepared to research on your own the CE requirements for your profession and state.

    State requirements for CE vary. For example, physicians and surgeons in California must receive 50 CE credits within each two-year period in order to maintain their licenses to practice, whereas Louisiana requires 20 CE credits per year. In general, a credit is equal to some number of hours of approved CE activity. State licensing boards often run audit programs that verify claimed CE credits by checking on sample licensees.

    Depending on the profession, practitioners may choose among several methods to accumulate CE credits, including:

    • Participating in a live activity, such as a course offered by an accredited provider or university, as well as attendance at accredited conferences, seminars, workshops, journal clubs, webinars and other structured learning activities.
    • Participating in a research or grant program.
    • Learning provided by enduring materials, such as videos, printed items and podcasts.
    • Writing a peer-reviewed article in a recognized professional journal
    • Taking a test from, or writing test items for, accrediting boards and societies.

    The CE options and difficulty vary with the profession. For example, one should expect that the CE requirements for a medical doctor would be highly rigorous because lives are at stake.

    Sampling Of Professional Associations That Accredit CE

    1. Medical: The two largest professional associations that accredit continuing medical education (CME) are the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Council of Continuing Medical Education (ACCME). The AMA's Physician Recognition Award and Credit System tracks AMA-approved CE credits. The AMA is one of several ACCME member organizations, which also include the American Board of Medical Specialties and the Federation of State Medical Boards of the U.S. The ACCME is responsible for accrediting institutions that offer CME.

    2. Legal: Each state sets its own requirements for mandatory continuing legal education (CLE). The American Bar Association is the dominant provider of CLE products and services. The Continuing Legal Education Regulators Association is a forum for state organizations that regulate mandatory CLE.

    3. Accounting: Certified public accountants (CPAs) must take CE courses to comply with the requirements of state boards of accountancy and professional organizations. A leading accredited CE provider is the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), which offers thousands of hours of CE material. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) maintains a national registry of accredited CE sponsors.

    4. Architecture: Most states requires 16 to 30 CE credits every biennial cycle. The umbrella organization and CE provider is the American Institute of Architects.

    5. Science: In general, scientists take CE courses to extend their knowledge and qualify for jobs rather than for meeting mandatory state requirements. Much scientific CE is provided by colleges and universities. In addition, almost every branch of science has its own professional society or governmental department that offers CE. The American Chemical Society, the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the American Psychological Association are just some of the scientific bodies which offer continuing education.

    6. Finance/Insurance: The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority administers the CE program for the securities industry and requires holders of certain financial licenses to receive regular CE. Other financial CE providers include the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute, the American Institute of CPAs and the Certified Financial Planner Board. State boards, such as the California Department of Insurance, set mandatory CE requirements for insurance agents.

    7. Real Estate Agents: Many states, such as Georgia, require CE for licensed real estate agents. Providers are usually local schools within and approved by the state. The National Association of Realtors offers CE course in many states.

  2. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) - Free Online Education

    Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are web-based courses that offer open access and unlimited participants. Courses are often free of charge, though you may have to pay for a certificate. The MOOC movement gained much traction in 2012, as several large aggregators emerged. Leading aggregators include:

    • Coursera: Aggregates more than 1,500 courses from 140 partners in 28 countries. Most courses are provided by colleges and universities. Optional course certificates are available.
    • Udacity: Offers paid "nanodegree" programs in various computer topics, such as Android developer and data analyst.
    • edX: Free courses that can provide university credit and program certificates, including XSeries programs from schools like Harvard and MIT.
    • Udemy: Offers more than 35,000 paid and free technical courses, some of which provide certificates.
    • iTunes U: A free app from Apple that provides access to a variety of course materials.
    • P2PU: Organizes free or low-cost online study groups given at local libraries and other publicly-accessible spaces.

    Many universities now offer MOOCs, including highly-regarded free courses from Stanford, UC-Berkeley, MIT, Duke, Harvard, UCLA, Yale and Carnegie Mellon.

  3. University And College Courses

    We mentioned earlier how colleges and universities are offering MOOCs, usually for free. A more structured, and costly, alternative is paid continuing education certificate programs offered by many colleges and universities. These programs are accessible on-campus and/or via the Internet. Adults have a huge variety of choices, especially if they are willing to take the online versions. Here are some examples:

    • Cornell: The eCornell subsidiary offers more than 30 professional certificate programs. For example, the program in Hospitality and Foodservice Management offers several different master certificates, such as the one in Hospitality Management, which requires 18 2-week course, 5-7 hours per course, and includes 3 electives.
    • Yale: Its School of Drama offers certificates in acting, sound design, playwriting, theater management and other theatrical subjects.
    • Columbia: The School of Professional Studies offers business and advanced business certificates for business professionals, degree holders and advanced undergraduates.
    • Princeton: Offers a Program in Teacher Preparation open to Princeton students and alumni. The program provides a certificate and eligibility for a New Jersey teaching license.
    • University of Pennsylvania: The School of Nursing offers certificate programs to holders of masters degrees in areas such as palliative care, adult oncology and autism.
    • Harvard: The Extension School offers certificate programs in many fields of study, including museum studies, accounting, business, management, legal studies, education, science, technology, environmental studies and international security.
    • Notre Dame: The Mendoza College of Business offers a Certificate in Executive Management designed for managers and leaders. It consists of four modules. Upon course completion, you can receive 7.7 CE units.
    • New York University: The School of Professional Studies offers non-degree career advancement courses covering diverse topics in the humanities, arts and writing.
  4. Night And Weekend Classes

    Many CE providers offer classes at night and on the weekend. You can attend these in person if convenient, but many offer distance learning via an online feed of live classes. This allows you to remotely attend, and the online platform might enable you to ask questions and interact with others. Night/weekend CE courses are available from a number of universities in addition to courses offered by private for-profit schools. We'll list a few examples here, but there are plenty of choices that you can research for your locale.

    • UCLA Extension: Offers 100 certificate programs in more than 20 fields in the Los Angeles/Southern California region. The open-enrollment courses are available evening, weekend, daytime and online. The extension has a corporate training program in which it partners with companies and organizations to provide customized CE programs.
    • Loyola: In Chicago, the School of Continuing and Professional Education offers weekend courses on Saturday morning between 9 am and 1 pm. The evening classes are usually one night per week from 6 to 10 pm.
    • University of Florida: The Professional Development program offers CE, pre-licensure and pre-certification distance learning via its interactive online platform.
    • For-Profit Private Schools: There are several large for-profit private schools with campuses throughout the U.S. Examples include DeVry, Argosy, Brown Mackie, ITT, Kaplan and many more. Most offer weekend and night classes in addition to distance learning and online courses. We at cannot recommend this category of schools because many have had spotty records. They've been accused of charging high tuitions for courses that don't translate into employment opportunities and of using unfair marketing practices. For example, the U.S. Education Department suspended Corinthian Colleges Inc.'s access to federal funds, causing the company to fold.
  5. Apprenticeships/Internships

    An apprenticeship offers the opportunity to work individually with a master in a profession. This model is often used by employers who wish to impart technical skills to selected employees. An internship is a period of guided study and application of skills following formal study, in which the intern works as an entry-level employee, with or without pay.

    There are a wide variety of apprenticeship and internship programs available. Many corporations hire summer interns, plus there are many organizations that offer A/I opportunities. Here is a random sampling of some:

    • Audio Engineering Society: Membership in the AES provides A/I opportunities for students interested in all aspects of the audio profession, including mixing, mastering, software and much more.
    • Esalen Institute: Offers farm and garden apprenticeship courses as well as internships at the Gazebo Park School in Big Sur, California.
    • Walnut Street Theater: Has a professional apprentice program for theatrical students. The program provides earnings of $350 a week and free access to the theater school classes. Apprenticeships are available for acting, carpentry, audience services, costumes, props and many others. Located in Philadelphia.

This guide is by no means comprehensive. Although the continuing education options listed here are among the most widely available, there is no need to limit yourself to these. And remember that real know-how is at least as valuable as good accreditation.

Youtube, Vimeo and other online video platforms provide a wealth of educational and how-to type videos covering every skill from software engineering to cosmetics, making it easier than ever to upgrade your skill set. Some professional organizations even provide regularly updated news videos and tutorials to help you keep up with changes in your field. Books, instructional websites and training software are other tools that can help you stay on the cutting edge.

There have never been more opportunities to learn something new, and while it's important to focus on the most valuable, such as those which lead to a degree, we recommend you take advantage of as many learning channels as you have time for.

Additional Resources At