Continuing education refers to the wide range of formal and informal learning platforms, methods, and activities adults engage in for personal and professional development. Some formal certifications and courses enable participants to stay updated with their industry’s newest trends and technologies.
Meanwhile, informal methods allow personal growth and development under the individual’s impetus, usually without formal requirements and structure.
You must make a personal commitment to lifelong learning as a professional with a college degree! Your personal and professional growth, from earning the respect of your peers to climbing the corporate ladder, rests partly on your continuing education. But first, you must have a clear statement of intent so that your continuing education has purpose and passion sustaining it.
Formal continuing education programs are designed for participants to earn continuing education (CE) units required to maintain their licensure or certification as professionals.
Informal learning methods include reading books and other learning materials, going to new places, experiencing new things, and attending seminars, workshops, and conventions are a few examples. The latter activities are done without expecting to earn CE units but for personal reasons only – the professional benefits are a bonus.
These activities are vital even when you already have a college degree and a well-paying job. But note that the continuing education we’re talking about here refers to the post-secondary, non-degree courses – these aren’t master’s and doctorate degrees.
However, these graduate and postgraduate degrees also bring similar benefits as short-term continuing education courses.
Is continuing education worth your time, energy and money?
If you already have a great job with the possibility of career advancement even without continuing education, you will likely think that it isn’t necessary anymore.
With the costs of continuing education running in the thousands of dollars over time combined with student debts, bills and lifestyle expenses, it’s a justifiable line of thinking.
But continuing education is well worth every minute and moolah spent on it! In a world where relevant knowledge and skills are the foremost assets to career success, your ability to stay relevant will largely depend on the depth and breadth of your continuing education.
Here are seven excellent reasons for pursuing continuing education even after having a bachelor’s degree.
Comply with Licensure Standards
Certain industries require their professionals to earn CE units as part of their licensure or certification renewal requirements. Without the required type and number of CE units, the licensing bodies will not approve renewals of licenses or certifications.
This means the concerned professionals will be unable to practice their profession as mandated by industry standards and government regulations. Many professions carry civil or criminal penalties for practicing without a license, such as fines and jail time.
A few examples of industries and their professions that mandate earning CE units for renewal of licenses or certifications are:
- Healthcare – Physicians, physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, midwives, paramedics and veterinarians
- Business – Accountants and tax preparers
- Law – Lawyers and paralegals
- Construction – Engineers, architects, surveyors and real estate agents
The type and number of CE credits required vary depending on the industry and profession. You must be aware of these requirements by asking the state licensing board, professional association, or certifying agency. These requirements will also include the list of approved courses and providers that qualify as CE units.
In California, for example, licensed physicians must complete at least 50 hours of approved CME hours during the two-year renewal cycle immediately preceding the license expiration date. In Illinois, the required number of CME units is 150 hours within the three-year renewal period.
The required courses are also different – in Illinois, these courses include Safe Opioid Prescribing Training, while in California, it’s Geriatrics for General Internists and Family Physicians.
Continuing education is vital for professionals beyond the mandatory CE units for licensure renewal due to the fast obsolescence of prior knowledge and skills learned in college.
With society and technology in constant flux, staying updated about the latest trends, technologies and techniques in your profession is critical to your career success! This is where continuing education courses come in – as an effective way to stay in the loop and remain relevant.
Continuing education is also crucial for strengthening your existing knowledge and skills learned in college and the workplace. This can be spurred by the changes in rules and regulations and the technologies and techniques while the underlying intent remains.
Take the case of law enforcement professionals, such as policemen, juvenile justice practitioners, and emergency management officers. Their primary mission – to serve and protect people – has remained largely unchanged, but social and technological advancements mean that their tools and techniques must change.
These include intelligence gathering and analysis changes, surveillance and investigation, multicultural sensitivity and multi-agency collaborations.
Strengthen Your Hard and Soft Skills
According to the World Economic Forum, the best skill that professionals should acquire is the ability to learn. This was a consequence of the “global reskilling emergency” where a shift to a skills-based market is vital in light of the inefficient labor market. In other words, professionals who have the ability and willingness to undergo re-skilling training are most likely to be successful.
Continuing education addresses the re-skilling training that professionals will benefit from, whether they are aiming for career advancement or easing into a career shift.
Re-skilling isn’t just about learning new skills but also about reinforcing current skills in a way that complements each other. New and old skills have their place in your career – the trick is to use them to their maximum benefit.
Soft skills, also called transferable skills, are critical in the workplace regardless of your profession or position in an organization. Of the wide range of soft skills, the most desirable among employers are:
- Interpersonal skills
- Strong work ethic
- Organizational skills
- Problem-solving skills
Interpersonal skills, which are skills used in communicating, collaborating and interacting with others, can be strengthened through workshops, seminars and conventions. You will be more motivated to put your best foot forward when interacting with your peers and colleagues during these professional gatherings. Your communication skills will be further developed in doing so.
Hard skills, also called technical skills, are directly linked to your profession or occupation. Due to their career-specific nature, technical skills are unique to the job, too, even within the same profession. For example, a data analyst possesses a different skill set than a computer programmer, although they may be in the same industry – computers and information technology.
Technical skills and their related knowledge are covered in the concentration courses in college and strengthened by continuing education courses afterward. The continuing education courses usually have more advanced topics than those in a college curriculum and a more practical approach since the skills should have immediate workplace applications.
Nurses are among the healthcare professionals required to take continuing education courses to ensure that their technical skills are up to par. Their choices include live and online classes, conferences, and webinars that accredited providers must conduct.
Regardless of your occupation, you should pursue continuing education because your stronger technical and transferable skills will result in your higher marketability in the job market. You and every Tom, Dick and Harry will probably have similar skill sets, but you will have an edge, thanks to your ability and willingness to learn more!
Boost Your Job Marketability and Security
When you’re a fresh college graduate, your ability to sell yourself to prospective employers will increase your chances of getting hired. Selling yourself usually means highlighting your academic achievements, leadership record and potential, and relevant skills for the job. You may also highlight your willingness to learn new skills on the job and your adaptability to changing situations.
Once you’re in the workplace, you cannot rest on your laurels! Your career advancement will depend not only on your work performance and relationships but also on your new knowledge and skills, preferably those with useful value to your organization. You must then pursue continuing education to ensure your relevance, marketability and advancement.
With this in mind, you must avoid enrolling in every continuing education opportunity that comes your way! You may want to cram your resume with as many courses as you can take, but that isn’t the way toward being seen as a valuable professional. Instead, a resume with a few well-thought continuing education courses aligned with your career goals is more like it.
The strategic choice of continuing courses is also crucial for job security, particularly in occupations with fast obsolescence and high liability risks. Examples include occupations in the computer and information technology industry and the healthcare sector, particularly professionals in direct patient care (e.g., doctors, physician assistants and nurses).
These professionals consistently update their knowledge and skills following current industry standards by pursuing continuing education. Their professional competence contributes to job security because employers view them as assets, not liabilities.
But continuing education also serves another purpose – to ease into new employment, occupation or career. If you want to start on the right foot in a new environment, you should ideally have the right knowledge and skills. This is true even when you have already established a successful career in your previous workplace, occupation or industry.
With continuing education courses, you can acquire the right knowledge and skills that your new job demands success down the road. Your transition will be smoother because of it, too, and your peers and colleagues will likely thank you for making their jobs easier. You won’t need as much training, and you can contribute more at an earlier time and a faster rate to the team’s productivity.
Continuing education can also be your weapon against economic uncertainty brought by recessions, pandemics and bankruptcies, among other events beyond your control. If you have knowledge and skills that set you apart from the competition or allow you to transition between jobs easily, you will be less affected by these uncertainties.
You can further develop your existing skill sets and acquire new skills through continuing education to anticipate these uncertainties. You will also have documentary proof and competent demonstration to show what employers look for. Think of your new knowledge and skills as on standby in case you have to make a career change or transition.
But even if you have no plans for a career change, you will find that continuing education contributes to your professional creativity. When you learn new skills outside of your current occupation, you are also exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking.
You gain new perspectives that can enrich your views of your occupation and your work performance. Your innovations can improve your organization, too, which means you’re more likely to be retained as a valued employee.
Achieve Significant Gains in Career Advancement
The best employers value employees who are self-motivated toward personal and professional improvement! By pursuing continuing education on your impetus, you demonstrate your keen interest in personal and professional growth.
You’re also highlighting your increased potential value for your organization by introducing the latest principles and practices in the industry.
With the increase in perceived value for your continued presence in the organization, your chances for promotions also increase. You’re not just respected for your current work performance but also valued for your potential contributions to organizational growth. Your decision to move forward through continuing education instead of being content with the status quo starts to pay off!
You must not limit yourself to the knowledge and skills required in your current job! You must also expand your horizons and, thus, your opportunities beyond your current occupation so that you can tackle economic uncertainties. Think of it as anticipating the new occupations that you may have to pursue in the future for one reason or another.
Going back to career advancement in your current job or occupation, continuing education can differ between getting your desired promotion or bypassing it.
While promotions are usually based on several factors, such as seniority, leadership record and overall performance, the depth and breadth of continuing education will influence decisions, too. Continuing education, after all, contributes to better work performance and leadership.
With a job, promotion comes a salary increase, and it’s such a welcome benefit considering the rising cost of living, not to mention that it will take the edge off your financial worries. Job promotions may also come with other perks, such as wide health insurance coverage and a larger office, alongside the higher position in the corporate ladder.
At what point in your career will continuing education become moot and academic? None, because lifelong learning has exceptional merit for leaders!
While formal continuing education courses aren’t in the cards for CEOs and the like, their continuing education lies in reading books, journals and other learning materials. Plus, their exceptional expertise makes them among the best teachers!
Enjoy a Stronger Sense of Personal Purpose
Continuing education is an excellent way of discovering your talents, developing them to become skills, and maximizing their benefits in your life. You don’t even have to make a significant commitment in time, energy and money since there are affordable, short and enjoyable continuing education courses.
There’s also no need to commit to a 180-degree career change since you can take courses that appeal to your interests, which may or may not be related to your current occupation.
With your newfound talents, your sense of purpose and confidence can become stronger! You have a life outside of the demands of your work, including hobbies, sports and activities that nurture your mind, body and soul. You’re not limited to professional development since continuing education also means enrichment activities for your pleasure.
As you become more engaged in continuing education, your sense of achievement in earning the certification and learning new knowledge and skills becomes stronger. You will take pride in your accomplishments and, in the process, be more motivated to learn more not only because it feeds your ego, but it brings numerous benefits.
Your increased confidence also improves your leadership style, interpersonal skills, and personal relationships! You can become a better mentor, too, because your clear sense of purpose becomes an inspiration to others who may still be struggling with their sense of being.
Expand Your Life’s Possibilities
Continuing education is also an excellent way of meeting new people and strengthening old ties, such as during industry workshops, conventions and seminars. With a wider social network, your personal and professional growth can become more enjoyable, if not faster and easier.
You can get information about new job opportunities, new trends and technologies in the industry and new faces whose growing influence may impact your sphere of influence.
Even online courses can be an excellent venue for expanding your social network if you know where to look! Online forums are a great example that can lead to social media networking and LinkedIn referrals. In-person continuing education programs are even better since human connections tend to last longer with face-to-face connections.
The bottom line: Establishing and keeping connections with the people you meet through continuing education will contribute to a better quality of life. Friendships tend to have that effect!
Continuing education also has physical and mental health benefits! You will likely become better at decision-making and problem-solving due to your expanded knowledge.
You may also reduce your risk of mental health issues and neurological disorders due to increased brain stimulation! You’re thinking on your feet more, so your brain becomes more engaged with every continuing education initiative.
Through your pursuit of more learning, you will also meet people who can become your inspiration toward better community engagement, too. Instead of being caught up in your own life and its troubles, you will be more open to others and their own experiences, opinions and struggles.
Imagine earning a college degree results in a wide range of benefits, from higher salaries to greater contributions to society. Imagine the benefits of post-college continuing education!
Frequently Asked Questions
What key questions should you ask yourself when pursuing continuing education?
While continuing education has its benefits. It isn’t a decision that can be taken lightly because of the significant time, effort and money involved. This is true even when you’re pursuing continuing education as part of license renewal or reactivation because, as previously mentioned, a clear intent is critical for getting the most out of it.
You should ask yourself these questions to determine your clear intent:
- What are my reasons and goals for pursuing continuing education? (The best answer is for personal and professional development but be more specific according to your unique circumstances)
- Am I able to afford it, and if not, can I afford not to pursue it? (Your license renewal depends on it, but your continuing education will impact your professional growth even when your occupation doesn’t require a license. Do a cost-and-benefit analysis, if necessary. Many programs also offer installment plans for their courses)
- Will I have the time and energy for the courses? (Juggling the responsibilities of family, work, and education isn’t easy, but it’s possible with time management skills, delegation, and online classes!)
Continuing education isn’t a question of “if” but of “when” for a professional with ambitions like you!
Do continuing education programs come in different types?
The beauty of continuing education is that there’s a wide range of programs available, and thus, the excitement about lifelong learning can be sustained. Aside from the informal methods, such as reading industry journals and recent book releases related to your occupation, the formal methods include:
- Accredited professional certification programs are among the best continuing education options because of their CE units and updated instruction (For nurses, look for American Board for Specialty Nursing Certification-recognized programs)
- Universities and colleges also run continuing education programs for professionals across numerous disciplines. Princeton University has a Continuing Education Program that’s recognized for its excellence. Many universities also offer their programs through extension schools, such as the University of California San Diego and Harvard University.
- Industry associations that offer workshops, seminars and conventions are great venues for continuing education. You’re not just earning CE units but expanding your professional network and keeping abreast of the trends.
Voluntary services training and military training are also great options. While these options may or may not come with CE units, the new knowledge and skills learned are valuable in your life.
What are CE units?
These are standardized measurements used to determine compliance with professional education and training standards. In most professions, one CE unit is equivalent to 10 contact hours.
Keep in mind that every occupation has its required number of CE units for completion as a license or certification renewal requirement. Every state governing body also has specific rules and regulations regarding CE units.
What must be done when choosing CE courses?
First, you must determine your specific professional goals and educational needs. What particular issues are you facing in your workplace that continuing education may be useful? Why will the continuing education courses be useful, and what areas can your new learning apply?
The clearer your intent, the more useful the courses will be in your professional growth! You will also find a greater connection between your current work and future aspirations. Such connectedness means you’re getting the best value for your money from registering for these courses.
Second, you must review the promotional materials, including the courses’ brochures. Colleges and universities also include relevant information about their continuing education programs. You should look for the following information:
- Title of the courses and their descriptions
- Learning outcomes
- Credentials of the faculty members, facilitators or resource speakers
- Number of CE units
- Accreditation or recognition from an industry organization and a state governing body
- Tuition and other fees
- Refund and cancellation policy
While the acceptability of the CE units is of paramount importance, particularly for professionals seeking renewal of license, the substance and quality of content are also critical.
What can be done to become a lifelong learner?
Life is filled with learning opportunities, but it takes passion, perseverance, and patience to become lifelong learners. The good thing about it is, you can start on it now! You don’t also have to limit yourself to formal continuing education courses but to the informal methods, too, which are just as valuable in your personal and professional growth.
- Make continuing education in particular and lifelong learning, in general, a top priority in your life. Even 30 minutes a day of building your skill sets in your area of expertise will add up. You have to put in the effort to make something happen!
- Reflect on new knowledge or skills learned since they will stick in your memory bank and muscle memory. You should review the information and practice the skill to bring it up at appropriate times.
- Accept constructive criticism and avoid taking negative criticism in a personal manner. Your sense of self-awareness will enable better learning because you’re aware of your shortcomings and willing to address them.
- Adopt an action learning approach. You will likely learn best by doing because it reinforces both the information and the skill. You will also master a new skill by doing it repeatedly, perhaps even improving on its steps.
- Be curious because an open, inquisitive mind is a vessel for lifelong learning. Your sense of wonderment, combined with the willingness to ask questions, opens the way for more knowledge and skills.
- Develop your creativity because it’s the driver of curiosity. Even Einstein said that creativity and imagination are of greater value than intelligence.
- Share your knowledge and skills with others! Teaching is an excellent way of reinforcing our collective knowledge and passing it onto the next generation while also encouraging new knowledge to be discovered.
- Continuing education is undertaken for personal growth and professional advancement, as well as for license renewal purposes.
- Professionals benefit from continuing education through improved opportunities for promotions, expanded networking, and increased quality of life.