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Continuing education: lifelong learning as a tool for success.

Encouraging lifelong learning is one of the two components of the federal government's success strategy for Canada. Continuing Education at the college level is a huge force in the province today, and is inspiring students to upgrade, advance and explore new career possibilities.

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"We tend to think of Continuing Education as public offerings that deal with both specific and general needs," says Stan Talesnick, Dean of the Faculty of Continuing Education at Seneca College, which is the largest Continuing Education facility in Ontario. "We call our listings Part-time Studies, because that label more accurately reflects the scope and breadth of the courses and programs offered. Although some people take courses for interest, most do so for career purposes, and our offerings are mainly career-based."

For the past three years, Seneca has conducted follow-up surveys with Continuing Education graduates (approximately 1,500 per year), in addition to the surveys that are conducted overall. "We ask some specific questions such as whether their employers supported them with time or money in helping them achieve their education goals. It is encouraging that 50 per cent of Continuing Education grads replied yes, as did 35 per cent of students overall. This is an example of business recognizing the value of colleges." A remarkable 50 per cent of Continuing Education grads say there are other courses at Seneca that they feel would benefit them in the future. "This really speaks to lifelong learning. They've invested years to obtain a certificate or diploma, and they want to come back for more."

At Algonquin College, Continuing Education and Distance Education go hand in hand. "At the provincial level, colleges are trying to accommodate the growing number of people who need to pursue education and training on a part-time basis," says Linda Rees, Director of Algonquin's School of Part-time Studies. "There are approximately half a million students registered in Continuing Education courses in Ontario, so obviously the need is there. The OntarioLearn (www.ontariolearn.com) consortium of 22 Community Colleges is a partnership created to develop and deliver online courses to provide flexibility and ease the way. Currently about 30,000 students per year enrol in courses offered on-line through the OntarioLearn consortium."

Algonquin College is one of the largest providers of college distance education in North America, and delivers about 32 percent of OntarioLearn's courses. "The OntarioLearn initiative is effective," Rees says, "because rather than developing and delivering online courses individually, colleges share both the curriculum and technology infrastructure. It's better economically, and we can develop courses at a quicker rate. There are currently 550 courses available through OntarioLearn, with 400 more under development. This is the largest consortium in North America, and it comes under the Continuing Education umbrella. This represents a real commitment to lifelong learning at the provincial level. Ontarians should be proud of what's happening here."

Pat Voegelin, Co-ordinator of Continuing Education (CE) at Lambton College says the college's CE division serves nearly 5,000 students each year, and that number is expanding. "We are working hard to solicit feedback from business and students to determine the type of training people want and need. We are consulting advisory groups to determine what's needed in the Sarnia Lambton market. Food service, for example, requires people working in long-term health care facilities to formalize their skills in order to meet Ministry of Health standards." Lambton is part of the OntarioLearn consortium, and is working on developing more certificate programs to be delivered through CE. Voegelin works closely with Lambton's Elearning component as well, which includes the Chemical Production Engineering Technician Program (CPET) being prepared for online delivery-Ontario colleges also offer Adult Upgrading to meet the needs of adult learners. Lynne Wallace, Executive Director of the College Sector Committee for Adult Upgrading, says, "People who don't go to college right after high school often need to acquire the right subjects or refresh their learning to access their chosen post-secondary courses."

Adult Upgrading is delivered at all of Ontario's colleges (22 English, two French). The program originated in the mid-1960s, and enables students to earn their Academic and Career Entrance (ACE) Certificate. This Grade 12 equivalency documentation improves learners' employment and educational opportunities. "When selecting post-secondary programs," Wallace says, "46 per cent choose courses that are four semesters in length; 28 per cent opt for six- or eight-semester programs. Adult students are willing to make a long-term commitment to further education."

During the 2003/2004 school year, more than 14,000 people accessed Adult Upgrading programs, with the largest group being between 25 and 44 years of age. "The unique thing about community colleges," Wallace points out, "is that they offer all levels of training for everyone from those reading and writing at an elementary level, through to post-graduate studies. The college system provides the opportunity to move people quickly, efficiently and flexibly from where they are now to where they want to go."

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According to Barbara Dickson, Chair of Corporate Training and Distance Learning at Centennial College, "A large percentage of Canada's working population lacks a university education. We offer them a positive learning environment that equips them to go back into the workplace with skills that are usable and make a difference. That's what a community college is about: application and hands-on skills."
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Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
Words:884
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