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Plan, Design, Develop, and Implement
Online Continuing Education Courses
From Currently Offered Curriculum Courses

Linda M. Burke and Bryan Scyphers

Many of today’s online courses are offered for college credit to students seeking an academic credential. But community colleges typically have a much greater number of adult learners seeking noncredit courses through continuing education. Some adults seek to learn for their own benefit and enrichment, but more and more jobs are mandating continuing educational credits. Turning curriculum courses into viable, shorter, online continuing education courses meets the needs of both of these populations and benefits the college as well with increased revenue. This is a winning situation for everyone. For example, suppose your college offers a curriculum three-hour course on Elder Law in which each of the following subjects is taught in a two-week period: Wills, Trusts and Estates; Nursing Home Issues; Living Wills; Elder Abuse; Social Security Issues; Elder Rights and Laws; Medicaid and Medicare; and Special Medical Needs. You can turn each topic into a 10-hour continuing education course that can be completed in one week online. Instead of one 16-week course, you have eight 10-hour courses at $50 to $60 per student. Students can take any or all of the modules. Course participants could include students who want to learn some or all of the topics for personal reasons, as well as those such as health-care workers who need some or all of the topics for continuing education credit.

Another example may be an Emergency Medical Services ( EMS) Bridging course that EMS providers take to get curriculum credit for each area of EKG Interpretation, Airway Management, Rapid Sequence Intubation, Lifespan Emergencies, Cardiology, Advanced Medical Emergencies, Pediatrics, and Special Medical Needs. Again, you can break out each topic to create eight 10-hour continuing education courses and market them to doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel who need to keep up with these issues.

However, to have an end result that is worthwhile you must know and overcome the barriers you will face. After a review of the literature, and through personal experience, at Davidson County Community College (NC) we have noted that there are approximately 12 barriers to making this transition:

  • Time
  • Cost
  • Degree of computer skills
  • Amount of technical assistance and training
  • Unknown but helpful software
  • Platform issues
  • Maintaining integrity and quality of the courses
  • Sandbox 101
  • Implementing all learning styles
  • Administrative issues
  • Intellectual property and copyright issues
  • Time, again!

Once you know the obstacles, however, you can find ways to minimize or eliminate them.

Overcoming the Obstacles

Grouping the barriers will help organize a plan of attack. There are four types of barriers: (1) logistics, (2) technology, (3) administrative issues, and (4) expertise.

Logistics. Logistics includes the barriers of time and cost, but also includes issues such as who, what, where, when, and how. Time is the first and last barrier, and the most crucial. No matter how much time you have planned to accomplish your goal, it will take more. One way to deal with this obstruction is to know and remember that it will take more time than you first estimate.

Cost is a barrier in many schools. Will your college give the developer release time or pay a stipend? Either will cost money, and this must be factored into the plan. You may decide to outsource the job, and you will have to pay for that. If you really don’t have any money, one solution may be to form a committee task force and divide the jobs into manageable parts. It is easier for a dozen people to do a little bit than for one person to do everything. Think of the task as an assembly line, with each person doing a part until the work is completed.

Technology. Technology barriers may include a lack of computer skills, a need for technical assistance and training, a lack of knowledge of helpful software, and a lack of experience or expertise with the platform. Inadequate computer skills among the developer, the instructor, and the students can create problems. Know your audience, and develop the course with this knowledge in mind. Will you have to add an orientation of the learning platform into your content to meet the needs of the student who may not have used it before? Who on the team knows about helpful software tools such as Impatica or AuthorGen, which make using Microsoft PowerPoint a viable interactive online solution? How can the developer find time to learn these additional software packages? Again, a solution may be the committee task force you created. Invite a computer technician, your platform administrator, and experienced instructors to help you. People are willing to help, so don’t try to learn everything or reinvent the wheel.

Administrative Issues. Community colleges rely on FTE for funding so they need to be aware of all the various sources of FTE. In North Carolina, for example, community colleges can earn FTE with online continuing education courses that are occupational in nature. Some students don’t realize that out-of-state tuition does not apply to continuing education courses, a helpful marketing detail for departments and marketers to consider in developing recruiting strategies. These are just two administrative obstacles you may face that can be overcome through increased knowledge.

Expertise. The lack of expertise is where Sandbox 101 makes its appearance. Sandbox 101 requires that you must play well with others. Include people with the expertise; let them know what you are doing and what you need. If you have questions about what can be used in your online course, ask your librarian. A college librarian is likely to have expertise in intellectual property and copyright issues. When in doubt, ask permission of the author or publisher. We have never been turned down. In fact, the usual response has been, “Thanks for asking.” If you have IT needs, ask a campus expert; don’t guess. Include the college’s marketing office and webmaster in discovering and deciding how to best publicize the new courses. If students don’t know these courses are available, you might as well not have them.

The most significant expertise barrier may be that of maintaining the quality and integrity of the curriculum course while breaking it into bits. Make sure you have a content expert who can review, evaluate, and assist with this part of the plan. The content expert provides the quality control of your end product.

Benefits of the Transition

Why should your college do all of this? One obvious – and important – reason may be money. Continuing Education courses can bring in $50 or $60 for a typical 10-hour course in a one-week time period. Multiply that amount by the number of people seeking these courses, and you can see the advantage. Hiring adjunct faculty to teach the courses has additional benefits, some of which may be long-range. For example, you might find quality teachers to interview and hire for full-time positions at a later date.

Making this transition and offering more continuing education options can also serve as a marketing strategy for the college. You reach more students who could potentially become curriculum students, and the more students you reach, the more you are marketing the college.

The student also benefits from the new continuing education options. These include but are not limited to the convenience of shorter learning periods, the lower cost of modularized segments, the flexibility of asynchronous classes, the opportunity to take more classes in a single semester, the reduction of stress in a completion-based rather than grade-based course, and the option of continuing education credit when it is needed for maintaining employment.

Planning, designing, developing, and implementing online continuing education courses from currently offered curriculum courses can be a viable solution for students in a fast-paced world as well as for community colleges that seek additional sources of revenue.

Linda M. Burke is Director of Instructional Support Services at the Davie Campus of Davidson County Community College in Mocksville, North Carolina and Bryan Scyphers is Division Chairperson of Public Safety Services at Davidson County Community College in Lexington, North Carolina.


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