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Customizing continuing education
Aug. 14, 2014
By Jacqueline Kovacs

Kyle Klein had long been interested in working in the world of emergency response. Over the years, the 25-year-old Toronto native had worked in security, medical response and health and safety, so when he saw that The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University was offering a certificate program in disaster and emergency management, he signed up.

“It took all of those experiences and tied them together,” says Klein.

The program also did so without interrupting Klein’s day-to-day work as assistant emergency planner for the City of Vaughan, as the courses and class work were all online.

“Being able to learn online made all the difference,” says Klein. “It would have been difficult for me to find the time to schedule the course work hours with my work obligations.”

Klein’s situation is not uncommon: an adult with a full-time job looking to expand his work skills through continuing education. That’s why many Ontario colleges and universities offer a variety of ways to access continuing education.

“We offer flexible delivery when it comes to learning,” says Marie Bountrogianni, dean of The Chang School. “We have 70,000 registered continuing education students per year and we provide the largest number of courses online.”

Indeed, distance education within The Chang School offers more than 450 courses, including more than 300 degree-credit courses. Klein’s Disaster and Emergency Management course was new last year, created, says Bountrogianni, based on the market demand for people who can deal with the increasing number of tragedies associated with such modern issues as climate change.

“It’s very popular,” Bountrogianni says, “and because it’s online, employers sign their employees up for it to augment their skill sets.”

But customizing learning is more than classes online versus classes in a classroom. You can also blend those two options, be print-based or simply vary the number of courses you take at a given time to complete a certificate quickly or slowly.

That flexibility extends to the big picture too.

“If an adult learner is working towards a certificate, and then something in their life changes, the credits earned can be applied to a degree too,” says Bountrogianni. “You aren’t necessarily going to have the same job all your life anymore. Approximately half of our students already have degrees, but they want to improve; they want the skills the market needs.”

They also want to get those skills without sacrificing their salaried jobs or time with their families. For Klein, that’s why distance learning was key, even though he lived within commuting distance of the campus.

“I was able to continue working,” he says. “It didn’t interfere with family time or with the structure of my job.” He adds that already having post-secondary experience was an asset. “I have a university degree, so I was used to the level of work involved and I knew what to expect.”

He also made full use of the technology available to him when he hit a snag or roadblock in the course. “Rather than going back and forth through email when I had a question,” Klein says, “I found out the instructor’s office hours and we would speak over Skype.”

The arrangement paid off for Klein, who graduated from the disaster and emergency management certificate program in June and landed the role of manager of emergency planning at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in B.C.

“This certificate definitely provides me with a more specific direction,” says Klein. “It took my interests and turned them into a profession.”

What's new and popular
Want to know where the job market is opening up? Take a look at the newest offerings in continuing education. As Marie Bountrogianni, dean of The Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University explains, various industries in need of employees with certain skill sets often approach her school to develop applicable courses.

The newest continuing education courses at many Toronto post-secondary schools represent the needs of the modern market. Here are some at The Chang School that are already gaining in popularity:

At nearby George Brown College, continuing ed students can now learn about the world of gaming through the college’s game development certificate, an online course, master data mining, data analytics and visualization and more through the data analytics certificate among other certificates. Those with a theatrical bent can take advantage of George Brown’s new comedy writing, improvisation and advanced sketch writing - just a few of more than 160 new courses at the college.

At Seneca College, meanwhile, students can fast track, embark on a degree or certificate in one of the school’s many continuing ed offerings. New programs this year include digital graphic design, food manufacturing, medical device reprocessing and search engine optimization analyst. And in keeping with the need to offer flexibility along with education, many of Seneca’s programs are available entirely online.