Enhanced support for lifelong learning

What’s the best way to support a student population encompassing first-time degree seekers, graduate-level professionals and a range of other lifelong learners? Incorporate personalized outreach and support throughout the entire student journey.

The 2017 meeting of the Association for Continuing Higher Education (ACHE), held last month in Portland, Ore., gathered a diverse set of perspectives on an evolving field. Through expert presentations and lively discussions, participants shared insights and best practices that highlighted the value of enhanced student support.

Here are three factors shaping the future of continuing education that demonstrate why coaching is so important for student and institutional success.

1. Continuing ed students are changing — and not always in the way you expect.

As more millennials move into the “25 and up” age bracket, they’re transforming the continuing ed student population. Some changes are what you might anticipate from this generation. Many are hoping to start — and finish — coursework at a quick pace; they’re probably looking for a fast response to inquiries; and they likely assume they’ll take at least some of their courses online.

But for many of today’s continuing ed students, “high touch” may be just as important as “high tech.” A phone conversation and other personalized interactions can be powerful outreach tools, and help students get — and stay— engaged in their program.

Coaches can conduct responsive, direct engagement with students from the time they apply until they complete their degree. For those juggling work, family or other commitments, coaching can also help students develop time-management and other skills so they can better navigate busy schedules.

When students are empowered to succeed, institutions also benefit from improved persistence and completion.

“Through coaching, students build awareness around their skills and opportunities to grow,” said Tina Jones, Career Coach at InsideTrack. “Then, partnering with their coach, students can create intentional plans to get the most out of their education.”

2. Career goals are driving the continuing ed experience.

Today’s students are entering continuing ed during all stages of the career journey. Many may be looking for that career-launching job, or restarting their education to transition into an entirely new field. Some may still be exploring career options, while others are pursuing a specific path with laser-sharp focus.

What they have in common is a desire for their education to be closely aligned with career outcomes.

“Making progress toward career goals is important to begin early during the educational journey,” said Jones.

Career conversations help ensure students choose the program and courses that best suit their professional objectives. Institutions benefit when students see the connection between their academic requirements and long-term plans.

“Every student is in a different place with their career development and through coaching, students can create personalized strategies to advance their career direction,” said Jones.

3. Even online students are seeking a community connection.

Online-only programs continue to be popular options for continuing ed students. As noted above, many of today’s continuing ed students expect that their coursework will contain at least some web-based component. Remote learning is a well-established practice, with a range of platforms available to support it.

Students may have no trouble connecting to their classes. But are they connecting to their community?

“Many students choose distance learning to balance multiple commitments outside of school, but still desire the feeling of the traditional classroom environment,” said Jones.

Because online students can’t always walk over to the student services center, support needs to come to them. Coaching can help distance learners develop the help-seeking behaviors that will encourage them to reach out to instructors or other institutional offerings.

“Coaching helps students discover ways to utilize resources and connections with their school community,” said Jones.

Coaching engagements can range from occasional nudges and reminders, to targeted interventions focused on specific milestones, to ongoing one-on-one support. For continuing ed students, it’s a valuable service that helps them take full advantage of everything their program offers. Coaching also generates insights that drive continual improvement at the program level. With support from student success professionals, continuing ed leaders can turn these insights into actionable plans that will help their programs thrive, no matter what the future of continuing ed brings.

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