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Continuing education may refer to one of two types of education. The first is a type of post-secondary education in a general sense, often for its own sake rather than being designed for a particular degree or certification. The second type is education required in a licensed profession in order for the professional to maintain the license.

Continuing education generally

General continuing education is similar to adult education, at least in being intended for adult learners, especially those beyond traditional undergraduate college or university age. However, it is not normally considered to include basic instruction such as literacy, English language skills, or programs such as vocational training or GED preparation. Instead, as the term suggests, it is assumed that the student already has an education and is simply continuing it.

Frequently, in the United States, continuing education involves enrollment in college/university credit-granting courses, often by students enrolled part-time, and often offered through a division or school of continuing education of a college/university known sometimes as the university extension or extension school. Also frequently in the US, it can mean enrollment in non-credit-granting courses, often taken for personal, non-vocational enrichment (although many non-credit courses can also have a vocational function). Also, in the US, many such non-credit courses are offered by community colleges.

The University of Wisconsin, in 1904, was the first academic institution in the US to offer what today would be considered an identifiable continuing education program. In 1969, Empire State College, a unit of the State University of New York, was the first institution in the US to exclusively focus on providing higher education to adult learners.

Continuing education for professionals

Main article: Professional development

Licensing bodies in a number of fields have begun imposing continuing education requirements on people who hold licenses to practice a particular profession. The requirements are intended to encourage professionals to maintain their training and stay up-to-date on new developments. Depending on the field, some of these courses may be offered by regular colleges, but they are often provided by organizations that cater to a specific profession. Conferences and seminars may also be designed to satisfy professional continuing education requirements.

Method and format of continuing education

The method of delivery of continuing education can include traditional types of classroom lectures and laboratories. However, much continuing education makes heavy use of distance learning, which not only includes independent study, but which can include videotaped/CD-ROM material, broadcast programming, and online/Internet delivery. In addition to independent study, the use of conference-type group study, which can include study networks (which can, in many instances, meet together online) as well as different types of seminars/workshops, can be used to facilitate learning. A combination of traditional, distance, and conference-type study, or two of these three types, may be used for a particular continuing education course or program.

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