Lifelong learning is a 21st century necessity. No longer can you graduate from high school or college and check off your education as complete. Rapidly changing technology, globalization and economic realities require people to keep competitive and up-to-date to survive. Opening a continuing education business and offering a blend of courses can stimulate and benefit your students.
Deciding on Direction
Before you open a continuing education business, learn all you can from existing companies. While local competitors may not want to talk with you, comparable firms outside your area may be willing to share information. You have three choices -- start from scratch, buy a franchise or acquire an existing business. Franchises such as Berlitz and Dale Carnegie offer professional development skills, while the Online Trading Academy provides training in specific skills, such as investing. You must also decide if you wish to offer online or on-site instruction.
What to Offer
If you aspire to write your own programs, familiarize yourself with adult learning methodologies. Adults are busy, are likely to have jobs and families and may be paying for courses out of their own pockets. Your topics must be broad enough to attract a wide audience, yet specific enough to provide content students will pay to receive. As a rule, you need three learning objectives for each hour of instruction. Plan on using a variety of activities and group exercises to drive lessons home.
To provide the Continuing Education Unit, the standard unit of measurement, you must be accredited by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET). The organization offers support through webinars, online learning and workshops. Accreditation takes time and effort but it may be necessary if you want to attract corporate clients. Your entity must be incorporated, have been in business for at least a year, doing business in its current mode for at least three months and meet additional IACET standards. An evaluating commission takes three to four months to review your application, after which it makes a site visit before reaching a decision.
If you have a background in a field such as accounting, cosmetology or insurance, you may be able to open a school to provide training. Many professionals need continuing education to maintain their state certification. Check with your state's licensing authorities to see which professions require continuing education and what you must do to become an instructor. Many states extend reciprocity to neighboring states, so your accreditation may extend beyond your state's borders.
Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.