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Finding a Competitive Edge With Continuing Ed at Southern Illinois University 

  • 5 Min Read

Craig Engstrom, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and D2L customer, shares how unique content and having a marketing plan can help institutions be competitive in the field of continuing education.


Craig Engstrom is director of the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) at Southern Illinois University (SIU) Carbondale. He’s also an associate professor of business communication and persuasion. He works with his counterpart Sarah Vanvooren, director of events and outreach, to deliver continuing education experiences at SIU.  

The CTE provides instructional design support and training for faculty and staff looking to develop continuing ed programming. The events and outreach team takes on the budgeting, recruitment and marketing of continuing education offerings.  

In an interview with D2L, Craig provided his insights on how to remain competitive in continuing education, including the importance of creating unique content. Here’s what he had to say. 

Showcasing Unique Content 

Right now, we’re trying to build a new sequence of programming with more emphasis on hybrid interactions. One example of this is the work we’re doing with the instructor of the Leadership Development Program in the College of Engineering. He teaches for-credit courses, but we also have opportunities for faculty to do training and development activities for a wider audience through the continuing education site.  

What the instructor would like to do is develop a noncredit program where students start with some of the leadership development content asynchronously in D2L Brightspace and then have some programming [in Illinois] at an area we call Touch of Nature, which includes ropes courses set in the Shawnee National Forest. We have beautiful national forests and state parks right in our backyard. You can’t find that anywhere else in Illinois.  

The idea is that students would come to the forest for a weekend activity to put into practice the things they’re learning in the online environment. What we can say to them is—and especially when targeting some of our former alumni—Hey, you might have missed this excellent Leadership Development Program. We know statistically that students who went through that program are in vice president level roles within six years and making six-figure salaries on the aggregate. You probably want that experience too, but rather than go through the traditional program, here’s a micro program where you can do a lot of the stuff online and then you get a trip back down to SIU and into our ropes course. 

We’re really trying to think outside the box and figure out how we might deliver different or unique learning experiences. How do we utilize the resources we have in a unique way to offer content that might not be available elsewhere? 

How to Remain Competitive in Continuing Ed

There is this move toward more credentialing and different types of delivery methods, which means it’s going to be a hypercompetitive space.  

For us, we’re more focused on the continuing education of former students or people in our region and what their needs are. We also see potential in the niche technical expertise of our faculty and staff. Do we need another business communication course? There’s a ton of those. But our faculty have very specific technical skills that learners could truly benefit from. 

It’s important that institutes looking to create noncredit courses find and develop marketing personas for potential offerings. We’ve created some for use internally, and it’s working out quite well. We’ve got courses that fill up immediately once we open them, and we’ve got to put people on waiting lists. Some other courses struggle, so we’re looking at how we can improve those.  

My advice to anybody looking at creating continuing education programs would be to not overlook the importance of marketing. Otherwise, you’re just going to be cannibalized by all the other programs offering the same stuff. 

Brightspace Experience

We have 24-hour D2L support that I would highly recommend. It takes a big burden off of support systems on campus. We also have the enablement subscription, which has been very helpful for a wide range of things. I’ve used it this year to help us do course reviews.  

For example, if we have a continuing ed course that has to meet a certain threshold—whether it’s the Quality Matters or the Online Learning Consortiums, OSCQR rubric standards or CREC guidelines—we can use the enablement subscription to have one of the D2L teams do an external, unbiased review of a course.  

We’ve also had D2L do training, including the basics of instructional design. Because, again, as we’re growing the continuing ed program and we want people who may not actually have taught much to teach, they may need to learn some of the basics. 

From a delivery point of view, the learning management system (LMS) is really intuitive. It’s great for issuing certificates and credentials, and it’s easy: three steps to develop a certificate delivered in a PDF format with the person’s name on it. Badges are really beautiful and executed easily. What’s great about Brightspace is that it fits the needs of both traditional students (either on campus or online) and nontraditional students who are primarily learning remotely and seeking upskilling or microcourses. 

Actionable Outcomes From SIU

Targeting alumni is a great way to build up your continuing education efforts. Since these students already have a connection with their alma mater, they could be more easily persuaded to continue their learning journey with your institution. 

You’ll also want to have a marketing plan in place to make sure future students become aware of what you have to offer. Use it to showcase your unique courses, provide brand consistency and develop personas. 

Lastly, choosing the right LMS will make your continuing education efforts easier. Using an LMS that is both for-credit and noncredit friendly will help create a seamless experience for everyone. It will also help your institution, staff and faculty achieve their best potential in the world of continuing education. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Continuing Education: The Guide to Getting Started 

Discover how to harness the demand and boost enrollment in this comprehensive guide to continuing education for postsecondary institutions.

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Table of Contents
  1. Showcasing Unique Content 
  2. How to Remain Competitive in Continuing Ed
  3. Brightspace Experience
  4. Actionable Outcomes From SIU