Catering to adult learners with jobs, families and little time to spare, online courses in continuing education are growing rapidly across the country.

“They’re growing at a much faster rate than our traditional in-class courses,” said Colin Simpson, dean of the Centre for Continuous Learning at George Brown College. At the school, enrolment in online courses is up about 10 per cent, year after year, and the e-learning milieu is attracting a whole new demographic of students, Simpson said. They’re seeing students from ages 18 to 88, many of whom would never have thought of going to college before.

Some of the most popular online courses at George Brown are those that provide technical training for people looking to upgrade their skills and become more competitive in the workplace.

At Vancouver Community College, the online courses with the biggest draw are those offering instructor training.

The Provincial Instructor Diploma Program is a basic instructor training course for college teachers, university teachers, corporate trainers and second language teachers.

And somewhat new to the course calendar but gaining in popularity is the Online Instruction certificate.

“It’s a three-course certificate program and it’s very intense,” said Eva Murray, department head for the School of Instructor Education at Vancouver Community College.

Online learning creates a unique set of challenges, said Murray, including the need to build a sense of community among the students when there is no face-to-face contact.

The certificate teaches instructors how to use common e-learning software, design e-learning activities, supplement face-to-face courses and assess and evaluate e-learning.

Chris Appleton, e-learning specialist with the continuing education department at the University of Calgary, says the popularity of blended courses, where part of the course is on campus and part is online, is skyrocketing.

“A lot of people like to interact with classmates,” he said.

But they also like the convenience of working from home, on their own schedule and not attending classes every week.

Overall, Appleton said, the university has experienced a 10 per cent growth in registration for online classes in the past year.

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