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Top 4 Ways to Support & Retain Professional Learners

By Helen Hwang December 13, 2021

The education and workforce landscape is rapidly evolving. Younger generations are increasingly enrolling in professional, continuing, and online programs to upskill, reskill, and advance their careers. Given these trends, and UPCEA, the leading association for professional, continuing, and online education, partnered to gain insights into the needs and experiences of these students and staff.

Together, we developed a research report highlighting insights and recommendations for supporting and retaining the new professional learner. This report examines learner expectations across the full program lifecycle, the differences in behavior between ages and experience levels, and opportunities for higher education institutions to better communicate with these students. Additionally, an institution’s ability to use technology to automate processes and anticipate learner needs is explored.

Cover image for the and UPCEA report

Over 500 qualified professionals (age 25-64) looking for continuing education courses and programs were surveyed nationally. To build upon the foundation established by the quantitative research — and to better understand institutional capabilities, challenges, and perspectives — recruiting, advising, and student support staff from UPCEA member institutions participated in focus groups.

Take a closer look at four key findings:

1. Motivators: Long-term career and personal goals continue to be the primary criteria for learners when selecting a continuing education and training provider. Staff members feel this is particularly true for individuals who’ve hit a perceived ceiling or have lost interest with their current career trajectory and are looking to change their role or field. Ensuring students understand how a program will benefit their career, given a challenging and changing economy, is of the utmost importance.

2. Flexibility: While learners’ specific personal and professional goals differ by generation, they all value flexibility and seek online or hybrid offerings.

3. Immediacy: Having immediate access to resources and support is now a given. Learners share their frustrations — from technology issues to real-time support — posing opportunities for institutions to re-examine their processes for engaging with students throughout their educational journey.

4. Information Accessibility: When it comes to creating a user-friendly experience and providing basic services related to career support or financial aid, learners express interest in institutions automating processes to better meet their expectations. Automation was seen by both learners and staff as a beneficial element to improving the student experience. Additionally, information that students value must be easily accessible through their preferred channels of communication.

Higher education leaders have a unique opportunity to urgently meet the growing expectations of the new professional learner through innovative professional, continuing, and online programs. Empowering staff to efficiently communicate, share information, and support each learner helps develop a long-term relationship that is key to both student and institution success.

Want more insights into how to support and retain the new professional learner? Download the complete research report, created in partnership with UPCEA, and watch this webinar.

About the Author

Cover image for the and UPCEA report
Helen Hwang
VP, Education Cloud Industry Solutions,
Helen Hwang is the VP of Education Cloud Industry Solutions at In her role, Helen helps bring Salesforce technology to K-12 and higher education institutions to help them better connect, collaborate, and support student and school success. She is passionate about driving change in education to improve access to quality education for all, especially in underserved communities.