This is a difficult question to answer, because continuing education is a term that can mean different things depending on which institution is using it. All continuing education courses are designed to be completed by those that have at least a high school education. Continuing education courses are also usually developed so as to augment the knowledge of someone that is already trained for a specific job — continuing that person’s education in their specific field rather than teaching them the basics of their job.
One way to divide the different types of courses is by what, if any, credit they provide. Looking at the courses like this, we can see the following types of continuing education courses: Continuing Education Unit courses, degree/certificate courses, and non-credit courses.
Continuing Education Unit (CEU) courses are a very specific type of course. Professions such as doctors and nurses are constantly changing, and their members are required to take a specific number of CEU courses every year to remain practicing. CEU courses are usually offered by hospitals, unions, and similar entities associated with professions that need CEUs.
Degree/certificate courses are those that provide credit hours that can be used at an institution of higher learning to earn a degree or certificate. A computer programmer, for instance, might go to a university and take a night school course in a new computer language in order to improve his usefulness. The credits earned from completing that course could be used to get a degree or certificate from that university, even though that was not necessarily the aim of the person taking the course.
Non-credit continuing education courses are those that do not provide CEUs and can not be used to gain a degree/certificate. Non-credit courses are provided by many different sources and for many different reasons. In some cases, participants take the courses simply to learn more about a new skill or technique they’ve heard about; in other cases, the course is required by an employer. Some companies will sponsor non-credit courses to teach consumers more about a product and how to use it. In any case, non-credit courses are usually shorter than other types and generally much less formal.
Continuing education courses are sometimes grouped with adult education courses. Both types of courses usually have similar formats: they are offered at times such as evenings and weekends when most adults are not working, and they are developed for those with an older-adult mindset. Adult education courses, however, often focus on remedial areas and helping a student to gain the equivalent of a high school education; continuing education courses, on the other hand, assume that the student already has a high level of understanding of the subject matter, and builds upon that.