Lifelong learning opportunities available to alumni

By Kelly Montoya

Lifelong learning opportunities available to alumni

By Kelly Montoya
As part of the “Roadmap to Our New Century” initiative, the University of Miami advances the art of teaching and the science of learning by partnering with students, alumni, and others to offer options throughout the entire adult learning life cycle.

For University of Miami students, a graduation date does not have to mark the end of the learning relationship with their alma mater. Instead, it can mean the beginning of the possibility of a lifelong learning bond that stretches years beyond completion of the undergraduate degree.

Joseph Budras, a 1983 alumnus who works as a resource management and strategic planning team leader for the Federal Highway Administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Benjamin Loewy, a 2001 alumnus and branch chief at the U.S. Department of Defense, have experienced the value of that relationship firsthand after completing one of the many Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offered at the University. The alumni had similar goals. They wanted  to enhance their knowledge of the trends in cybersecurity in order to advance their respective careers.  

“Every day, I receive numerous emails with very creative and luring phishing attempts,” said Budras. “I wanted to better educate myself with cybersecurity training from a different source other than my organization.”

The Cybersecurity: Incident Response and Decision-Making MOOC was designed for alumni professionals like Budras and Loewy in order to help them to strengthen their decision-making skills, so they can make better-informed choices during and in the aftermath of a cyber event.

“I have a greater understanding of the concepts and mechanisms of cybersecurity and have been applying this knowledge on a daily basis,” said Budras. “This training has put me in a better position to prevent cyberattacks to my organization.”

“The courses provided basic frameworks for understanding how to mentor effectively and the basics of cybersecurity,” said Loewy. “I applied the mentoring skills in my role as a supervisor of 20 employees.”

Offering these types of life learning opportunities to alumni are a priority at the University.

According to Charles Eckman, dean of University Libraries, technology and the pandemic have forced rapid changes in the economy and the nature of work. So, learning opportunities such as MOOCs need to be easily available to alumni and lifelong learners who are motivated to find ways that can help them change careers or advance their professional growth.

“The commitment of universities such as UM to lifelong or continuous learning has existed for some time, but the market for this programming is growing,” he explained. “It takes ongoing education and training to keep skill sets current for any individual profession and today’s graduates are likely to follow a trajectory that involves multiple career shifts.”

In order to uphold the University’s commitment to being a learning partner for life, the Continuous Learning Working Group—which includes representatives from the Division of Continuing and International Education, Alumni Relations, Toppel Career Center, Executive Education, and Academic Technology, among others—has developed a series of cost-free programs including MOOCs and other skill-based trainings via cross-University partnerships, that offer a long-term value proposition to the alumni network.

As Eckman mentioned, the Continuous Learning Working Group is now conducting an audit of continuous learning programming across the University in order to help advise on how to optimize these opportunities for alumni.

“Our goal in developing each MOOC is to provide quality, engaging programming that addresses the learning objectives of alumni. Some courses focus on building competitive and professional skills such as project management, professional coaching, or cybersecurity. Other courses emphasize personal and societal enrichment through wellness and even climate change,” said Rebecca M. Fox, dean of continuing and international education.

Fox said that another common thread in her team’s approach to MOOC development is collaborating with expert University faculty members who align the curriculum with the ever-evolving industry trends. “For each MOOC, our Distance Learning Institute instructional design team constructs a user-friendly, online environment that is both intuitive and progressive,” she said.

“The benefits for alumni continue even after they have completed a MOOC,” Fox added. “Alumni receive a certificate of completion and the option of earning a digital badge, which creates a virtual footprint to share their newly-acquired skills and knowledge.” 

There are currently four online courses leveraging the University’s faculty and institutional resources. All are open to alumni free of charge. Visit https://www.alumni.miami.edu/education-for-life/moocs/index.html to register for a course.

Four additional courses are currently in development and will be available in spring and summer 2021.