Working on reciprocity and customisation in Continuing Education

Werkende professionals met elkaar in gesprek tijdens een training

Lecturers face unique educational challenges when they start working on developing and providing Continuing Education, because reciprocity and customisation are very important for this demanding group of learners. What do we mean by these terms, and how do you give form to them when developing and guiding Continuing Education? In this article we provide you with some practical tips.

What do professionals need?

To begin with, it is useful to know more about who the people are for whom you develop Continuing Education, and what their needs are. In a literary study Zuiker et al. (2018) looked for possible leads. They described different characteristics of professionals. This group has:

  • gained experience and practical knowledge of their profession,
  • a different motivation for learning compared to first time students,
  • a need to be able to bring in questions from practice,
  • a need for immediate transfer of what they learn into their daily practices,
  • limited time available,
  • high expectations when it comes to content and organisation, and 
  • a heterogeneity in age, prior education and expertise.

No ‘prefab’ approach

As the target group for Continuing Education is a fairly heterogenous and demanding group, a ‘prefab’ programme will probably no longer fit in the pedagogy for Continuing Education. After all, professionals often differ in prior knowledge, professions, age, life experience, disciplinary backgrounds, etc. To connect to the large variation in starting situations, strongly personalised learning pathways and supervision are very important. The literature study shows that customisation and reciprocity are core concepts in education for professionals.

What do we mean by customisation and reciprocity?

By reciprocity, we mean that both the lecturer and the students benefit from the 'meeting'. The supervisor can use input from participants as case material in (future) education, initial or for professionals. They can also test the applicability of research results in practice, and ideas for new research can arise. Participants, like the lecturer for that matter, can learn from the previously acquired competencies, experiences and practical knowledge of other participants (Zuiker et al., 2018). On top of that, they can also expand their network and profit from these contacts.

By customisation, we mean that when developing a course, module, or curriculum, you start by putting the professional at the center. The goal of this is that the education matches the individual needs and competencies of the participants and the domain in which they want to function (Smid, 2001). This results in a programme that matches participants' diverse prior knowledge, responds to expectations and individual learning goals, enables them to find answers to their specific questions and ensures that activities can directly be linked to practice.

Applying reciprocity and customisation: practical tips

There are several moments and opportunities during a course to shape reciprocity and customisation in Continuing Education. The possibilities vary and depend on the type of education. For example, methods education give fewer opportunities to tailor the programme to personal learning goals (e.g. training in data analysis). And in education aimed at competence development (combination of knowledge, skill, and attitude), the focus is on strengthening a personal approach. Think of learning to draft a diversity policy. It is also good to consider the duration of your education. For instance, there are more opportunities to respond to learning needs when you spend more time with the participants.

So, how do you shape customisation and reciprocity throughout the process from curriculum design to implementation? Below we give concrete tips, distinguishing five phases.

Where possible, we provide substantiation for our examples. This list was created partly through input from participants in our workshop at the EUCEN conference in 2021, participants from two courses at Utrecht University, and experienced Continuing Education lecturers at Utrecht University during advisory interviews.

Read more

The practical tips in this article stem from a study by the authors, which was the subject of a recent article in the Tijdschrift voor Hoger Onderwijs (Journal of Higher Education). It focused on the question: In what types of learning activities and guidance can reciprocity and customisation be shaped in formal education for professionals? Want to know more about this? Check out the article via the button below (in Dutch). 

Read the article (in Dutch)

Want to get started?

Want to get started with Continuing Education? Educational Development and Training advises individual lecturers and (educational) organisations on the design of Continuing Education. Would you like to know more? Contact us via

And former colleagues Rouven Hagemeijer and Liesbeth van de Grint.


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