Continuing education is offered by municipal institutions, in particular Volkshochschulen, public libraries and music schools, as well as by private institutions, church institutions, the trade unions, the various chambers of industry and commerce, political parties and associations, companies and public authorities, family education centres, academies, Fachschulen, institutions of higher education and distance learning institutions. Radio and television companies also provide continuing education programmes.
Under various continuing education legislation of some Länder, it is mainly the task of the Volkshochschulen, the local adult education centres, but also of other maintaining bodies from the private sector, to take care of basic provision of continuing education courses in the field of general continuing education, in other words to provide a regular and comprehensive range of courses which meets the most diverse social requirements and individual needs.
The Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung) and the respective bodies of the Länder hold events in the field of continuing political education and promote private sponsors of continuing political education.
It is usually possible to acquire school-leaving qualifications later in life at evening classes (Abendhauptschulen, Abendrealschulen, Abendgymnasien) and in what is called Kollegs. Abendhauptschulen prepare adults in a one-year course (two semesters) for the acquisition of the Hauptschulabschluss. Abendrealschulen take adults through to the Mittlerer Schulabschluss in evening classes (four semesters). Abendgymnasien allow suitably capable adults to obtain the Hochschulreife (higher education entrance qualification) usually in a three-year period. Kollegs are full-time schools where adults can obtain the Hochschulreife.
The Länder and maintaining bodies from the private sector offer qualification courses for young people and adults to obtain school-leaving certificates. These measures are designed to give young people with migrant backgrounds in particular the opportunity to obtain a school-leaving certificate.
As institutions of continuing vocational training, Fachschulen offer courses lasting between one and three years.
Distance learning offers adults in employment the opportunity to take up continuing education on a flexible basis while remaining in employment. Distance learning courses offered by private organisations have required state approval in the Federal Republic of Germany since 1 January 1977 under the Law on the Protection of Participants in Distance Education (Fernunterrichtsschutzgesetz – FernUSG). The decision to approve a distance learning course is taken by the Central Office for Distance Learning (Staatliche Zentralstelle für Fernunterricht – ZFU) of the Länder of the Federal Republic of Germany. Under an approval procedure checks are carried out not only on the factual and didactic quality of the teaching material in relation to the course objective, but also on advertising and on the form and content of the distance learning agreement which has to be concluded between the student and the distance learning institute. In total just less than 150,000 people were registered on distance learning courses in 2018.
Provided that the Berufsakademie laws at Land level contain the necessary provisions, the Berufsakademien may also offer continuing education courses.
According to the Framework Act for Higher Education (Hochschulrahmengesetz – HRG) and the legislation on higher education of the Länder (Hochschulgesetze), in addition to providing research and study courses, the main responsibilities of higher education institutions is to provide continuing education in the academic and creative field. Continuing education courses offer people the opportunity to specialise, deepen and supplement practical professional experience and thus lead to an additional vocational qualification. The predominantly modularised courses last from a few weeks or months to several semesters. Through continuing academic education, higher education institutions in cooperation with partners from the economy, also contribute to the employability of working adults and thus promote regional development.