Canada is a hot spot for creative and imaginative developments in online learning and open educational resources (OER).
By no means is this a comprehensive or exhaustive list of such developments and the following list is intended as a high-level overview:
- Athabasca University began in 1970 as an open and distance education institution and the Télé-Université in Québec (now known as TÉLUQ,) was founded in 1972.
- Contact North | Contact Nord was created 28-years ago as a network hub for online and distance education in Ontario.
- The Commonwealth of Learning, which promotes online learning and OER through the developing regions of the Commonwealth, was established in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1987.
- MOOCs began in Canada in 2008 at the University of Manitoba – Stephen Downes and George Siemens.
- Blackboard – WebCT was created at the University of British Columbia, and Desire2Learn is a Canadian product from Ontario.
- Canada has a national Canadian Virtual University (CVU), which acts essentially as a recruitment tool for programs offered by each of the eleven participating university institutions.
Some of the significant figures in online learning and open educational resources have Canadian roots:
- Sir John Daniel, former Vice Chancellor of the UK Open University and President and CEO of Commonwealth of Learning, is Canadian.
Leading world researchers and practitioners, including:
- Dr. Dominique Abrioux
- Dr. Terry Anderson
- Dr. Joanne Basque
- Dr. Tony Bates
- Dr. Marie Bountrogianni
- Dr. Marti Cleveland Innes
- Dr. Alex Couros
- Stephen Downes
- Robert Martellaci
- Dr. Rory McGreal
- Dr. Susan Moisey
- Dr. Stephen Murgatroyd
- Dr. Ron Owston
- Dr. Gilbert Paquette
- Dr. Michael Power
- Dr. George Siemens
The hot points for online learning and OER in Canada are now:
Open Educational Resources (OER)
The development of a systematic approach to OER in Western Canada.
The three western provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan have agreed to “cooperate on the development of common OER”. This includes facilitating cooperation among the provinces in sharing and developing OER; identifying, sharing and encouraging the use of OER; and by using technology, fostering an understanding of OER issues.
The rapid development of more online learning resources in French to reflect the significant Francophone population in provinces across Canada.
In addition to the work of TÉLUQ and University of Laval in Quebec, Ontario has developed over 88 fully online programs and 820 online courses in French. We have been working with our French-language universities and institutions in Ontario to significantly increase this number in the next 2-3 years. This is also the goal of L'association des collèges et universités de la francophonie canadienne.
Canada has some 1,400,685 Aboriginal, Métis and Inuit people (known collectively as First Nations) representing just under 5% of Canada’s population.
There are a growing number of innovative projects using online learning and open educational resources focused on increasing learning success for learners in these communities – the fastest growing youth population in Canada.
Canada’s history of innovation in online learning and Open Educational Resources continues. The National Research Council supports an innovation program in online learning (Stephen Downes) and Contact North | Contact Nord’s Online Learning Portal for Faculty & Instructors documents 125 significant online learning innovations from 24 public colleges and 22 public universities in Ontario. Significant innovations are emerging in the field of machine intelligence supported assessment and adaptive learning. For example, the work of the Centre for Research in Applied Measurement and Evaluation at the University of Alberta is pioneering new approaches to assessment.
Meeting the Perennial Challenge in Post-Secondary Education
Governments across Canada are dealing with the perennial challenge in post-secondary education – how to increase access and improve quality within the need to constrain costs in light of challenging fiscal environments. Online learning and the use of open educational resources can be part of the solution to this perennial challenge.
Canada does not collect systematic data about the growth and development of online and distance learning. Nor is it possible to readily capture what developments are occurring nationally.
Three key trends can be discerned:
Growth – 1.3 million online course registrations
As our student demography changes (more mature students, more students balancing work and learning, more single parents), students seek greater flexibility in accessing and completing higher education. Online learning is one response to this. When Ontario last did a census of online learning some four years ago, we had over 500,000 course registrations in a single year (approximately 25,000 full-time equivalents) in some 25,000 college and university courses.
Our best guess is that, in any semester, Canada has over 1.3 million online course registrations. This is growing year-by-year as the number of available programs grows.
There are many examples of collaboration in online learning and OER with Canadian connections. Whether we are looking at the University of the Arctic (Canada helped to create this institution), provincial collaborative networks (BC Campus, e-campus Alberta, e-Campus Manitoba, OntarioLearn, Ontario Online Learning Consortium, Contact North | Contact Nord), collaborative programs (e.g. Collaborative Nurse Practitioner Program (CNPP) is an online graduate level program offered through a joint partnership between the Saskatchewan Polytechnic and the University of Regina) or the joint PhD in Educational Studies at three Ontario universities, some of which can be taken online).
The various quality assurance agencies across Canada have or are developing a systematic approach to quality assurance for online learning, with the Maritimes Provinces Higher Education Commission and Campus Alberta Quality Council leading the way. Programs using ODL are subjected to additional scrutiny with QA rubrics developed by online learning practitioners.
Three major challenges:
Online learning is at a tipping point in many colleges and universities. It either moves from an offering by some departments (especially continuing education) to mainstream or remains marginalized. Institutions, which see online learning as critical and central to their strategic future, make necessary investments to enable quality, expansion and success. While some universities – for example, Royal Roads, Thompson Rivers, Athabasca, Laval, Memorial – see ODL as central to their future, others do not, although this is changing. It is “... and also ..”. Online learning developments in Canada will be constrained accordingly, despite the various pockets of innovation.
Faculty Preparedness for a New Pedagogy
The capacity of faculty to engage in learning design and fully integrate both information and communications technologies (ICT) and open educational resources into their work is limited by their experience, the conditions of practice and available resources. Significant investments in both faculty preparation and ongoing professional development will be needed to get us “past” the content driven models for learning to which they are accustomed. Our best guess, informed by a number of small-scale studies, is that we are at about the 35% rate on the Roger’s adoption curve for faculty members using ICT and online learning. It is too early to look at an evidence base for the use of open educational resources.
The Lack of Reliable, Up-to-Date Information on Online Learning
We estimate there are 1.3 million annual registrations in online learning courses in Canada, however, this is just an estimate. There is no comprehensive set of up-to-date, consistent statistics on the number of online learning registrations. This is in part due to the lack of standard definitions with multiple terms in use such as online learning, distance education, hybrid learning, and blended learning. Standardizing a definition is the first step in addressing this challenge.
Three major opportunities:
“Collaboration is the DNA of the innovation economy” with more impetus to collaborate both within Canada and globally than ever before. As Canada looks to complete the Canada: EU Trade Agreement before a national election due by October 19, 2015, the potential for collaboration (especially in professional education) will grow. Just today, more resources for online assessment for medicine and engineering for international students to qualify for Canadian professional recognition have been announced. The EU agreement, if ratified, seeks to ease labour mobility between Canada and the EU for professions like engineers, doctors, nurses and teachers – this bodes well for international collaboration in the development of these professional qualifications. In addition, we will see an expansion of university: college collaboration – something already well underway in Ontario, as you can see here. There will also be a growth of international partnerships, such as those just announced with India by Algonquin College and Canadore College.
Canada has yet to embrace unbundling – offering credit for MOOCs, undertaking skills and competency-based assessment separately from the work of course delivery, expanding work-based learning accreditation, using competency-based assessments for prior learning – but more elements of unbundling are emerging. McGill is now offering MOOCs for credit; the University of Alberta has created a design and development team for new online courses, which will be different from those who deliver the courses and assess students. We can see the next stage of online learning development in Canada moving us closer to more unbundled services.
A Focus on Skills
In the college sector in particular, but also in universities, there is a strong focus on “market ready” and job relevant skills. The Conference Board of Canada, in co-operation with the Government of Canada and several provincial governments created the Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education (SPSE), which seeks to coordinate and challenge post-secondary education institutions and systems in Canada to respond to the perceived “skills gap” in Canada. Online learning and open educational resources provide opportunities to make more of these skills and competencies made available more often to more people in more flexible ways. We can expect a significant expansion of online programs and courses and online assessment for skills linked to both existing and emerging employment markets.