Olivier Chartrand, eLearning Development Manager at La Cité in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, describes his job as an ideal and challenging combination of pedagogy, technology and creativity. La Cité is the largest French-language college of applied arts and technology in Ontario, offering 140 programs. Just over 300 courses are available online, a number of which are used in multiple programs.
La Cité’s vision and strategic plan 2018-2023 put students at the centre of all activities and the vision of the entire educational development team within the college mirrors this commitment by focusing on creating quality educational experiences for students.
La Cité recently adopted a competency-based pedagogical model, transforming its pedagogy to integrate professional skills in learning, whether in face-to-face classrooms or online. Technology plays a key role in both environments. The shift to competency-based learning is gradually being introduced, with some newly-designed programs offered in fall 2018, and more scheduled for transformation in academic year 2018-2019.
Staff supporting the transition to competency-based online learning includes multidisciplinary expertise, such as instructional, multimedia and technological design, quality control, and language and other specialists and content experts, working with three particular focuses:
- Instructional design: responsible for pedagogical design of content, assessments and learning activities.
- Multimedia design: responsible for visual development, choice of technologies, choice of colours, etc. to ensure quality of the graphic and sound design.
- Continuous improvement: responsible for maintenance of the inventory of 300 online courses, and the process of review, revision, and updating of courses as needed.
The team recently built a new work flow, as well as targeted goals and objectives to guide their work in transitioning to competency-based learning focused on students.
Similar instructional design models are used for face-to-face and online courses, with modifications to suit content and delivery styles, based on seven goals guiding the work of the instructional designers and development experts:
- Ensure students are motivated and engaged.
- Ensure students are paying attention to content and competencies to be gained from beginning to end of course.
- Explain the skill-based approach to students, personalizing this to match the competencies required in each course. Students need clarity about what skills they need to acquire, how they do this during the course, and how they are assessed on skills and competencies.
- Help students make connections from the course content to their experience and prior learning.
- Ensure students work on developing and practicing each skill, not memorizing definitions or theory.
- Prepare students for competency-based evaluation, with the formative evaluations offering the same style of question and/or task, as well as the same level of difficulty, as the summative evaluations.
- Acknowledge and celebrate the learning of each skill and connecting of associated skills into a broader learning success. Each learning unit is 14 hours and successful completion of each is recognized in the learning design.
Differentiating a student-focused learning experience from one focused on teaching is core to the learning design at La Cité. Key questions in the chart below illustrate this difference and guide thinking about student-centred design.
Focused on Teaching
Focused on Learning
Concerns for teaching
What knowledge, vision, and messages do I have to convey?
How should I organize this knowledge?
How can I communicate my vision and make sure students understand my message?
What are the learning and training needs of my students?
Expert in content and knowledge sharing.
Facilitator of the processes by which students develop competencies.
Documents related to the topic.
The workplace as source of examples.
Problem-centered learning resources related to workplace.
Multiple sources of information based on the work environment.
What is the best way to present and structure the information to be conveyed?
How can students best learn?
What actions will students take to learn?
What can I do to support students in learning beyond the basic skills?
How can I encourage them to broaden their learning to a wider application of competencies to the workplace?
Role of instructional designer
Works to present content in best design possible.
Takes on three complementary roles:
An additional resource outlines the essential components of competency-based pedagogy, presenting a list of challenges facing each instructional designer:
- Clear competencies are both discipline specific and generalizable into multiple tasks and workplace situations, such as communication and team work.
- Student progress indicators outline clear actions related to measurable, observable and realizable objectives.
- Knowledge and skills, including information, know-how and ability to learn and develop capacities
- Content presented systematically and connected to authentic practice.
- Professor functions as a facilitator, guide, mentor, motivator, and evaluator as well as developer and advisor on resources.
- Student role is to be pro-active, engaged, creative, self-directed and reflective.>
- Teaching focused on development of competencies within defined framework of course, program and workplace.
- Resources are integrated into specific learning and work environments and accessible through technology.
- Pedagogical strategies include using case studies, group projects, completion of real-world tasks and examples based on actual situations and problems.
- Evaluation uses a variety of methods, offering feedback and analysis for improvement.
Benefits and Outcomes
Many students responded positively to the new learning approach, with some reporting good experiences from the start and others who benefit from mistakes and challenges of working through and then mastering the process of skill-based learning.
Students also appreciate the authenticity and practical nature of the learning, directly tied to employment and what is expected in the workplace.
The transition to the new model is in progress for about a year. Each course includes a student survey to guide improvements. In addition, a few projects are chosen for focus groups for more intensive student input and testing of media resources. Particularly engaged students may end up working directly with the team as their feedback is integrated into improvements and changes.
The organization of the work into the three focuses outlined above allows staff to work on more projects, using well-organized procedures and standards.
Adapting the online model for the development of in-class and hybrid courses adds efficiencies to the process, with tools and procedures readily accessible and continuously improved.
Simplicity is adopted as a key objective of design – as too many elements on screen, in an attempt to create the “wow” response, often end up confusing, too busy and distracting students. Instead, the focus is on doing one thing at a time, making a single best choice. As well as enhancing learning, this approach is aiming more efficient solutions for pedagogy development.
Challenges and Enhancements
The objectives for instructional design require new skills and understanding from all: experts, instructional designers and students. Students are most often not familiar with the competency-based learning approach which stresses what they have to do at the end of each unit and the course. Instead of being told what to learn and read, student course goals and assessments are expressed in terms of skills to be acquired. The instructional designers and experts must be clear and detailed in explaining this to students, helping them understand how to accomplish the goals, and supporting students throughout each course.
Management of the process requires a lot of energy from the team. One strategy to address this is the reduction of the number of intermediaries in the process. For more effective and coordinated decision-making, strategic meetings and project charts provide the necessary clarifications and approvals. These activities take time to integrate and organize but are an essential element of change management.
Increased emphasis is placed on the development of full programs in online or hybrid format. For example, a program in cheese making is under development to be offered in a mix of on-site and online, while a program in mental health and substance addiction will be offered completely online.
The continuous improvement model introduces new ideas, strategies and directions. As Olivier Chartrand says “The adventure is never over. An online course is always in motion.”
Transforming all programs to a student-centered, competency-based model is a long-term project. La Cité set 2023 as the date for completion. Olivier Chartrand welcomes discussions with other colleges on the thinking, planning, strategies, and challenges in accomplishing innovation in online course development.
For Further Information
eLearning Development Manager