Trends in Distance Education in Canada

Rocci Luppincini, in his book Trends in Educational Technology and Distance Education in Canada, explores the history and trends of online learning in Canada’s higher education sector.

The University of Calgary has a support centre for faculty called, the Teaching and Learning Centre. This centre provides faculty development, consulting, and mentoring to those who teach. Also, the University has a centre, called the Information Commons, which provides services for the scholarly use of information and technology use.

One of the institutions in Canada that offers online programs and courses is Athabasca University.  Unique to Athabasca is the Learning Accreditation Centre that assess transfer credits, prior learning assessment and accrediting workplace programs. They also helped gain accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) that recognizes their Master of Distance Education (MDE) program. Also stemming from the university is a faculty and graduate student research centre, named the Canadian Institute of Distance Education Research (CIDER) designed to address a multitude of issues such as teaching and learning applications, finance, access, and other factors affecting DE. To support the research initiative, the CIDER centre also publishes a far reaching e-journal called the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (IRRODL).  

Acadia University is a laptop university with distance programs which is driven by the Acadia Advantage initiative and the Acadia Institute for Teaching and Technology. They ensure all students have a notebook computer and up-to-date technological expertise. Considering their technological enriched environment they needed to invest significantly in faculty development and support. Thus, this centre helps faculty use technology to effectively improve student learning, reaching into the individual academic units. Services include helping with the design of online courses, and by using virtual learning templates. They offer on-site and off-site training.

Memorial University has collaborated with the University College of Cape Brenton (UCCB) to offer joint Master of Education in Information Technology program. They have a cross-university steering committee that oversees program decision making. Also, the Department of Education for Newfoundland and Labrador created the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation (CDLI) to provide access to educational opportunities for distance learners in that province. Memorial University is affiliate with this centre and educational technology faculty members provide expertise.

Royal Roads University extensively uses technology in their operation and delivery of education. They were quoted as saying, “the dynamics of a well-established university were bound to slow things down but at Royal Roads using technology and leveraging through the use of technology was the only way the university would survive” (p.122).  Thus, they need willing staff to use technology in innovative ways. What is more, the have 50 students in a cohort which helps with economies of scale. However, this large size requires them to use technology in create ways to optimize the learning experience. Their students are in their late 40s, in middle of their careers and have family responsibilities. They also bring unique expectations and experiences to the program. As well, they are confident they can work online as they work in virtual environments at work.

The Tele-University of Quebec is a distance education institution inspired by the Open University of the UK. They have a community oriented philosophy where staff, instructors and students connect in a learning community that supports student learning through a network of services and support to help them achieve their objectives and manage their own learning plan . As well, they developed an interdisciplinary research centre, LICEF, that is an administrative branch of the university. This centre focuses on cognitive data processing and teaching environments. This one hundred person centre, supplied by professors from various departments, “develop methods, tools of design, and systems of training” (p.130). A division of this centre (CIRTA) researches elements of tele-learning. LICEF is recognized universally for its research on distance education. The university also exchanges course credits with other institutions such as Athabasca and UQAM (L’Université du Québec à Montréal).

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