January 30, 2015

Rapid growth of online learning product market

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Ambient Insight Research (2012) The North America Market for Self-paced eLearning Products and Services: 2011-2016 Forecast and Analysis Monroe WA: Ambient Insight Research (note: $1,225 for the full report; free abstract available at: http://www.ambientinsight.com/Reports/eLearning.aspx)

PRWeb (2012) North American eLearning Market to Reach $27.2 billion by 2016 PRWeb, July 31

The Ambient Insight Research reports examine the current and potential markets for e-learning products such as packaged content, custom content development services, cloud-based authoring tools and learning platform services, installed authoring tools, and installed learning platforms.

Some results from the free abstract (I don’t have $1,225 unfortunately for the full report):

  • the market is growing 4.4% per annum in the USA and 16.8% in Canada
  • by 2016, the North American market will be worth $27.2 billion
  • North America had 62% of the market in 2011
  • the fastest growing products (9% per annum) in North America will be cloud-based authoring tools and learning platforms
  • ‘the global  market has largely been a story of corporate adoption in developed economies. That has changed dramatically in the last two years and the narrative is now one of rapid adoption in all the buyer segments, particularly in the consumer, academic, and government segments in developing economies.’
  • in particular, growth rates predicted between 2011-2016:
    • Vietnam: 44%
    • Malaysia: 39%
    • Romania 37%
    • India: 32%
    • China: 30%.


Although Canada has some significant players in the market (Desire2Learn in particular), I am wondering if there is a lost opportunity here. In particular, there seems to be a large gap between institutional developments (content and applications) and corporate developments (software and equipment) in Canada. This report suggests that there are tremendous opportunities if the main institutional and corporate players in Canada would only get together to look at collaborating in the international online market.

The impact of online learning on the future of higher education: a response to the study from the PewResearchCentre

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Armageddon for the US public university? Art: © Jonsibal.com, 2012

Anderson, J., Boyles, J., and Rainie, L. (2012) The Future Impact of the Internet on Higher Education Washington DC: The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

The study

This is a Delphi-style study where over 1,000 ‘experts’ in the USA were asked to choose one of two possible scenarios that describe the likely impact of the Internet on the higher education system, and then provide comments or a rationale for their choice (see the full report for more details on the methodology).

The results

39% agreed with a scenario that articulated modest change by the end of the decade: 

In 2020, higher education will not be much different from the way it is today. While people will be accessing more resources in classrooms through the use of large screens, teleconferencing, and personal wireless smart devices, most universities will mostly require in-person, on-campus attendance of students most of the time at courses featuring a lot of traditional lectures. Most universities’ assessment of learning and their requirements for graduation will be about the same as they are now.

60% agreed with a scenario outlining more change:

By 2020, higher education will be quite different from the way it is today. There will be mass adoption of teleconferencing and distance learning to leverage expert resources. Significant numbers of learning activities will move to individualized, just-in-time learning approaches. There will be a transition to “hybrid” classes that combine online learning components with less-frequent on-campus, in-person class meetings. Most universities’ assessment of learning will take into account more individually-oriented outcomes and capacities that are relevant to subject mastery. Requirements for graduation will be significantly shifted to customized outcomes.

The Pew researchers grouped the arguments that participants used to justify their choice under the following themes:

  1. Higher education will vigorously adopt new teaching approaches, propelled by opportunity and efficiency as well as student and parent demands.
  2. Economic realities will drive technological innovation forward by 2020, creating less uniformity in higher education.
  3. “Distance learning” is a divisive issue. It is viewed with disdain by many who don’t see it as effective; others anticipate great advances in knowledge-sharing tools by 2020.
  4. ‘Bricks’ replaced by ‘clicks’? Some say universities’ influence could be altered as new technology options emerge; others say ‘locatedness’ is still vital for an optimal outcome.
  5. Frustration and doubt mark the prospect of change within the academy. Change is happening incrementally, but these adjustments will not be universal in most institutions by 2020.
  6. Universities will adopt new pedagogical approaches while retaining the core of traditional methods.
  7. Collaborative education with peer-to-peer learning will become a bigger reality and will challenge the lecture format and focus on “learning how to learn.”
  8. Competency credentialing and certification are likely……yet institutional barriers may prevent widespread degree customization.


This provides an excellent overview of the current thinking about the future of higher education in North America, at least.

I did not participate in the study but I would have been in the 60% who would have voted for the second scenario, but with one caveat: 2020 is too soon, mainly because of theme (5) above. However, I do believe that this is the direction public higher education will go, indeed will have to go.

There was a third scenario that was not discussed in the study, and I believe should have been:

The publicly funded higher education system as we know it will no longer exist in the USA. Elite universities funded mainly through endowments, corporate donations, and very high tuition fees will provide a campus-based education for the very rich and powerful. The majority of government funded research will be allocated to these elite institutions, which will also provide non-credit online free education for the masses. Three or four large for-profit institutions will provide low-cost, tuition-funded medium quality degrees and vocational diplomas using a combination of class-based and online learning, frequently enabling students to transfer in credit from their non-credit certificates from the elite institutions. These for-profit institutions will provide the vast majority of post-secondary education in the USA, helped by Federal and state student grants that require rigorous quality standards from qualifying for-profits. Many states will have either no or at most one of two large, publicly funded research universities. Meanwhile, the USA continues with an accelerated economic and social decline.

Although this last scenario is in my view less likely than the second, I believe that it has a similar if not greater probability than the first scenario, and needs to be treated as a serious threat to the USA’s public post-secondary education system. If my third scenario prevails, it will be because of theme (5) above. Faculty will have only themselves (and the Tea Party) to blame.

Meanwhile, thanks to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project for a very interesting and thought-provoking study.

Your comments, please

How do these scenarios match your view of the future of higher education? Is there one you like but would amend?

Do you have a fourth scenario?

Will it be different in Canada or other countries? Or is the USA unique?

Is this kind of study useful? Or does it just further add to the hype and hysteria around online learning?

Guest post: a review of the Ontario government’s discussion paper on transforming post-secondary education

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Ontario (2012) Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge Toronto ON: Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities

in the ides of summer (June 27), the Ontario provincial government published this very interesting discussion paper about the future of the Ontario post-secondary/higher education system.I am delighted to have a guest post from Dr. Tom Carey that reviews the paper.

 Tom is a Research Professor at San Diego State University and a Visiting Scholar and Adjunct Professor at the Technology-Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute of Athabasca University. Tom was formerly a professor, faculty development leader and Associate Vice-President for Learning Resources and Innovation at the University of Waterloo, and recently completed a term as Senior Partner at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching  in Stanford, California. Here is his post:

Purpose of the discussion paper

“As our government begins the process of transforming the higher education sector”…well, that line in a discussion paper from the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities is sure to motivate interest from institutions, faculty, students and anyone else connected to higher education in the province (even if the discussion paper was released just before the Canada Day holiday weekend, typically a dead zone for attention).

 “This paper and the resulting consultation process seek to identify ways to improve productivity through innovation in the Ontario PSE system. Increased innovation…will improve student learning options, meet the needs of lifelong learners, enhance quality, and ensure long-term financial sustainability…in addition to addressing the priorities of acceleration, productivity, technology, quality and student choice.”


Let’s start with three bits of context. First, the current government in Ontario has been a strong supporter of post-secondary education, sparing colleges and universities – along with the schools and health – from the worst of the trimming applied to other expense areas in the 2012 budget. The stated goal is to maintain a leadership role for the province in post-secondary education: while other regions in North America strive to catch up to where Ontario is now, the government intends to move the goalposts to a rate of 70% of Ontario’s adult population attaining some form of post-secondary credential.

Secondly, no amount of good will from government can insulate the colleges and universities from the reality of unsustainable costs. Annual cost increases greater than growth in the economy can’t go on, and the discussion paper cites a number of global trends requiring that the sector provide access for more students and raise the bar on student outcomes for higher quality.

Finally, the discussion paper emphasizes Innovation through Productivity, reflecting a theme appearing across the government. The paper references the larger agenda to realize the goal that “Ontario’s economy is an Innovation Economy” and the words Innovation and Productivity each appear on average once per page. Often they appear together: “How do we further strengthen the culture of innovation in the sector in order to enhance quality and productivity? What are the barriers and roadblocks to innovation and productivity today?” By linking these terms so strongly, the discussion paper may have managed to secure the dreaded P-word a place in the discussion with college and university faculty.

Implications for online learning

Let’s focus now on the implications for online learning (others have commented elsewhere on the wider issues).  The section Around the World in Post-Secondary Education highlights the growing importance of online learning. Two excerpts will convey some of the tone:

    • Technology-enhanced learning…can enable new ways for students to learn from and interact with faculty and each other…digital delivery of course content can free faculty in traditional institutions to engage in direct dialogue and mentorship with students”.  Notice the finesse around the issue of non-traditional institutions, and the stubborn persistence of a delivery metaphor for education.
    • “Technology is driving world-wide changes in education, and it is important that Ontario recognize and respond to these changes so that credentials from Ontario PSE institutions hold their high value.” 

This could be interpreted in many ways. On one level it may be saying that if Ontario institutions fall behind in their use of technology to support learning, their image and credibility internationally will suffer – witness the rush of elite institutions jumping on the MOOC bandwagon (well, content delivery MOOCs at least, not a more connectivist model) to stay in step with their aspirational peers.

On another level, the point being made could be around productivity gains in order to preserve value in high quality outcomes as enrolment expands without commensurate funding increases. And on another level yet – OK, I don’t really think our friends in the Ministry are going this far – the point may be that we need to prepare students for a world where personal networks, online communities and fluid, opportunistic learning will be the norm for developing capability in our careers and in our lives as community members and global citizens.


The last half of the paper then sets the stage for the ongoing consultations with the sector, which have an aggressive timetable for completion over the summer. Each of the major discussion topics gets a page to tweak interest: Expanded Credential Options and Supplements, Credit Transfer and Student Mobility (an area where the discussion paper acknowledges Ontario’s trailing-edge position), Year-Round Learning, Quality Teaching and Learning Outcomes, Technology-Enabled Learning Opportunities, Tuition Frameworks, Entrepreneurial and Experiential Learning.

Is this a radical change for online learning in Ontario?

Readers of this weblog will recognize that online learning actually has a role to play in advancing each of these areas: we can’t talk about supplements to a transcript, for example, without delving into e-portfolios. So it is a bit disappointing that the page of discussion issues specific to Technology-Enhanced Learning is limited to impacts on traditional modes of instruction: capably done, as far as it goes, but does it go far enough? There are a couple of issues that may suggest the government is prepared to think about more radical change – sharing course development services across institutions, a degree-granting Ontario Online Institute (still with no budget more than two years after announcement) – but overall this is not a report that rocks the boat where online learning is concerned.

And that is the concern I am left with after digesting the discussion paper: however realistically it may reflect life on the ground in the province’s post-secondary sector, however worthwhile it may be to discuss these suggestions, there is no radical innovation (let alone anything disruptive) and nothing that has not already occurred in other jurisdictions. If a discussion paper emphasizes the need for innovation but restricts itself to only incremental change, will it ultimately refute its own argument?

Tom Carey


A new blended model for a for-profit/not-for-profit college aimed at Latinos in the USA

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Fain, P. (2012) New college, new model, Inside Higher Education, May 7

This is a nugget for those interested in new business models for universities.

Ameritas, launched last week, blends for-profit and nonprofit elements and has a singular focus on Latinos who are working adults. It is part of Brandman University, a private, nonprofit institution with 26 campuses in California and Washington. Co-located at four campuses in Southern California’s Inland Empire, Ameritas will offer relatively low-cost, accelerated associate and bachelor degree tracks. Its curriculum is designed to “crack the code” of helping Latinos get to graduation, administrators said.

The fees are pitched slightly higher than state universities, but the aim is to improve the graduation rates for Latino students in the USA: the goal is for two-thirds or more to graduate from a four-year program within 6 years. The collegewide standard will be a three-hour, in-person class each week, with roughly 2.5 hours of additional online classwork.

What makes it particularly interesting though is the business model. You will need to read the article in full to understand what is in reality a complex funding arrangement. Ameritas is a subsidiary of a not-for-profit private university (Brandman) but the start-up costs are coming mainly from venture capitalists who will expect a return on investment. (How is it possible for a not-for-profit college to own a for-profit subsidiary? Did I hear you say: Only in the USA?!).

Why am I interested in this? Well, just south of the USA border, some state universities in Mexico, such as UNAM, are turning away 90% or more of applicants. There is a huge gap in Mexico between supply and demand. Mexico in fact has a high proportion of private universities, some of them excellent, such as Tec de Monterrey, but their fees are at the high end. The new emerging lower middle class, the sons and daughters of the new automobile and manufacturing companies in Mexico, are demanding post-secondary education, but the Mexican states aren’t building new universities fast enough, and this lower middle class cannot afford the high fees of top private universities. In any case there is a shortage of qualified academic staff to fill such positions (many state university professors in Mexico do not have a Ph.D.).

Mexico is not alone – other BRIC countries such as India, China and Brazil, and other countries such as Indonesia, are facing similar problems. If some entrepreneurs can find a way to provide quality post-secondary education at a cost this emerging lower middle class can afford, this will ease the pressure somewhat, especially in countries where tax revenues follow rather than lead economic growth.

However, a business model that will provide fully cost-recoverable quality education from ‘affordable’ fees alone, will also need new models of teaching that maximise the use of the scarce resource of qualified professors. If we are to see reform in higher education, it is likely to come through this kind of initiative rather than from the MITs and Stanford’s use of OERs, or from MOOCs, which don’t deal with the demand for full degrees. This is not an argument for the privatization of higher education (or a criticism of MOOCs or edX), but for new models of teaching and learning for the formal post-secondary education sector.

I think these new models are increasingly likely to come from the private sector, because the rewards for innovation are greater there than in the public sector. Or maybe the public sector will respond and innovate faster – what do you think?

Designing online learning for the 21st century

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Quebec students demonstrating against higher tuition fees

This being the time of year when many Canadian post-secondary institutions offer faculty development opportunities, I have been busy the last two or three weeks giving lectures at the Université de Sherbrooke and Université Laval in Québec, and also at Vancouver Community College. Although the presentations have varied a little depending on the context, the main theme of my presentations has been fairly consistent.

A new paradigm for post-secondary teaching

I have been talking about how new web 2.0 technologies are beginning to change the dominant teaching model that has been around  in our post-secondary institutions for the last century and a half. The slides are available as pdf files, in both English and French. Because of the size of the files (31 MB), you will need to access them by Dropbox. Please send me an e-mail and I will give you access.

I provide below a short summary of the main points. The slides provide many examples drawn mainly from post-secondary institutions in British Columbia and Ontario.

Drivers of change

I suggest that there are several forces driving change:

  • a move to a system of mass higher education, that results in greater diversity of the student body, larger classes, and less funding per student
  • consequently higher fees which in turn drive students to part-time work and hence a need for more flexibility in access (this ‘driver’ was particularly pertinent in Québec, where massive student demonstrations and strikes against proposed increases in tuition were occurring while I was speaking)
  • the development of a knowledge-based society with a strong demand for what might be called 21st century skills
  • rapid technological development and adoption outside the academy.

Despite these changes though our campus-based teaching has changed very little, mainly adding new technologies such as lecture capture to the traditional model of teaching, thus increasing costs: we’ve added GPS and stereo sound to a horse and cart, but it’s still a horse and cart. Meanwhile, distance education has rapidly advanced, and is grabbing an increasing share of the post-secondary market.

The challenge then is for campus-based teaching. What is the best way to use the campus experience when students can learn mainly online? How can we make the best of both worlds as a teacher?

21st century skills

Although I don’t like the term, it is a handy way of describing the kind of skills that need to be embedded within a discipline area, if learners are to function effectively in 21st century society. I argue that these are not generic skills but skills that need to be directly adapted and integrated within a particular knowledge domain. For instance, problem solving in medicine is different from problem-solving in business. Skills require opportunities for practice and development. The core 21st century skill is knowledge management, the ability to find, evaluate, analyse and apply information, although almost as important is independent learning. These are skills that can be taught, or perhaps more accurately, facilitated.

A small design team contracted by Volkswagen

Changing technology

I described the following changes in technologies:

  • LMSs are changing, moving from a ‘course in a box’ to a loose collection of tools from which an instructor chooses (see: Why learning management systems are not going away)
  • examples of the use of the following:
    • WordPress, blogs, wikis and e-portfolios for learner-generated content;
    • video and audio to help learners move between the concrete and abstract and back again;
    • open educational resources, which challenge our conception of curriculum and ownership of content; and
    • virtual worlds.

Features of web 2.0

  • learner authoring and control
  • collaboration and sharing
  • collective intelligence
  • low cost, adaptable software
  • rich media
  • portability and mobility

Educational implications

  • learners have powerful tools
  • personalization and individualization of learning
  • open access, content, services
  • development of knowledge management skills
  • a power shift from instructors to learners

A new paradigm for learning: from e-learning 1.0 to 2.0

Stephen Downes’ articulation of e-learning 2.0:

  • learning managed by the learner
  • peer-to-peer collaboration
  • access to open content
  • learning demonstrated by online multimedia assignments (e.g. e-portfolios)
  • development of 21st century skills

© Tony Bates, 2012

Role of instructor

Three possible roles (at least):

  • none (Downes; Siemens): students are autonomous/self-directed
  • guide on the side
  • in control

What kind of course? How to decide

Four deciding factors:

  • teaching philosophy
  • students you want to reach
  • nature of subject matter
  • resources available

© Tony Bates, 2012

‘Advanced’ online course design

  • knowledge management
  • open content within a learning design
  • student-generated multimedia content
  • assessment by e-portfolios

Who decides what kind of course?

  • instructor; program team; senior management?
  • decisions at program level; a progression from dependent to independent to inter-dependent learning
  • could we design one course/program for all types of learners in various delivery modes?
  • what process/mechanisms does the institution have for making these decisions?


  • we know how to teach well online; follow best practice
  • however, we also need to innovate: incrementally and evaluate
  • innovation in teaching needs to be rewarded more
  • systematic training of both instructors and senior administrations is essential for success

Lastly, in all the institutions I went to the audience in general agreed that:

  • we are not teaching in ways that fully engage learners
  • instructors are not fully leveraging the potential of technology for teaching
  • instructors are not adequately trained or skilled in using technology for teaching.

There are clear signs though that the revolution is beginning to happen: vive la révolution!