January 22, 2017

E-learning in 2011: a retrospective

‘That was the year that was, it’s over, let it go…’, as the old song says. But before it does go, let’s look back and see what happened in the world of e-learning in 2011.

First, a disclaimer. I sit here on the edge of the world, in my little office, and although I make the occasional sally into an institution of higher education, I see only a tiny fraction of what is actually going on around the world. No-one is more conscious of the problem of defining ‘reality’ as I am, especially in such a dynamic world as e-learning, where rhetoric is often far distanced from actual practice. So, no, this is not a scientific review of the year, but a personal view of events that seem significant to me looking back. (I will be doing an outlook for 2012 early in the year).

Learning management systems

LMSs had trundled on fairly quietly for nearly 15 years (apart from an aggressive but unsuccessful campaign by Blackboard to dominate the market) to the point where LMSs are now used by 95% of all post-secondary institutions in North America.

2011 though saw some dramatic developments. Blackboard moved into synchronous tools with the purchase of Elluminate and Wimba, and was itself bought by a shadowy private equity company which also gobbled up Sungard  Higher Education and Datatel, positioning itself as a totally integrated software provider for the higher education industry. Despite this, Blackboard continued to lose market share to both commercial competitors such as Desire2Learn, and to open source systems such as Moodle and Sakai.

Into this already highly competitive and fragmenting market came several new companies, the largest and most immediately threatening to Blackboard being Pearson’s Open Class. Instructure is another company with a different way of looking at learning management, and in Europe, ‘its Learning‘ has been making large gains. I have a less clear picture of what’s happening in India, but if my e-mail is anything to go by, there are several large companies offering LMSs in that continent, and looking to expand internationally.

However, not only is there more competition, but views are changing about the desired features of an LMS. In particular, there are increasing efforts by the LMS organizations to incorporate social media, to enable mobile access, and to enable institutions to make their content ‘open’ from within an LMS. Some institutions are getting sick of continuous and costly upgrades and migration, and are taking care to ensure that any content created is easily exportable so that the institution does not become platform dependent.

I think the last strategy is very wise. There are too many players in a relatively small field and someone’s going to get concussion or even completely taken out of the game. What is clear is that institutional decision-making is going to get harder, not easier. Technological change outside the LMS continues at a rapid pace. Can an LMS be all things to all people? Probably not. It will become important then not just to focus on which LMS to use, but increasingly on how one wants to teach, and what combination of tools provides that flexibility. The LMS is not going to continue as a one-stop technology for teaching, if it ever did. But nor is it going to go away, at least not for the next few years.

Course redesign

Although I have seen quite a lot of innovation in pockets and on a small scale, I have seen little over 2011 in the way of major redesign of courses. Instead, there has been a large increase in lecture capture generally. The major design development seems to be ‘flipping’, inspired by the Khan Academy. Instead of having students come to a lecture in real time, the lecture is recorded and downloaded by students at home (sometimes the instructor does not record a lecture themselves but gets students to download lectures from the Khan Academy or other open educational resource sites such as MIT), and class time is spent on discussion or small group work. This is probably an improvement (anyone have any evidence yet?) but it is not going to start a revolution.

What I was looking for in 2011 was a major breakthrough in the redesign of large lecture classes, along the lines of the NCAT course redesign project. Although Carol Twigg is soldiering bravely on, there is still a huge way to go to change the traditional large lecture class across campuses in North America and elsewhere. We continue to add bells and whistles to the horse and cart, in the form of large screens, clickers, in-class tweets, lecture capture, polling via mobile phones, and real-time access to data and news events in class via the Internet, but it’s still a horse and cart. When are we going to get a railway, never mind a high speed train?

What I have found encouraging (in the isolated pockets of innovation) is the attempt by some instructors to give power to learners, through the use of blogs, wikis and e-portfolios. to enable learners to create their own learning materials, and to share and collaborate with others. Can we move this from the early adopters though to the cautious mainstream in 2012?

Mobile learning

There has definitely been progress at an institutional level in mobile learning during 2011.  Some institutions, such as Abilene Christian, Northeastern, Stanford, Carnegie mellon and Tufts have implemented institutional strategies to make mobile learning widely available. The iPad in particular has been integrated successfully, mainly into regular classroom teaching, but also in other areas, such as clinical practice.

However, the main uses still remain mainly administrative, for student support services, and for more flexible access to standard online content. I did not find many instances of redesigning teaching to exploit the affordances of mobile learning, such as use of location, data collection in the field, interviews, etc. Nevertheless, all learning is rapidly becoming ‘mobile enabled’.

Open educational resources

There were several important developments in open educational resources in 2011. Perhaps the most noticeable was the formation of the OERu, which is attempting to combine open access to content with institutional accreditation. A growing number of institutions and individual instructors are making their online content freely accessible, and some institutions, such as the University of British Columbia, have extensive cross-institutional blogs and wikis created by instructors, students, and ‘experts’ or interested parties from outside the institution that are often linked to formal courses, but sit outside the LMS, and are open to the public.

Apart though from special cases such as OER Africa, special collections or repositories of open educational resources did not seem to me to be gaining traction in 2011. This is one area where the rhetoric seems at odds with the reality. I don’t see a lot of take-up of OERs in post-secondary institutions. There is plenty of supply and lots of ‘hits’, but it is hard to find extensive application within formal learning environments. ‘Open-ness’ is growing, but in ways that are not quite what was anticipated by the more dedicated proponents of OERs.

Yes, content is becoming more readily accessible, but what really matters to many learners is open access to and interaction with quality faculty or instructors, leading to recognized qualifications, and many institutions that proclaim the principle of open content deny open access to learners, either through too expensive tuition fees or through too rigorous entry requirements. This is the reality of limited resources.

Online learning continues to grow

Growth in enrollments in online courses was again up, by 1o%. The pace is slowing a little, but this is still impressive, given the impact of the economy and the very slow growth rate of conventional enrollments, at around 2% last year in the USA.

The rest

There were several other topics I predicted in my outlook for 2011. I will come back to learning analytics in my outlook for 2012. Otherwise shared services did not take off in 2011, as I had hoped, but I did perceive increased use of video in particular, not just in the form of lecture capture, but an increasing number of short video clips for education on YouTube. Gaming and simulations remained on the periphery, and virtual worlds almost disappeared off the e-learning radar in 2011 (except in Finland, but they live in another reality anyway!). Blended learning continues to grow, but I’m not sure what the term means anymore.


Slow but definite progress in online learning was made in 2011. Certainly growth continues, and there is a great deal of innovative activity around the fringes of formal courses, and especially in informal learning. The LMS and lecture capture remain though the bedrock for most online learning, and that’s not the future I’m looking for.

And I do miss Amy, a great singer. Let’s see what happens in 2012.


IRRODL’s new issue on emergent learning

IRRODL, Vol. 12, No. 7, 2011: Special Issue: Emergent Learning, Connections, Design for Learning

The guest editors, Rod Sims and Elena Kays have collected together a number of articles on emergent learning which Williams, Karousou, and Mackness (2011, p. 41) have described as “learning which arises out of the interaction between a number of people and resources, in which the learners organise and determine both the process and to some extent the learning destinations, both of which are unpredictable”.

This is an edition that I can’t quickly review. There are some very thought-provoking articles in this edition, and I need time not just to read them, but also to think about them (not pointillist, I must admit). Here though is a very brief listing of the articles with a direct link. I will probably though do separate posts on several of the articles below (I may well end up reviewing them all!).

Rod Sims and Elena Kays: Editorial. This provides not only a brief summary of each of the articles, but some important definitions.

Gail Casey and Terry Evans: Designing for learning: Online social networks as a classroom environment

Pekka Ihanainen and  John Moravec : Pointillist, cyclical, and overlapping: Multidimensional facets of time in online education I will definitely be discussing this fascinating article in a later post

Marta Kawka, Kevin Larkin, and Patrick Alan Danaher Emergent learning and interactive media artworks: Parameters of interaction for novice groups

Katherine Joyce Janzen, Beth Perry, and Margaret Edwards  Aligning the quantum perspective of learning to instructional design: Exploring the seven definitive questions

Rita Kop, Hélène Fournier, and John Sui Fai Mak A pedagogy of abundance or a pedagogy to support human beings? Participant support on massive open online courses I will certainly be commenting on both this and the other MOOC article, in the light of my own, recent experience.

Inge de Waard, Sean Abajian, Michael Sean Gallagher, Rebecca Hogue, Nilgün Keskin, Apostolos Koutropoulos, and Osvaldo C. Rodriguez Using mLearning and MOOCs to understand chaos, emergence, and complexity in education

David Murphy Chaos rules” revisited – a discussion of chaos theory and doing a Ph.D – gotta read this!

Carlo Antonio Ricci Emergent, self-directed, and self-organized learning: Literacy, numeracy, and the iPod Touch

Nataly Tcherepashenets  Book review – Telecollaboration 2.0: Language, literacies and intercultural learning in the 21st century, by Sara Guth and Francesca Helm

Damn you, Terry – I’ve now got about a week’s really heavy but interesting reading to do now!




Book review: Clark Quinn’s ‘The Mobile Academy’

© Anthony's Blog, 2009-2011

Quinn, C. (2012) The Mobile Academy: mLearning for Higher Education San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley, 120 pp

The author points out that 90% of the world’s population now has access to mobile networks, yet less than a quarter of post-secondary educational institutions in North America have mobile learning or administrative activities. As the author states: ‘Mobile has matured and stabilized to the point where it now makes sense to understand, plan and start developing mobile solutions….What we have on tap is the opportunity to revisit the fundamentals of the learning experience and use technology to come closer to the ideals we would like to achieve.‘ The book sets out in a straightforward, non-technical way a set of strategies for mobile learning so as ‘to optimize the learner experience‘.

From the preface:

Who the book is for

This book is for the higher education instructor and folks that support them as instructional designers or in administrative services.


The book provides the background information necessary to successfully design mobile learning solutions


1. The Mobile Revolution: no, this is not directly about the Arab Spring, but a brief introduction, focusing particularly on why higher education needs to pay attention to mobile learning.

2. Foundations: mobile: a brief introduction to the underlying technology behind mobile devices.

3. Foundations: learning: another brief but well-founded introduction to the principles/theories of learning relevant to mobile learning

4. Administration to go: an introduction to learner support focused on issues that are not directly associated with teaching and learning: What needs do students have for information and transactions on campus? Can they be provided any time and anywhere via mobile communications?

5. Content is king: this chapter focuses on using mobiles for delivering or accessing content in its various forms; it includes a useful summary of the status of various LMSs in supporting mobile at the time of writing.

6. Practice: interactivity and assessment deals with learner activities, practice/applications of learning and various forms of assessment available through or facilitated by mobile devices

7. Going social examines the various ways mobile devices can support social learning

8 Going beyond discusses the ‘cutting edge’ of mobile applications, including augmented reality, alternate reality and adaptive delivery

9. Getting going: organizational issues focuses on the organizational context needed to support mobile learning, such as design, development, implementation and policies, and the chapter ends with a brief conclusion to the book


I really liked this book. It’s probably no co-incidence that a book on mobile learning is short and simple (critical design features for mobile applications). However, it is not trivial. It is based on sound pedagogical principles. It focuses not only on what’s involved in the general transfer of digital learning from desktops or laptops to digital devices, but also focuses on the special ‘affordances’ of mobile learning. In particular, Quinn organizes the book around his four ‘C’s of mobile learning: content; capture; compute; and communicate.

This book is squarely aimed at faculty and instructors. It is not intended for IT specialists and probably won’t satisfy the more experienced users of mobile learning. But it is an excellent introduction to mobile learning for instructors in the 75% of institutions that do not have a mobile strategy yet, and for those instructors in the other institutions who are still hesitating about committing to mobile applications.

However, reading the book on its own is unlikely to be enough for many instructors. They will need to work with IT and media support staff and instructional designers if they are to avoid overwork and poor quality applications. A lot of the value from mobile learning requires fairly sophisticated media production, for instance, that is likely to beyond the scope of most instructors, working alone. Above all, institutions need to be committed to supporting mobile learning as a key strategy and to put in place the organization and support needed to make it a success. But this book will be a great start for many instructors, and I hope also that this will be read by senior managers in the 75% of institutions without a mobile strategy.


The image at the head of this post is from an excellent case study of mobile learning at St Edmund’s Catholic School, Wolverhampton, UK, in Anthony’s Blog in Anthonyteacher.com, February 25, 2011

See also: Sharples, M., Corlett, D., & Westmancott, O.  (2002)  The design and implementation of a mobile learning resource. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing Vol. 6, No. 3 pp. 220-234.

e-learning outlook for 2011

Photo of monkey thinking

What’s in my crystal ball for e-learning in 2011? (For how well I did in my predictions for 2010, see e-learning retrospective – how good were my predictions?

1. Course Redesign

We will see increasing efforts at redesigning courses to incorporate both online and face-to-face teaching. Indeed, there was evidence of this occurring already in 2010. Instructors were realising that instead of just adding online components to their face-to-face classes, they could obtain more benefit from thinking clearly about what is best done online and what is best done face-to-face. This inevitably leads to redesigning the teaching and learning experience.

Stretching the LMS

The wave of new web 2.0 technologies, such as student blogs, wikis, and especially e-portfolios, and open source content management software such as WordPress, are beginning to expose the limitations of commercial or ‘off-the-shelf’ learning management systems. In particular, these new web 2.0 tools enable students as well as instructors to create, load and edit content. This increases active learning, and provides means to collect, organize and assess student work in more authentic ways than tests or essays.

However, learning management systems still have major advantages, in that they provide an institutionally secure environment, enable the management of learning, and integrate with administrative systems. Thus designers are looking for ways to integrate web 2.0 tools with learning management systems (Mott, 2010).

Also as students get more tools and more encouragement to use these tools for learning, there is the possibility of creating ‘personal learning environments‘, software interfaces that the learner can add to or edit, to facilitate their learning. These might include a portal to their courses that would include access to an LMS, but would also include links to their blog, e-portfolio, and social networks such as Facebook.

One view of personal learning environments

Open source LMS, such as Moodle and Sakai, have an advantage here in that designers in large research universities with access to open source developers can build and integrate open source web 2.0 tools into the LMS more easily than can institutions locked into commercial providers such as Blackboard, although these too are increasingly building in web 2.0 ‘lookalike’ functions.

Learner-generated content

Students now have access to mobile phones with camera and audio recording capabilities, access to low cost video cameras, and access to video editing through software on their laptops and video publishing through YouTube. Students now can collect data, organize and edit it, and publish it. In addition, through the Internet, they can access a multitude of resources far beyond the limits of a traditional class curriculum. They can do all this outside the confines of the classroom. This is resulting in new course designs focused on learner-generated content, but working to overall academic guidelines and principles established by the instructor.

One example is the use of e-portfolios for professional accreditation. The BC College of Teachers now requires students to provide an online portfolio showing evidence of their application of their personal philosophy of teaching during their teaching practica that meet the requirements set by the College (see Paul and Schofield, 2010).

New models for instructional design

The ‘old’ best practice instructional system design model of analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate (ADDIE) has served distance education and online learning well, but it is proving to be too rigid and cumbersome to handle the new, dynamic web 2.0 tools, and learner-generated content.

As a result, we are beginning to see some interesting, high quality design models that are developed ‘on the fly’, in response to changing input from students, the arrival of a new technology mid-course, or breaking news in the subject area. This allows courses to appear more spontaneous and more authentic, grounded in the real world. These new developments are happening more in the area of training and vocational education than academia, although they have potential especially for professional programs.

One example comes from the Justice Institute of BC’s Emergency Management Program, which created materials not only for the formal courses in emergency management offered by JIBC, but also made these materials publicly available over the Internet and through mobile technology, such as iPhones and iPads. These resources enabled all services involved in emergency response during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver to have common and shared information about procedures, contacts and terminology. Although these materials were created ‘on the fly’ in a short period, they were also embedded within an overall course design philosophy, working to a project management model and a tight budget.

These new developments are still occurring in a minority of institutions, and are mainly the result of innovative instructors working with professional instructional designers and media specialists. However, there was definitely a spike in these activities during 2010, and it is expected that these moves to new course designs will increase during 2011, affecting both campus and distance education programs alike.

2. The Future is Mobile

‘The notion of class time as separate from non-class time will vanish’ The Futurist, November 2010

The Futurist argues that ‘The next generation of college students will be living wherever they want and taking many (if not all) of their courses online…Work and leisure will be interlaced throughout waking hours every day of the week, and student life will reflect the same trend. In this way, self-directed learning will be the most important taught skill of the future.’

As reported last year, the technology continues to improve. The major technology development during 2010 was the launch of Apple’s iPad. The iPad has yet to prove its worth as an educational tool. It is valuable for ‘consumption’, for example access to media and e-books (a key factor for students lugging textbooks across campus), but has more limitations on ‘production’, as it stands at the moment. Version 2 is expected in February, and it will be interesting to see if it includes more ‘production’ functionality, such as a camera, and software to facilitate multimedia creation. With the movement towards learner-generated content (see above) this is a major limitation of tablets so far for educational purposes. However, with Blackberry and Microsoft also moving into the tablet market, competition is increasing, so expect functionality of tablets to increase rapidly, and/or costs to drop substantially. Furthermore, phones, tablets and laptops are converging, so that, combined with cloud computing, the full functionality of a computer will eventually be available on the smallest devices.

Also there were further improvements in 2010 on the functionality of mobile phones, although educational applications remain tiny compared with other areas, such as entertainment and publishing.  One barrier to educational applications is the multiplicity of mobile operating systems; another is the lack of a clear model of design for mobile learning. The release of the HTML5 standard for web applications, which will provide a ‘standard’ platform for mobile applications, is unlikely before 2012. We will though see more attempts to provide unique educational designs and applications in 2011 that exploit the ‘affordances’ of mobile technology: immediacy, geographic location, convenience, multimedia, two-way communication, and user control.

Despite current limitations and barriers, the future of online learning is clearly in mobile technologies. Laptops and desktop PCs will remain necessary for specialized learning applications for the next few years, but in 2011 all educational institutions should be thinking of course design and teaching in terms of its transportability to mobile formats.

3. Open Educational Resources

The principle of making available online educational materials for free use for educational purposes is hard to argue with. Projects to develop open educational resources have received substantial funding from the Hewlett Foundation, and support from both the World Bank and the Commonwealth of Learning, as well as many institutions, such as MIT, Carnegie Mellon and the British Open University. However, it is a development that still falls far short of its promise.

Supply remains much greater than the demand. In other words, there’s lots of free educational content out there on the Internet, but not much use is being made of it, at least by the formal education system. (It is difficult to know how much use is made by students ‘unofficially’, i.e. not as a requirement or recommendation from their instructor.)

One reason is that although the content itself may be of the highest quality (such as MIT’s OpenCourseware), its format (in MIT’s case, 50 minute recorded lectures) is not appropriate for independent study. Another reason is that instructors often prefer to use their own material.

We have seen though some interesting shifts this year in the approach to developing open educational resources. First, Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative offers not just chunks of content such as lectures, but pre-packaged courses ‘based on the latest research into brain and cognitive science’ that can be adapted for local use by instructors (these are aimed mainly at the two-year college market). These are whole courses that include student activities, feedback to instructors and students, examination questions and recommended readings. This initiative is being widened into a consortium of institutions through the HP Catalyst Initiative. To date though, there is no information on the take-up of these programs, although it has generated a lot of research on the design of online materials.

Another development that is less spectacular and less well funded, but even more promising, is to make significant (but carefully chosen) elements of regular courses freely available over the web. (The Justice Institute of BC Emergency Response Program mentioned earlier is a good example.) However, this works best when there is a clear target audience with a need for that content. Another option is to make parts of a credit online course open to the public. UBC has done this with a graduate course (ETEC 522), where, as well as some of the core content, students’ final work (after assessment) is posted for all to see. It would be a short step from here for institutions to make sample contents of courses available over the web, to help students making choices about future courses or programs.

Open content is most likely to be used in a context where courses are explicitly designed around the concept of open content. This would not be limited to ‘official’ OER sites, or pre-selected open content. Instead, students would be encouraged, within certain guidelines and academic criteria, to search the Internet and to collect local data to create their own courses that would demonstrate their knowledge within a particular subject domain. However, until there are some strong design models that clearly demonstrate the benefits of open content, it is likely to remain an underused resource.

4. More Multimedia

Another strong development in online teaching we are likely to see during 2011 will be the increased development and use of multimedia materials, such as video, animations, simulations and, to a much lesser extent, games.

The use of video in particular is growing. It is now very cheap and easy to use video in short 3-4 minute clips to demonstrate processes, equipment or real life contexts, mainly to support direct online instruction, but also sometimes to encourage analysis of the video material by students themselves, or to enable learners to master a technique or process by repeated playing of the video clip as they practice. For instance, Vancouver Community College uses video clips to demonstrate repair processes for auto body work as part of a mainly online course for apprentices. These video clips are easy to make, with a camera recording the instructor (or a master craftsman) demonstrating the process.

A number of low cost tools now exist for creating, editing and publishing video. Low cost software such as Flash now enables quite high quality but simple animations to be developed at much lower cost than previously. Even high end simulations, such as 3D imaging, that used to cost millions of dollars, can now be done for under $150,000.

The main challenge here is not the technology or the cost, but getting instructors to think visually and hiring media producers and web developers with the skills to convert instructional ideas and abstract academic knowledge into concrete images. Again in the VCC example, industry standard video developed by the automobile industry is also used in the courses. Once good quality animations are created, there is a large potential market for their use.

Getting instructors to think visually

Simulations that require students to interact with digital materials and thus change the outcome are more expensive to develop, but again the cost is coming down as ‘generic’ software developed for games in the entertainment industry becomes available for re-use in other contexts. BCIT is creating more expensive simulations in partnership with Lockheed Martin for training aeronautical engineers and for health education.

However, developing multimedia materials is a high risk activity for a small or even medium sized institution. A collaborative media lab, shared by several small colleges, would provide economies of scale and sharing of knowledge.

5. Learning Analytics

Businesses have been increasingly using business intelligence software to dig down into the vast quantities of data they accumulate to enable front-line personnel to make better informed decisions.

Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs. In other words it is the application of business intelligence software to learning and learners.

Learning analytics is likely to be the next buzzword in online learning. Institutions accumulate a great deal of data about students. This is rarely used for the purposes of academic decision-making, mainly because it has up to now required a huge effort to analyze such data in terms of specific decisions, and also because of privacy reasons. However, learning analytics is focused mainly on aggregate data, and does not identify individual students. It provides information for instance on the changing demographics of students, such as age, gender, and location. It would allow, for instance, a program director to analyze the demographics of students in the program over the last five years. A move to older, better qualified, more part-time students might indicate the suitability of moving the course online, for instance. Learning analytics do this through software that ‘sits on top’ of the several different databases used in universities and colleges, such as student information systems, learning management systems, and financial systems. It provides the end-user with tools in the form of a dashboard on the desktop computer that allows the end-user to call up data and easily analyze it in the form of graphs, pie charts, or tables.

The main challenges to the use of learning analytics is making sure that data are collected and stored in ways that are useful for the kind of questions asked by end users (for instance, coding courses by the type of delivery, such as blended, hybrid and fully online), training end users such as faculty in the use of such tools, and ensuring that all concerns about privacy and data security are adequately addressed.

Athabasca University is organizing a conference on learning analytics at Banff between February 27th and March 1st, 2011.

6. Shared Services

The last development predicted during 2011 will be moves in some states and provinces toward shared software services between institutions. The rapid development of new technologies, the high cost of upgrading mission-critical software such as financial, student information and learning management systems, and the high risk of changing from one vendor product to another puts a particularly heavy burden on small to medium sized institutions. Moving to an open source system such as Moodle is difficult for small institutions with limited access to open source development staff; it would be more feasible through a shared services agreement with a large university.

The Alberta government is developing a plan, partly as a result of risk management, that will encourage sharing of services between its post-secondary educational institutions. In Pennsylvania, Drexel University has gradually accumulated the software services for a number of smaller colleges in the region. Thus as well as managing its own Banner student information system, it provides space and maintenance for several other colleges’ student information systems on a subscription basis. It now also provides hosting and maintenance for other institutions’ learning management systems (in this case, Blackboard.)

The alternative is outsourcing such services to private companies who would provide ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) through the Internet. For Canadian institutions, this is a very high risk activity though, since many of these services and servers are located outside the country, and are thus not subject to the same privacy and security requirements of Canadian institutions.


The growth of fully online learning (i.e. online distance education) continued at a rapid rate (over 20% last year), and increasing online enrollments will certainly continue through 2011. However, as the market approaches saturation, the rate of growth of fully online courses will level off, and this is likely to happen fairly soon. One reason for a slowdown in the growth of fully online courses, besides market saturation, will be the move to more flexible campus-based programs that will offer more options to part-time students and lifelong learners, rather than having to do a whole course or program online. However, market saturation for fully online learning is at least five to ten years away, and in the meantime we will see continued growth.

What I am hoping for 2011, though, is that this increase in the quantity of e-learning will start being accompanied by some major innovations in teaching, as instructors, instructional designers, and institutions begin to understand better the unique features of new technologies, and become more discriminating about the ‘affordances’ of both campus-based and online learning.

At some point soon, perhaps during 2011, we will see some institutions really looking at ways to increase cost-effectiveness through the use of ICTs, driven as much by their dire financial situation as by any ideal of being more efficient.

And lastly, there is likely to be something quite unexpected that will drive e-learning in a totally different direction – which is part of the fun of working in this field. So have an exciting and productive 2011.


Bates, Tony (2010) Blackboard acquires Elluminate and Wimba: the end of LMSs?

Mott, J. (2010) Envisioning the post-LMS era: the Open Learning Network Educause Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 1

Paul, C. and Schofield, A. (2010)  e-Portfolios for teacher candidates Vancouver BC: UBC Faculty of Education (retrieved from http://ctlt.ubc.ca/2009/09/22/e-portfolios-for-teacher-candidates/, December 6, 2010)

Innovative e-learning in the Vancouver area

I worry about the often negative tone of many of my posts. It was therefore a great pleasure to attend the joint Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) and Vancouver Community College (VCC) ‘Online showcase’ at JIBC in New Westminster, just south-east of the City of Vancouver, and see demonstrations of some great uses of e-learning for education and training.

The showcase provided an opportunity for local universities and colleges to demonstrate what they are doing regarding online learning. There were presentations from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, British Columbia Institute of Technology, University of British Columbia, JIBC, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and VCC. I wasn’t able to see all the presentations, so my apologies to those presenters that I missed.

JIBC: Emergency management

JIBC is a unique education and training institution, Canada’s leading public safety educator. It provides training for police, paramedics, prison staff, probation officers, and so forth. It is partly funded by a grant from the BC provincial government and student tuition fees, but most of its revenues comes from training contracts with its main clients. The JIBC offers a range of applied and academic programs that span the spectrum of safety – from prevention to response and recovery. The JIBC’s main campus is located in New Westminster, but regional campuses allow students to study closer to home. It has a long history of using technology for the content and delivery of its programs.

The JIBC’s Emergency Management Division offers over 50 courses in this area, covering topics such as Incident Command, Emergency Operations Centre, Exercise Design and more. The Winter Olympics in Vancouver provided a challenge in terms of emergency response preparation, involving over 20 municipalities, several local police forces and the RCMP, fire and ambulance services, the Canadian (and US) military, and a host of other agencies, depending on the nature of the eventual emergency.

Jerome Rodriguez and Rosamaria Fong gave a demonstration of the materials created not only for the formal courses in emergency management offered by JIBC, but also made publicly available over the Internet and through mobile technology, such as iPhones and iPads. These resources enable all services involved in emergency response to have common and shared information about procedures, contacts and terminology. Indeed, you can see these materials by logging in to My Emergency Management Resources. The mobile learning component was assisted by a grant of $130,000 for the Inukshuk Fund, but a condition was that the material must be open access.

The Emergency Division has created open access resources such as downloadable forms that need to be completed in emergency situations, short 2-3 minutes videos of the various functional units in an Incident Command System, interactive walk throughs of a virtual emergency scene (clicking on ‘bubbles’ around the scene describes the functions of each of the units represented by bubbles), and some short video news reels of accidents or incidents to be used in training exercises. Some of these materials can be repurposed – for instance, the fire in the virtual walk through below could be moved to a high rise building and the ‘bubbles’ reconfigured.

A virtual walk through of an emergency scene © JIBC, 2010

The Division also offers WCDM 2010 – an “Immersive Simulation Technology” Workshop. Although delivered in a classroom, the immersive simulations make use of technologies such as mock video newscasts, Blackberry messages, and plotting first responder movements into GIS-enabled smart-phones using Google Earth. None of these reseources replaces the formal training provided by the JIBC, but these are low-cost, open access materials that are now available for use by training organizations across North America.

JIBC: Corrections

The Corrections and Social Justice Division trains professionals who work with adult and youth offenders in institutional and community settings, to manage the risk they pose to the public. It also trains individuals who work with families going through separation and divorce.

Rob Chong emphasised in his presentation the importance of context in designing programs. Part of the mandate of his division is to train 500 probation officers and 1500 prison guards scattered across the province. To do this, the division uses a mix of online and face-to-face learning.

There are three elements to the courses: self-study, with learners interacting with Blackboard, JIBC’s LMS; guided learning, with learners interacting with an instructor; and cohort learning, with learners interacting with other learners. Learners generally access their materials in the workplace, in prisons and local probation offices.

One example he gave was of personal safety awareness training for probation officers. Short video clips are used of simulated/acted situations, and in a self-study mode, learners are asked for how they would respond to the situation. These posts are collected then the learners meet with their managers in local offices to discuss the scenarios. As well as Blackboard and video clips, 360 degree interactive images are used, so the whole context can be seen (for instance, the design of the reception area in a probation office to highlight security). Also used are Webinars via Adobe Connect, for instance for training in interview skills. The aim is to ensure that the design and delivery of the teaching matches the context in which the learning will take place.

UBC: Using social media in a formal course


One of the courses in UBC’s fully online Master in Educational Technology is ETEC 522, Ventures in Learning Technology, taught by David Vogt and David Porter. To enable students to understand the success of entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial ventures involving learning technologies, the course provides an online immersion in global learning technologies products, services and initiatives in public and commercial domains. ETEC 522 is delivered from a venture and market analysis perspective, with a particular focus on emerging markets and real-world ventures. Jeff Miller, the instructional designer for the course, gave a presentation on ‘Creating coherence with social media.’

Quite apart from the subject matter, there are a number of innovative elements in this course. First, even though UBC is the home of WebCT, this course does not use a learning management system, but WordPress and MediaWiki, because the students as much as the instructors are creating content. Second, student’s ‘final’ work is public. Their final assignment is a multimedia ‘pitch’ for an e-learning product, service or business. These ‘pitches’ may take the form of slide or video presentations. Some of the videos can be found on YouTube. (Jeff made the interesting comment that ‘universities should be like kindergartens: students’ work should be posted on the wall.’). The ‘open’ part of the course can be seen here.

One of the challenges Jeff mentioned is drawing the line between open and closed aspects of the teaching. Although the ‘scholarship’ is public, non-registered viewers can ‘see but not touch’. The interaction between instructors and students is private; the finished work is made public. Another challenge  is archiving students’ work in a secure way while enabling it to be used by new students in the current  version of the course. For instance, the course makes use of students’ work in earlier versions of the course. (I will be writing a review of a new book on ‘Content management in E-Learning’, which looks in detail at the question of content management in e-learning.)

It is clear that moving away from a learning management system offers lots of opportunities for student engagement and student generated content, but there are also challenges in ensuring coherence and the management of their workload. This course is truly dynamic, changing each year, and continually pushing the frontiers of e-learning.

UBC: Designing online courses in science for non-science students

All UBC Arts students must take at least six credits in science as part of the Bachelor of Arts. This results in large classes for a limited number of online science courses. Most popular are the courses in Earth and Ocean Sciences, some with over 200 students per course section. Each course will have a senior instructor, usually a tenured faculty member, supported by up to four teaching assistants (usually graduate students).

The design challenge is to create science courses for students with little or poor numeracy and quantitative skills for large online classes. Chris Crowley, Josefina Rosado and Sunah Cho from UBC’s Office of Learning Technology described how they used Flash 3D images and animations within Web CT Vista to help students understand the scientific principles that explain coastal upwelling in oceans.

The senior instructor role was identified as facilitator, stimulator, monitor, subject specialist, and evaluator.

Despite the value of using interactive graphics and simulations to improve understanding, I had many questions, both about the policy (good intention but can you really train someone in science in two one semester courses?) and the design. For instance can you teach science without an understanding of and experience in experimental design?

Emily Carr University of Art and Design: Science 202

Jane Slemon offers an interesting online version of a course also offered on campus called: Heart, Mind Health: Learning from the Human Body. This course offers comprehensive understanding of the shape and function of the organs of the human body and invites creative consideration to the metaphors relative to the body that abound in culture, language and design. She showed some of the outstanding student work inspired by their understanding of human biology, reflected in metaphors of asthma, dyslexia, autism, HIV, and other areas of human suffering.

Vancouver Community College

Karen Belfer presented on VCC’s online automotive collision repair course for unqualified apprentices in the work force. (Fewer than 50% complete full-time apprenticeship training in BC, resulting in large numbers of unqualified tradespeople in the BC workforce.)  VCC used to offer this program over seven weeks on campus, requiring 30 hours a week of class attendance. This caused many problems for both apprentices (who often lost wages and unemployment insurance and would have to travel to Vancouver) and employers, who had to manage without staff during this period. The course, which is 80% theory and 20% practice/hands-on), was redesigned for study over 16 weeks online (mainly while learners were at work) and the last two weeks full-time on campus in Vancouver. Here they are tested in their practical skills, and assessed on their knowledge.

Although VCC used its Moodle LMS for this course, it found apprentices are not prepared for large amounts of reading, so efforts were made to the use industry standard online content with a high graphics, video and audio content, and to reduce the amount of text through the use of audio, video clips, graphics and cartoons, with a good deal of online interaction with materials, such as moving online objects. This hybrid course has proved to be very successful, bot with employers and learners.

Some reflections on the showcase

1. I find such ‘show and tell’ sessions extremely valuable. They reflect what people are actually doing now, and you need to see what has been created and how the program works to fully evaluate it. Such sessions are also extremely valuable for showing faculty and instructors what is possible using learning technologies. Unfortunately, there were not many instructors present during this showcase, most being instructional designers.

2. The session also emphasised the value of having learning material publicly available. Open resources provide a good indication of the quality of the course or program. I think all institutions now offering hybrid or fully online courses should have ‘sample’ resources of each course on their course web sites, so potential students can be better informed about the courses they are having to make decisions about. Also, the open educational resources in both the Emergency Response and ETEC 522 courses are very different from the very didactic and lengthy OER’s offered by MIT, Carnegie Mellon and the Open University, or from meta-tagged learning objects, and hence, in my humble view, are very much more re-usable.

3. In almost all the cases, the course designers were ‘stretching’ the functions of an LMS, or, in one case, going outside it altogether. Flash animations and short video clips were evident in several of the cases. Video now is cheap and easy to make, and adds considerable value to courses, particularly where process or procedures need to be demonstrated or where authenticity is required for training purposes. LMSs are still useful for helping students and instructors to organize learning, but they need increasingly to accommodate more multimedia functions. The main limitation of LMSs is that they require time-consuming adaptations or additions and specialist multimedia staff if students are to freely create and organize their multimedia learning. However, going without an LMS and relying entirely on web 2.0 tools presents challenges in enabling both students and instructors to manage their work within a formal course structure.

4. These cases showed a mix of approaches to the design of courses, and emphasised in particular the importance of designing for the context of learning. The diversity of learners’ needs, and the wide range of technologies now available, challenges the idea of ‘standardized’ course design, such as the traditional ‘ADDIE’ model of course design. The most innovative of the cases (Emergency Response training and ETEC 522) both used very dynamic, almost ‘on-the-fly’ course design, taking advantage of learning opportunities, new technologies and changing contexts as they arose. Interestingly, though, these courses still used project management and instructional designers.

5. The only thing missing for me in these cases was some formal evaluation of their success, partly because they were often work in progress. It could be argued that building in evaluation from the start would slow down innovation, but if the ‘system’ is to change, it will be really important to have good data and information about the success or otherwise of such projects.

I would like to end by congratulating Tannis Morgan (JIBC) and Karen Belfer for organizing this showcase. It’s made me much more optimistic about the future of e-learning heading into a new year. I believe that BC Campus has recorded the showcase, and if so, I will let you know how to access this when it is ready.

For other excellent posts (well, theirs are excellent) on this showcase see Tannis Morgan’s:

Showcase Wrapup – Extended LMS

Showcase Wrapup-Instructional Design

and Leva Lee’s Online Course Showcase