© Wikipedia
© Wikipedia

Summary of my priorities

1. A requirement for all newly appointed full-time instructors in public Canadian post-secondary educational institutions to have a formal certification in teaching in post-secondary education, to be in place by September 2012. This would include both pedagogical and technological content. Probability: <1%

2. Establishment of at least one hybrid digital university. Probability: 20-30%

3. Establishment of a Canadian open content consortium. Probability: 60-70%

4. Development of educational apps for mobile learning. Probability: 50%

5. Establish a national centre for digital learning, with responsibility for policy development, research, and industry-university liaison. Probability: 20-30%

6. Shared provincial software and services for administration and teaching: Probability (in at least one province): 70%


I was going to do a simple post about trends for 2010, but then found myself (thanks to an idea prompted by a discussion with Maxim Jean-Louis, President of Contact North/Nord Contact, Ontario) drifting into priorities as well as trends. So here is the first, focused on priorities for Canadian e-learning, to be followed by a second posting on international trends in e-learning, for 2010.

For readers outside Canada, please be aware that there is no national educational policy, framework or department – all educational activities except university research and some forms of student financial aid are the sole responsibility of the provinces.

My priorities are driven by my belief that the post-secondary education system as a whole (internationally) is failing to provide the high quality undergraduate or college education that will fully meet the learning requirements of the 21st century. Each of these priorities is meant to address this situation in some way.

1. Certification for post-secondary teaching.

This would be a priority targeted at the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada. The argument for the training of faculty in teaching in universities is now so strong that it probably doesn’t need to be repeated. Just let me point out though that there will be no significant change in universities in Canada (or anywhere else) until instructors and eventually senior management have an understanding of modern educational teaching methods and an understanding of the strengths, weaknesses and potential of technology for teaching. Because of the pressure to be excellent in research, any voluntary scheme for training in teaching is doomed to failure or to be insufficent.

Second this is a systemic problem. No one institution or even province can change on its own, because this will make it impossible to hire top quality graduates who will go to those institutions and jurisdictions that allow them to focus on research. (It will be argued that this will still not work, because top graduates will go the the USA instead. However, maybe we should be looking for allies in individual US states and the federal Department of Education, which is about to start pouring millions of dollars into educational technology as part of the stimulus package).

My plan would be to get CMEC to agree that funding for public post-secondary institutions will be dependent on each institution having adopted a provincially recognised 15 credit program of training for all intending new faculty by September 2012. Most of the programs (there would be several to choose from) would be provided online and would run in parallel for instance with research activities for a Ph.D. The programs would be open on a voluntary basis to all existing tenured and and adjunct faculty as well. Some provinces already have professional development programs for two year college instructors. These will need to be reviewed and in some cases re-designed to take account of developments in digital learning.

I have given this priority a probability of less than 1%, because the universities – particularly the large, prestigious research universities – and the faculty unions will mount an unstoppable campaign against this proposal (interference with academic freedom, government control, and ‘managerialism’), and because we have only one or two provincial premiers at the moment with the guts to take this on. Nevertheless, this is by far and away my first priority in terms of importance for improving undergraduate teaching in universities.

2. Establishment of (at least one) hybrid digital university.

We need more experimentation, more new organizational models, to find the right balances between digital and face-to-face learning. My proposal then to provincial governments anticipating increased post-secondary education enrolments (and most Canadian provinces with reduced budgets face this challenge over the next few years) is to ask for proposals from existing institutions to take on extra enrolments with extra funding, but using hybrid delivery methods (i.e. at least 50% of the program will be delivered online).

From the government perspective this would mean using funding that otherwise would have gone into extra buildings and facilities to support increased digital learning activities. To ensure applications, a government could limit all increases in institutional funding in a particular financial year to such a project. (There is a precedence for this – over 1993 and 1994, the BC government withheld  a total of 2.5% of universities’ operating budgets for an innovation fund. Institutions got their ‘share’ by developing innovation project plans.)

The most likely candidates are second-tier suburban or regional universities looking to enhance their status through being innovative and leading edge. It may also enable them to widen their ‘natural’ catchment area.

I give this a slightly higher probability – 20-30% – because the scope for expansion of the post-secondary system will be limited due to the tight finances of provinces over the next few years, and this proposal would enable a province to push for innovation within existing budgets, without directly interfering with the autonomy of universities. (‘If you want more money, you have to do something different. You decide.’)

3. Establishment of a Canadian open content consortium

This would have two main purposes. One would be to help increase the development of shareable high quality digital resources. The second would be to develop design strategies for open educational resources. This would include how best to create open content so that it is more likely to be re-used; and models for how best to apply existing open content in teaching. This consortium would cover the whole range of education, from k-12 to lifelong learning. It would address the problem of poor uptake and poor quality (in terms of re-usability) of existing open educational resources. It might also focus on innovative assessment strategies, such as the use of e-portfolios based on at least partial use of open educational resources.

The consortium’s activities would be partly research, partly developmental (most open content would be developed as part of the partner institutions’ normal activities, but working to agreed or emerging design standards.) The consortium would seek some research funding from national research agencies and the Hewlett Foundation, but would be mainly self-financing though institutional membership fees.

Athabasca University would be a natural partner, as would other members of the Canadian Virtual University, but membership would be widened through a co-operative association model to bring in conventional universities, colleges and school systems. The consortium would have close links with other open educational resources agencies in other countries.

I give this a higher probability rating (60-70%), because there is already a potential core base in place, and already there have been contacts between various Canadian institutions at conferences regarding collaboration on open educational resources. The new part of this proposal would be greater focus on the design and application of OERs, and some earmarked funding for this activity.

4. The development of educational apps for mobile learning

Canada is a leader in mobile technology (Research in Motion, Nortel’s merger with Avaya, etc.), the Canadian mobile networks have just been opened up with a new carrier (and possibly more to come) and there is a massive market in mobile communications in countries such as China, Brazil, India and South Africa that also have huge unmet demands for education. This represents a great opportunity for Canada to become a leader in mobile learning. The proposal then is to develop a partnership between industry and education for the development of educational applications of mobile learning.

I have also given this a fairly high probability ranking (50%), mainly because it is not dependent on (but would be facilitated by) government spending, and the market is there. My probability ranking would have been even higher if I had confidence that the right educational partner could be found in Canada. Without the right partner I fear that the initiative would be largely technologically rather than pedagogically driven.

5. A national centre for digital learning.

The USA has the educational technology division in the Federal Department of Education, the United Kingdom has JISC, the European Commission has the DG Education and Culture, Lifelong Learning, Australia has the Flexible Learning Network – and what does Canada have in the way of national strategies, research or evaluation of e-learning? Nada, nothing, zilch. The Canadian Council on Learning has already disqualified itself from this possible role as a result of its shameful report on e-learning. So we need a new initiative, but one that builds on existing centres of excellence in e-learning.

I am picking up on an idea first proposed by David Ticoll. The proposed centre would focus on policy development, leadership training, educational software development, building relationships between industry and education, innovation, and evaluation of e-learning. It would be a virtual centre, linking e-learning experts, government agencies and industry across the country. It might take leadership responsibility for some of the other priorities already listed.

This could be an initiative funded by at least Industry Canada and/or HRDC, although it should have an independent board. If there is no stomach for a national centre, perhaps a province will take leadership on this, as it could get a big bang for little cost (most of the people working on initiatives will be doing so part-time, being employed full-time elsewhere). And I would hope that the Director would be from and located somewhere where e-learning is actually being done in a systematic and consistent manner, which would take it out of Ottawa (with all due respect to the excellent work being done by the University of Ottawa), i.e. somewhere in the west, although this would not be a deal breaker for me.

I put the probability of this happening at 20-30%, based mainly on the likelihood of at least one province taking some kind of initiative on this, and ‘upward’ pressure from those working in Canadian e-learning. It would be higher if the financial context was not so difficult.

6. Sharing of networked services across a province or inter-provincially

Cloud computing – the location of services on servers outside a particular organization – offers major opportunities for cost savings and efficiencies. For instance, small colleges within a province could each have their own Moodle-based courses (which each college would design and manage), but a larger university or college running its own Moodle service would also be paid to maintain and update the centralised software and provide technical training and support for the smaller colleges. The same rationale could be used for commercial administrative software, such as financial systems, student information services, etc. (i.e. a province wide licence and service). An alternative would be for institutions to join Kuali, a consortium of universities providing open source administrative systems.

Why would a provincial government want such sharing of services to be managed by a provincial institution or agency, rather than a cloud computing company such as Google? Quite apart from cost (the money stays in the educational system), one major reason is security and privacy issues. Canada has different privacy laws to the USA, and the U.S. Patriot Act does not provide the privacy guarantees that are covered under Canadian law. (In other words, the US government can demand access to data on servers located in the USA and can access any data on Canadian students held on that server.)

Security and privacy of student information is a growing concern (for more on this see the next blog on trends in 2010). When data is located on servers outside the institution or province, there are concerns over who has access to the data. This will grow as digital information on individual students grows, through identity management, one-password log-ins, etc. It will be difficult for many small or even medium sized post-secondary educational institutions to provide the level of security now being demanded. Providing fewer and more centralised software facilities to higher provincial-wide security standards could save buckets of money while providing a higher technical standard of service, especially for the smaller colleges.

And although this does touch on institutional autonomy, it does not impinge directly on academic issues. Cost pressures on provinces and institutions over the next few years though are likely to win out over ensuring that each institution ‘owns’ its data, which is why I give this a probability ranking of 70% for at least one province moving in this direction in 2010.


Obviously, this is a very personal list of priorities. I am sure you have different priorities. I’d be really interested to know what your priorities would be for e-learning in 2010, and what issues those priorities would address. If you are getting this as a Twitter or e-mail message, please go to the blog post at https://tonybates.wpengine.com/2009/12/20/six-priorities-for-canadian-e-learning-in-2010/ to comment.

I will post the blog on international trends in e-learning in the next day or so.

Anyone for hybrid learning?
Anyone for hybrid learning?


  1. Tony, I enjoyed reading your list of elearning priorities. Thank you. It has got me thinking about a list of my own, from the perspective of art + design education and online creative practice.

    Of the six priorities, I am particularly interested in #2 the idea of starting a digital hybrid university in Canada and #3 / an open content consortium.

    Glen Lowry, Chair of Online Learning + External Collaborations, Emily Carr University of Art + Design

    Ps. I was a bit confused by your title “Six priorities for Canadian e-learning in 2008” (2010?).

  2. Hi Tony, I am extremely interested in number 4 – The development of educational apps for mobile learning. I am doing just that right now for the primary grades. I am have spent 30 years developing content and am looking for a school, district, company, investor, who believes that mobile learning is the future and wants to invest in it now. I have product and ideas, writers, graphic designers but need the financial backing to make it happen.This is the future of education and it can happen now.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Tony. Great stuff.

    My career focus has been more K12, and I see a lot of need for teachers to become digital natives so that we can spend less time talking about technology in education and more time just doing it.

    Some of that will trickle down through attrition and the post-secondary things you’re talking about, but it’s critical to accelerate the change.

  4. I’m surprised about the vocal support for #2-4, not because they aren’t good ideas (they are) but because your #1 priority is so very fundamental. We expect our elementary and secondary school teachers to have this fundamental education about how to teach, but we aren’t expecting higher education institutions to require this?

    At my institutions new full-time and part-time profs go through a two day intensive tutorial, but it’s not ideal. I’m sure other institutions do similar things – but this session could be used to further invest time in technology based techniques (further pushing “innovative” teaching ideas) if everyone had a basis in pedagogy, learning theories and approaches.

    #5 of your list really interests me, because I think that there needs to be some sort of initiative/guidance at a Federal level. I agree that Ontario in general is waaay behind what’s happening out west, which might be in part to the history of distance education that the western provinces.

  5. Tony,

    Great list! Just an FYI: we here at Roosevelt University (Chicago,in the States) are developing an Online Teaching in Higher Education post-graduate certificate. It will be completely online, use a cohort model, and will probably start up in Fall of 2010. Your list helps me to justify this certificate program to our administration. We have the same needs here in the States.

    All the best,

    Vince Cyboran

  6. Hi Tony, great article, very interesting.
    I have mixed feeling about your Item 1. On the one hand a certificate in teaching at the university level has great merit, on the other hand I wonder if it wouldn’t just add more insular thinking for academics. I have and MSOD from Pepperdine and 30+ years of working as a trainer and change consultant to governments, not for profits, and private enterprise corporations and I think that experience helps me far more in facilitating learning for students than in being the all-knowing academic expert. I have lived my courses’ content, no certificate replaces experience. That said, if you combine some form of experience outside academia with a certificate I think you would build a great hybrid educator who understands both parts of the education equation.
    P.S. Tried to subscribe to your email updates but got a message saying that feature is not/not enabled.

  7. Tony, you will want to have a look at the recent research report commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario on the Forces Reshaping Higher Education in Ontario [http://www.heqco.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/Academic%20Transformation%20ENG.pdf], which examines the option of an Open University in Ontario on pages 152 and 198. If something like this were to develop, there are clear implications for your priorities #2 and 33. [The report has attracted some media attention, but more for the recommendations about a more differentiated system to address the access needs and financial constraints.]

  8. Re priority #1: I agree with the goal, but there are probably many routes to get there of which required training for new instructors is only one. I am a bit wary of anything which could be interpreted as implying that only new faculty need such preparation (and only when they are at their most vulnerable career stage…). We are working on a new program in the U.S. to enable faculty teaching to be more professional, innovative, research-informed and collaborative – the “more” is meant to imply that all of us can further develop our capabilities as teachers.

    Another obstacle to achieving your priority #1, at least in Ontario, is the fact that a number of our community colleges already do this [e.g., http://www.mohawkcollege.ca/Explore/QualityResearch/CTL/programsWorkshops/cedp.html%5D. A parallel program for our universities will need to look distinctively different in order to gain acceptance :).

  9. Thanks, Bob and Tom, for your thoughtful comments.

    I agree that there are many different ways for university faculty to become well trained to teach, and experience in teaching is very important. Some faculty manage to teach extremely well with no formal training, but I would argue that they are an exception rather than the general rule.

    The issue for me is the need for faculty to understand modern educational theory, and without some form of compulsion this is unlikely to happen for the majority of university instructors. Hence my desire to ensure that at least all faculty before they are offered tenure have some form of accredited pre-training in teaching. This could take many forms, and would work best if it was run by the universities themselves, but they are not going to make this mandatory without some external pressure that would apply to all universities within a jurisdiction.

    This would incidentally be a minimal requirement. Teaching is like many occupations – it requires lifelong learning.


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