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!


  1. Very good summary of some key points to consider when making decisions in online education.
    From a certain perspective, you could say “none” regarding the role of the instructor in Downes or Siemens’s view, but Downes has clearly stated that, for him, “the role of the teacher is to model and demonstrate”. He has a recent post on the role the educator (not instructor, I know) that might be relevant for the discussion of a teacher’s role in a 21st century, networked learning scenario.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience in online learning.

  2. Dear Tony,
    I really enjoyed your presentation at VCC yesterday.
    It really helped to focus and synthesize the assessment, planning and integration of multiple aspects of Education Technology, Learning Management Systems and Distributed Learning.
    I will order your book and hope you will sign for me.

  3. That,s very important summary of what is up to date oround online learning. I,m doing a developmental research indesigning e-online training for teacher in Jakarta. I will be very happy if some one help me to get some refference about the steps of Bates instructional development model. Thank you.


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