The NRC facility in Moncton, NB © Stephen Downes, 2013
The NRC facility in Moncton, NB © Stephen Downes, 2013

Downes, S. (2013) Learning and performance support systems, Half-an-hour, December 4

This is an announcement of a $19 million 5-year initiative at the Canadian National Research Council that Stephen Downes will be leading.

You need to read the relatively short description of the project for yourself, but as Stephen writes:

The objective is to build a system where individuals can access, and get credit for, learning from any education provider at all, whether from home, the workplace, or at a school.

This will involve in particular building a learning and performance support infrastructure that will host and deliver the following key services:

  • learning services and a resource marketplace, providing content and service producers with unfettered access to customers, and employees (and prospective employees) with training and development opportunities;
  • automated competency development and recognition algorithms that analyze workflows and job skills and develop training programs to help employees train for specific positions;
  • a personal learning management tool that will manage a person’s learning and training records and credentials over a lifetime, making it easier for employers to identify qualified candidates and for prospective employees to identify skills gaps;
  • and a personal learning assistant that enables a student or employee to view, update and access training and development resources whether at home or on the job, at any time.

This will involve a series of project contracts with strategic partners for commercialization of tools and services in the long term and also with individual employers or employer groups for delivery of services in the short-term.


First of all, congratulations to Stephen for landing this major initiative. This is the largest Canadian research grant for learning technologies since the NCE-Telelearning project back in the early 1990s.

Second, as Stephen says, this is a project that enables the integration of his and colleagues’ work on MOOC-type developments with their work on personal learning environments. He invites others interested in this field to contact him directly about working on this project (or rather, this series of projects).

Third, this project focuses on a particularly pressing issue for the Canadian economy, the disparity between shortage of skilled employees in certain employment sectors and a significant number of unemployed people across the country at large.

However, from this very brief description, the focus seems to be heavily on software development and ‘back-end’ services, such as access to information, resources and technology support services. While there is a pressing need for better software to support individuals and employers in developing the education and training they need in the Canadian economy, it will be interesting to see what kind of learning or training approaches result from these projects and developments, in terms of methods and and types of learning outcomes, and especially how employers react to this approach to meeting skills development needs in the various employment sectors. (I say this because my experience of employers is that they are generally very conservative if not downright hostile to online training initiatives unless they have complete control of the training environment themselves.)

In the meantime, good luck, Stephen, and I look forward to getting more information about this exciting project as the work develops. At the same time,  I just wish there was this type of funding for research and development of learning technologies in the formal education sector.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here