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Government Approaches to Planning E-Learning

Ontario | Albert

Janna Duval

University of British Columbia


Government Approaches to Planning E-Learning – Ontario | Alberta 2

Motivation for E-Learning

Demand is the motivation behind the development of e-learning in every province in


Canada. At the K-12 level the demand to provide quality, flexible education to rural and
remote learners, as well as to homeschoolers; at the post-secondary level the demand to
meet student needs for flexibility, and to meet the needs of the workforce. A 2017 Fraser
Institute Blog noted that homeschooling in Canada continues to grow for a variety of
different reasons and further growth is expected. (BLOG, 2017). At the same time many
provinces are forecasting labour shortages in a future economy that relies heavily on
knowledge work, which in turn requires more and more workers to have post-secondary
qualifications and to continually upgrade their skills. It is estimated that about 67% of
Canada’s current workforce holds such qualifications and for Canada to remain
competitive this figure needs to be about 75-80% by 2031. In addition online learning
enables citizens to continue their education while remaining part of the workforce and
community. The ability to continue working also enable students to minimize student
debt load – a contributing factor in choosing online education. (Contact North, 2012).

Ontario and Alberta are just two of the provinces working to meet the needs and demands
of current learners and future citizens. The Ontario and Alberta Governments have taken
different strategies in the development of e-learning in their provinces. Although neither
province has taken what Bates would called a “hands-off” approach, Ontario has
certainly involved itself more in the support, research and development of online learning
opportunities then its Alberta counterpart.

Ontario and Alberta K-12 Online Learning

Ontario has chosen to encourage e-learning at the K-12 level through eLearning Ontario,
a not-for-profit government program that provides school boards with a provincially
funded LMS. By providing a Ministry sponsored learning management system (LMS)
districts are encouraged to develop online and blended courses for their students.

In addition to providing a LMS e-Learning Ontario also provides K-12 schools with
professional development of digital content and online pedagogical support in the
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development and delivery of online and blended courses. E-Learning Ontario also
encourages school boards to work with other districts in consortia through a Seat
Reservation System (SRS), which allows school boards to post extra seats, or find
available seats, in courses through the provincial LMS. The SRS ensures that school
boards efficiently share resources, reduces duplication and helps districts to develop
courses that are in demand. (Spotlight, 2017) The 2013 Provincial e-Learning Strategy
Master User Agreement outlines that though E-Learning Ontario provides the LMS, SRS
and e-learning leadership. School boards are responsible for the delivery of e-learning,
including program direction, hiring staff, registering students, teaching students, and
granting credits.

In contrast, Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC) is a government funded institution


that provides most of the e-learning courses to students throughout the province. ADLC
was established in the 1970’s as the provinces distributed learning school and evolved
into an online school with satellite campus in Lethbridge, Edmonton and Calgary. Some
school divisions in the province have developed online courses for students within their
geographic in an attempt to retain FTE’s, which would be lost to ADLC. However it is
difficult to tell if the existence of ADLC has discouraged other districts to peruse online
learning. The K-12 districts that have developed online courses have not been necessarily
unsupported Alberta Learning also funds, Campus Alberta Repository of Educational
Objects (CAREO) and the Alberta Online Consortium (AOC). CAREO is a joint
initiative between the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary and Athabasca
university work together to provide other educational institutes with digital content,
resources and expertise. The AOC fosters working relationships among K-12 school
districts, post-secondary institutions and industry to develop meaningful course content,
professional development opportunities and technology support. (AB Framework, 2002)
Changes in Alberta’s K-12 online and blended learning policies are forthcoming.
According to the 2016 State of Nation Report Alberta has undergone consultation
initiatives to investigate provincial distributed learning polices in 2007, followed by a
two-year review of distance education programs and services. In 2016 an online learning
advisor was hired by the Ministry to address the needs for changes in e-learning policy,
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standards, and guidelines. In March 2018 ADLC announced it would be closing its
satellite campuses and downsizing (French, 2018) as the institution prepares for the end
of its service agreement with the province in August 2017. (State, 2016) It will be
interesting to see if ADLC remains the primary funded K-12 e-learning institution in
Alberta.

Post-Secondary and Industry e-Learning in Ontario & Alberta

Ontario has taken a supportive approach in the encouragement of online course


development in post-secondary education. eCampus Ontario, is the post-secondary
version of the K-12 eLearning Ontario. Like its K-12 counterpart it is a government
funded, not-for-profit institution composed of public colleges and universities in Ontario
tasked with supporting post-secondary intuitions in the development of online courses
through pedagogical training of online course instructors, technology research for
improving courses and research of course demand. eCampusOntario works directly with
ONCAT, an additional not-for-profit institution tasked with the developing partnerships
between institutions and working to make credits between these institutions transferable.
In addition eCampus also works closely with Contact North and OntarioLearn. Contact
North’s, which is an additional not-for-profit government of Ontario institution, mandate
is to provide support for students and faculty of small, remote, rural Indigenous and
Francophone communities throughout Ontario. Indeed, Bates notes in National
Strategies for E-Learning that one of the roles of government should be to use e-learning
to provide educational opportunities to under-served populations and regions.
OntarioLearn is the consortium that focuses on assisting provincial college and
universities to work together to share courses through a seat-sharing model.
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Figure 1

Like Ontario Alberta also has an organization that works to establish policies and
agreements around transferable credits and assessments between institutions called the
Alberta Council on Admission and Transfer (ACAT). Likewise Alberta has also
established eCampus Alberta a consortium to encourage the provinces 26 publically-
funded post-secondary institutions to work together, and with other institutions and
industry to develop e-learning courses. (AB Shaping, 2005)

Addressing and Investing in New Markets and New Educational Needs

In 2011 Tony Bates noted in a blog titled, “What can Ontario learn from BC in e-
learning?” that Ontario lacked a system that allowed for institutes to share online
content. Bates pointed to BC as a possible example as the BCCampus’s Online Program
Development fund allowed for collaboration and sharing of resources between institutes,
which in turn enabled a wider range of credentials across the whole province. (Bates,
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2011) A Contact North 2012 report titled Online Learning in Canada: At a Tipping
Point, A Cross-Country Checkup 2012 at that time the provincial government was
working towards establishing the Ontario Online Institute to connect learning institutions
with one another in the development of e-learning, this eventually became eCampus
Ontario. (eCampus Annual, 2018)

To address the ever-changing field of


online learning Ontario College and
Universities are awarded grants by
eCampus Ontario. eCampus
Ontario, and the institutions
receiving the funding, in turn share
and use the research results.
eCampus Ontario’s 2016-2016 Final
Annual Report notes that a over two
million dollars was awarded for the
2016-2017 and 2017-2018 years.
(eCampus Annual, 2018) The Figure 2

selected projects demonstrated


innovative pedagogical approaches, and opportunities for synthesis and the dissemination
of outstanding educational practices. Ontario Learning’s investment into the research,
support and development of e-learning not only encourages institutions to further peruse
research in online education, but to develop virtual technology further. In turn the
findings naturally disseminate into the larger e-learning community.

In 2002 Athabasca University and the Alberta Online Consortium proposed the
development of a provincial Centre for Innovation in Education that would coordinate
activities and support research, innovation and best practices in online learning - much
like eCampus Ontario. (AB Framework, 2002) The Roles and Mandates Policy
Framework for Alberta’s Publicly Funded Advanced Education System 2007 report noted
the need, and potential, for collaborative agreements to meet the learning needs across the
province. (AB Roles, 2007) Yet the Alberta government has been slow to move in this
Government Approaches to Planning E-Learning – Ontario | Alberta 7

area and as of yet, such a governing body has not been established to coordinate research
projects by the provinces post-secondary institutions, school authorities and private
sectors. This could possibly lead to duplication of projects and research, lack of sharing
between institutions and in general hold back the development of online learning
provincially.

Drivers and Barriers to Online Learning in Ontario, a 2017 eCampus Ontario Market
Research Report found that residents were aware of that eLearning existed, but did not
fully understand online education. (Drivers, 2017) In Managing Technology in Higher
Education the authors suggest that one role of government is to inform consumers about
choices and programs available. (Bates & Sangra, 2011) The same market research
report found that 81% of Ontarians feel that it is their personal responsibility to improve
their education, 37% of individuals feel concerned that they may have anxiety about
online education. In response to the marketing research report eCampus Ontario
underwent a campaign during the 2016 – 2017 fiscal year advertising online educations
flexibility and available supports to students; and eCampus as a resource for educators.
(Drivers, 2017) As eCampus Ontario is one of the bridges to online courses offered by
post-secondary institutions throughout the province, Ontario’s post-secondary institutes
that offer virtual courses in turn receive this free additional advertising. In contrast
Alberta’s educational institutes market their own e-learning programs.

In National Strategies for E-Learning, Bates, notes that role of governments in planning
and managing an effective e-learning system throughout the province. In addition to
providing cost-effective learning opportunities to remote learners and informing potential
consumers about e-learning. Bates suggested that governments should also be involved
in increasing capacity through supporting research, educators and the development of e-
learning and e-learning best practices; working with institutions to ensure credit
transferability and showing fiscal responsibility in the support of e-learning. Through
eCampus Ontario, eLearning Ontario and Contact North Ontario seems to have covered
most of these areas. Ontario Learning has been a more pro-active, supportive approach to
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the development and use of virtual learning within its boundaries then Alberta. Alberta’s
2013 Learning and Technology Policy Framework shares many of the underlying
ideologies found in Ontario’s Provincial e-Learning Strategy Master Agreement (2013).
Both note that e-learning is beneficial in meeting the needs of learners and the economy;
that e-learning should be supported; and that institutions should work together to provide
programming for students, research new technologies and improve quality. Ontario
Learning’s very much “hands-on”, supportive approach seems to have moved it ahead of
Alberta, which has taken a more “lasses-fair” attitude towards the development of e-
learning. However, as mentioned previously with the end of ADLC’s contract Alberta
seems poised on the cusp of change. Regardless online learning is a quickly changing
and developing field that has the potential to help meet the needs of Canadian citizens
now and in the future.
Government Approaches to Planning E-Learning – Ontario | Alberta 9

Sources

Alberta Advanced Education - Campus Alberta: A Policy Framework. Alberta Learning, 2002.

A Learning Alberta: Shaping the Future Direction of the Advanced Education System, A
Discussion Document. Alberta Advanced Education,

Bailey, Paul, editor. Online and Distance Educaiton Capacity of Canadian Universities Analysis
and Review. Global Affairs Canada, 2015, Online and Distance Education Capacity of
Canadian Universities Analysis and Review.

Bates, A.W. & Sangrà, A. (2011). Managing Technology in Higher Education: Strategies for
Transforming Teaching and Learning. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, pp. 228-232.

Bates, A.W. (2001). National strategies for e-learning in post-secondary education and training.
Chapters 3-7. Paris: UNESCO/International Institute for Educational Planning.

Bates, Tony. “A National Survey of University Online and Distance Learning in Canada.”
Online Learning and Distance Education Resources, Contact North, 23 Mar. 2016,
www.tonybates.ca/2016/03/23/a-national-survey-of-universit.

Bates, Tony. “What Can Ontario Learn from BC in e-Learning?” Online Learning and
Distance Education Resources, Contact North, 28 Feb. 2011,
www.tonybates.ca/2011/02/28/what-can-ontario-learn-from-b.

“BLOG: Homeschooling in Canada Continues to Grow.” Fraser Institute, 15 Aug. 2017,


www.fraserinstitute.org/blogs/homeschooling-in-canada-continues-to-grow.

Drivers and Barriers to Online Learning in Ontario. ECampus Ontario, 2017, Drivers and
Barriers to Online Learning in Ontario.

eCampus Annual Report 2016 - 2017. ECampus Ontario, 2018, Annual Report 2016 - 2017.

“ECampusAlberta Resources.” ECampusAlberta Resources | Bow Valley College,


bowvalleycollege.ca/teaching-and-research/academic-innovation-and-applied-
research/teaching-and-learning-enhancement/ecampusalberta-resources.

ECampus Ontario Strategic Plan 2016-2018. ECampus Ontario, 2015, ECampus Ontario
Strategic Plan 2016-2018.

French, Janet. “Major Changes Planned for Alberta Distance Learning.” Edmonton Journal, 19
Mar. 2018, edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/major-changes-planned-for-alberta-
distance-learning.

Howell, Susan, and Brian O'Donnell. Digital Trends and Initiatives in Education: The Changing
Landscape for Canadian Content. The Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP), 2017,
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Digital Trends and Initiatives in Education: The Changing Landscape for Canadian
Content.

Online Learning in Canada: At a Tipping Point A Cross-Country Check-Up 2012. Contact


North, 2012, Online Learning in Canada: At a Tipping Point A Cross-Country Check-Up
2012.

PROVINCIAL e-LEARNING STRATEGY MASTER USER AGREEMENT Fall 2013.


Ontario Learning.

Roles and Mandates Policy Framework for Alberta’s Publicly Funded Advanced Education
System. Alberta Advanced Education and Technolgy, 2007, Roles and Mandates Policy
Framework for Alberta’s Publicly Funded Advanced Education System.

“Spotlight: E-Learning .” 2017. e-Learning Ontario, Government of Ontario,


edu.gov.on.ca/elearning.

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Figure 1: eCampus Ontario Key Relationships from eCampus Ontario Strategic Plan
2016-2018

Figure 2: 2016-2018 Research and Innovation Fund graph from eCampus Ontario 2016-
2017 Annual Report