Are fac­ulty pre­pared for grow­ing num­bers of on­line learn­ers?

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - REPORT ON BUSINESS - DAINA LAWRENCE

En­rol­ment rates for on­line stud­ies in Canada in­creased 10 to 15 per cent a year over the past five years, ac­cord­ing to re­cent study

En­rol­ment rates for on­line stud­ies in Canada in­creased 10 to 15 per cent a year over the past five years, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study led by Cana­dian e-learn­ing con­sul­tant Tony Bates, who is also dis­tin­guished vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at Ry­er­son Univer­sity in Toronto.

Dr. Bates, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Tony Bates As­so­ciates Ltd., founded in 2003, led a team of re­searchers tasked with sur­vey­ing al­most 100 Cana­dian in­sti­tu­tions about their on­line and dis­tance cour­ses. Re­leased in Oc­to­ber, the re­port is called Track­ing On­line and Dis­tance Ed­u­ca­tion in Cana­dian Uni­ver­si­ties and Colleges.

“What I found in­ter­est­ing is how it’s af­fect­ing on-cam­pus teach­ing now, as a lot of pro­fes­sors are get­ting used to teach­ing on­line or at a dis­tance,” says Dr. Bates. “They’re find­ing they can use the tech­nol­ogy within their own class­room teach­ing.”

But Dr. Bates thinks the sig­nif­i­cant growth in on­line stud­ies in the fu­ture will be from a blended model – a com­bi­na­tion of face-to­face and on­line learn­ing – which comes with its own set of chal­lenges.

On­line learn­ing has been a “qual­ity con­trolled model,” ac­cord­ing to Dr. Bates. “But we don’t re­ally have any stan­dard prac­tices for do­ing this [blended model],” he adds.

He sug­gests the cre­ation of on­line sup­port mod­ules for fac­ulty. A place where, for in­stance, they can find out how to not only cre­ate an ed­u­ca­tion video, but also find re­search­based guid­ance on what works in the on­line world (such as: Don’t make the video 20 min­utes long).

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, the main chal­lenges to ex­pand­ing on­line learn­ing in Canada’s colleges and uni­ver­si­ties came down to re­sis­tance from fac­ulty, lack of gov­ern­ment sup­ports, and a lack of re­sources (mainly tech sup­port staff).

“It be­comes a ped­a­gog­i­cal is­sue: What is the best way to teach?” says Dr. Bates. “I think we need to look at how we pre­pare fac­ulty to teach in a dig­i­tal age, and I think that’s a big chal­lenge for these in­sti­tu­tions.”

The re­port also found that on­line cour­ses are avail­able in al­most all sub­ject ar­eas and that two-thirds of Canada’s uni­ver­si­ties and colleges see on­line learn­ing as very, or ex­tremely, im­por­tant to their fu­ture en­deav­ours.

The shift to on­line stud­ies didn’t hap­pen overnight, though. In fact, it has been de­vel­op­ing for more than 15 years, mak­ing Canada a ma­ture mar­ket when it comes to on­line ed­u­ca­tion.

In­no­va­tive teach­ing is just one as­pect that can ac­count for the con­tin­ued draw to­ward on­line learn­ing. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, in­creased flex­i­bil­ity and ac­cess was the main rea­son stu­dents are choos­ing to do on­line cour­ses, which, in turn, has in­creased en­rol­ment.

“The fully on­line mar­ket has been grow­ing rapidly, partly be­cause of the need for life­long learn­ing, par­tic­u­larly those that have gone to univer­sity, grad­u­ated, are out in the work force, but they still need to go on learn­ing – on­line works well for this au­di­ence.”

GABRIEL LASCU

E-learn­ing con­sul­tant Tony Bates.

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