There is more activity in online learning (or, at minimum blended learning) in higher education than most universities realize. When I was at University of Manitoba, we tried to get a sense of what faculty were doing with technology in their courses, particularly with what was then called web 2.0 (doesn’t that almost feel like I’m referencing a trend in the 70′s? you know, like bell bottoms?). First, we looked at the formal university reports – annual reports of department activity. We found very little. We asked Deans to forward an email to their faculty asking about activity with participatory pedagogies/technologies. The response was significant – we found faculty and TAs using wikis, blogs, lecture capture tools, podcasts, clickers, second life, and mobiles for teaching. Activity with emerging technologies wasn’t formally recognized as it was outside of the scope of the things that the university valued.
Blindness to small-scale innovation in higher education is likely still a problem in most universities, but online learning is now recognized and researched. Athabasca University’s Deanna Douglas has produced an excellent report for Canadian Virtual University looking at: Online University Education in Canada: Challenges and Opportunities (.pdf). The report provides a succinct exploration of online learning and where Canada succeeds and where it fails. Policy groups and online learning agencies in other countries will find a broad overview of the structure of university-level online learning in Canada, enrolments, major players, and current trends. On a personal note, I was pleased to see that University of Manitoba listed the work Stephen Downes and I have done with massive open online courses (MOOCs) as an innovation (p. 31).
Overall, the report is not flattering to Canada. We are well behind other countries in online enrolments (p.17). We don’t have clear and comprehensive data on trends in this space (p. 16). For a complete list of barriers, see p. 25, p. 33, and p. 41-42 of the report. I hope, in spite of the challenges and barriers articulated, that this report will serve as a catalyst for policy, strategy, and funding considerations around online learning in Canada. But that hope is tempered with the realization that attempts at innovation and creating a national agency in the learning space doesn’t appear to be a current priority (note the discontinued funding of Canadian Council on Learning.