Canada's Lost e-learning Decade

Terry Anderson, Virtual Canuck, May 25, 2009
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I read this report on e-learning from the Canadian Council on Learning over the week-end, and Terry Anderson offers a good summary today. The report surveys the history of Canada's involvement in e-learning, compares it to initiatives in some other countries, and argues, essentially, that there has been a lock of progress and vision over the last decade, a conclusion with which Anderson agrees. Well, maybe. But there's more to this picture than meets the eye.

It doesn't bother me, I suppose, that we could have a 'state of e-learning in Canada' report without my own name in it. It would be a bit much to presume. But I don't see George Siemens in there either. Nor do I see 'connectivism' or even 'constructivism'. I can't find 'Moodle' in the report, in spite of significant Canadian support for the tool. EduSource, a major pan-Canadian e-learning project, is not mentioned at all. There is no mention of the NRC e-learning initiative. No references to Desire2Learn. Nor even Assiniboine Community College, which has been in the field since the mid-90s. Nothing, either, on the Canadian Defense Academy or the Combat Training School, which won a major award recently. None of the people quoted regularly in these pages - indeed, none of the activity regularly described in these pages - makes its way into the report. So, one wonders.

Anderson asks, "what is the point of reiterating ideas from a 2001 report (likely gathered from issues of a decade ago), without looking deeply at why the action plan was never implemented?" Good question. But the data, too, seems to be incomplete or out of date. And don't say there wasn't money for research - the Canadian Council on Learning had something like $80 million to play with, spent on nothing but research. But let's be blunt: they phoned it in. It's an old report, spiced up with a few quotes from some recent summary documents. It is not an accurate statement of the state of e-learning in Canada. It's what you get when you do your research in a library, instead of in the field.

The report is accurate in some respects. There is no national vision and no sustained funding for e-learning in Canada. Institutional support has been slim and the commercial sector has struggled. Canadian support for important initiatives such as Open Courseware or Open Educational Resources has been limited. Agencies such as the Media Awareness Network have had to struggle to mount freely available educational resources. And yet, despite the almost complete lack of official support, there is a seething hotbed of e-learning in Canada, in every province and territory. I have met so many people personally, from Gander to Whitehorse and every city in between.

Every time someone asks me where we should spend our money in e-learning, I talk about these people. You know who you are; you are the people I meet when I speak in Saskatchewan or get together with in Ontario. None of you ever make it into these official reports. But you are the heart and soul of e-learning in this country. Now I don't get to make the decisions on these things. But if I did, e-learning in this country would look very different. It would be a strategy defined by and intended to support the people who actually do e-learning in this country, and not just the usual crowd of managers and academics who talk about it.
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