Major e-learning initiatives in Canada

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This page discusses candidates for major e-learning initiatives in Canada.


In recent years the Open Learning Agency of British Columbia was closed and its open university activities were transferred to the newly created Thompson Rivers University, based in Kamloops (and on a core of a former HE college) in the mountainous interior of British Columbia. Australian experience with dual-mode institutions would suggest that this was a wise move, even if it seems a bit novel to a foreign audience.

The Distance Education and Technology unit at the University of British Columbia (UBC) has been absorbed into UBC's Office of Learning Technologies.

The Télé-université in Québec has been integrated into the larger multi-campus Université de Québec.

On the other hand, Athabasca University, a fully fledged distance teaching university in Alberta, continues to develop and thrive in Canada and internationally, although its use of online courses is largely focused on post-graduate programmes, such as its MBA.

There have also been some false starts in major government-funded e-learning projects. The main federally-funded research programme (TeleLearning) was closed and wound down early on various much disputed grounds (usually NCE projects are renewed for at least a second full period). There is now little trace of the project or of the full archives but a minimal archive is public at and there is a useful overview article on Seven Years of Telelearning Research. While a depressing tale, it would seem to many readers in EU countries who wish for any kind of national e-learning research programmesto to have such a long programme timescales even to aspire to for research projects, longer even than EU Framework timescales and far longer for example than the usual UK research funding approach.

The charismatic start-up TechBC was closed and residual activity absorbed into Simon Fraser University as the Surrey Campus - it seems to be successful in its new guise. The former TechBC web site is now a semi-official archive - see - and the wikipedia page is useful. There were many problems affecting TechBC but two evident and accepted ones were technological over-reach and a limited market in the part of Vancouver where it was situated. Those few experts interested in e-learnng failures have found John Trueman's thesis "Our time will come again" fascinating reading and still relevant, for example to current thinking on UK HE start-ups. More information is around for persistent enquirers.

The closure of both the OLA and TechBC were precipitated as a result of a new party coming to power in provincial government in British Columbia and trying to cut spending to balance the provincial budget, but that does not explain why these projects were cut rather than others. And at the same time, the provincial government did create BCCampus, a co-ordinating service for all educational online programmes, providing funding to institutions for the development of e-learning materials, training and support services to the smaller colleges, and a one-stop portal for students for online programmes. A similar institution, e-Learning Alberta (now eCampusAlberta), has been created in the adjacent province.

In the Francophone part of Canada, University of Montreal developed a variety of distance education programs (in the field of ICT and education), in particular in West and Central Africa, but also for First Nation learners. The distance education programs for First Nation learners are of particular importance, especially in the context of Canada, a country occupying most of northern North America, extending from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west and northward into the Arctic Ocean. Moreover, Canada is the world's second largest country by total area context. University of Montreal also developed and implemented the first, distance education, PhD program, in Francophone universities. This doctorate program focuses on ICT and education and students come from eight different African countries.

A number of smaller players such as Mount Royal College have done interesing work and several university departments such as OISE at the University of Toronto are active in research aspects of e-learning.

In general, provincial governments and institutions have tended to see online distance education as a sub-category of e-learning, and thus there has been a tendency to integrate distance education units into broader learning and technology initiatives. At the same time, governments have been fostering within institutions the development of e-learning materials, and co-operation and co-ordination in e-learning activities. Having said that, several Canadian institutions still have very little deployment of e-learning even on-campus and some are publicly nervous of it and what it might bring.


See the separate entries on:

> Canada
> Programmes