Dr. Linda Harasim, President and CEO, TeleLearning Network of Centres of Excellence
TELELEARNING CONTRIBUTING TO CANADA'S COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE IN THE KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY
Chairman: William D. Laidlaw Second Vice-President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Edward P. Badovinac, Professor, Department of Telecommunications, George Brown College and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; The Rev. Philip Bristow, St. Philips on The Hill Anglican Church, Unionville; Malcolm Roberts, Senior Manager, Bank of Montreal Institute of Learning; Ginny Dybenko, Vice-President, Communications, Bell Canada; Dr. Claude Lajeunesse, President and Vice Chancellor, Ryerson Polytechnic University; Pauline Couture, Principal, C20 and Company, Strategy and Communications; David Crane, Economics Editor, Toronto Star; Wendy Berney, President and CEO, ITC Canada Ltd.; and L. Douglas Todgham, Vice-President, The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada.
Introduction by William D. Laidlaw
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for this kind invitation. I'm delighted to have this opportunity to talk about the work we are doing at TeleLearning Network of Centres of Excellence (TL•NCE), and how we feel we can contribute to Canada's competitive advantage in the knowledge economy.
I hope I can communicate my passion for this subject, our sense of capability, but also a sense of urgency, because all of us have something at stake here.
The United Nations has repeatedly ranked Canada number one on its human development index--a commonly accepted measure of quality of life. And that's wonderful. But at the same time, I'm concerned that we not rest on our laurels.
The roots of prosperity--the nature of wealth generation itself--have fundamentally changed. Not only the rules of the game, but the nature of the game itself, has shifted.
The whole world is undergoing a revolutionary shift to the knowledge age, in which brainpower will dominate over muscle power. Knowledge workers--people who are paid to think--are the backbone of the knowledge economy.
Briefly, knowledge work involves the creation of intellectual property--using ideas (knowledge and brainpower), rather than muscle, to create value. That's why it's fundamental to develop the attitudes and skills which encourage inventiveness, innovation, analysis, and progressive problem solving.
My remarks today will focus on how we can meet these challenges head-on. How well is Canada positioned to survive and thrive in the knowledge era? Are we investing as quickly, adequately and wisely as we should?
Now about resting on our laurels. For those of us who are listening, there have been some alarming wake-up calls recently. The OECD has been harshly critical of Canada--and it's easy to understand why.
Alone among the G-7 countries, our productivity is falling--not just traditional labour productivity, but what I think of as "inventive productivity." In other words, as an economy and a society, we're not innovative enough. In the OECD's assessment, we're falling down on developing or adapting new technologies. We're not investing in enough new research.
And too many sectors in Canada's economy are resisting change--the first among them my own, the world of education. We aren't generating enough university graduates--17 per cent of the population versus 25 per cent in the United States.
And according to Charles Sirois, a leading entrepreneur and CEO in the fields of telecommunications and information technology, the university graduates we do have aren't necessarily in the "critical disciplines" our economy needs.
In a recent speech to the Canadian Club of Montreal, Mr. Sirois made a passionate case that Canada needs more knowledge workers. He said the lack of skilled resources is the major competitive challenge Canada faces today and it's aggravated by a major brain drain, at a time when we need a brain gain.
You aren't imagining that big sucking sound from the south.
Forty per cent of information technology graduates from our leading school in the field, the University of Waterloo, are scooped away by U.S. companies each year. This is equivalent to a brain haemorrhage, and we have to stop it.
David Crane, who is with us at the head table today, has often issued wake-up calls of his own as economics editor of the Toronto Star. He would probably agree with Charles Sirois that Canada's most urgent economic priority is to increase drastically the number of high-value knowledge workers who are committed to staying here and to making Canada an ongoing economic success.
In order to do this, I agree with Mr. Sirois that we will need an in-depth reform of higher education. We need to increase access dramatically. We need to add more leading-edge, "critical" disciplines--including developing new models of learning for ongoing knowledge building.
And we need to avoid the errors of the past. Repeatedly, we have allowed Canadian breakthroughs to slip away from us. For example, the University of Toronto's Faculty of Medicine now uses the Harvard method for case-based learning. Why didn't U of T pick up this highly effective method when McMaster University first developed it? To say the least, it's ironic that McMaster's cachet as a brand would be greater at Harvard, which immediately saw the merits of the system and adopted it, than within 50 kilometres of home.
CSILE is a knowledge-building technology developed here at OISE at the University of Toronto. It has long been renowned worldwide. And yet its American derivative receives far more funding from the National Science Foundation than we in Canada provide in research and commercialisation support for the original itself.
There are hundreds of examples in higher education alone. Too often, Canadians have been in the forefront of developing brilliant applications, which we later buy back from foreign suppliers with their mark-up slapped on. We have to stop being the intellectual hewers of wood and drawers of water.
But how can we reverse these distressing trends? Charles Sirois called for "common ground" between the academic and business communities. At TL•NCE we are actually in a position now to offer some road maps to get there. We can build national prosperity and leverage a common purpose. We have a vision and model that can help to inform that strategy.
And we also offer some uniquely Canadian competitive advantages, including the NCE model itself. The strength of the model is that it takes a condition that is potentially a weakness--our status as a small population spread out across a huge land mass--and turns it into a strength by forcing us to work together, sharing funding and expertise.
Canada has only 10 per cent of the U.S. population. Not one of our universities has the resources of a Harvard, a Stanford or an MIT The only way we can build world-class technology is by working together in a pan-Canadian network of centres of excellence, committed to developing the best telelearning approaches and technologies in the world.
The TL•NCE, like the other NCEs, enjoys funding from Industry Canada. We have to compete for these funds, and they are granted to us on the express condition that our work bring together business, the academic community, the public and private sectors to make a real difference.
In our case, that means that we link up 30 universities and 130 top researchers in the field of online, networked learning. We are constantly under the gun to advance the state of the art in ways that will change the real world. Our team is truly interdisciplinary: We have learning scientists, social scientists, and computer and engineering scientists.
But we're also interdisciplinary in a more profound, important and unique way. Research scientists from the universities are working closely with the private sector, the public sector and government--not only to generate new knowledge, but also to integrate it into the fabric of Canadian society, and to put this knowledge to work.
This is what distinguishes us from traditional research. Our group includes many world-class scientists. But there can be no funding for R and D that doesn't result in products and ideas that we are willing to back and commercialise. Our work has to be recognised and implemented at home. This is the only way to create value and to make a difference to the society and to the economy of our country.
When I first began to meet with the corporate sector to build support for the TL•NCE initiative, I was surprised to find a great depth of interest and commitment to quality education and a strong focus on building knowledge and on teamwork. After all, as someone said to me this week: "When I was in school, collaboration was called cheating. This collaborative learning stuff is a real stretch for me." Many corporations realise that stretch is deeply necessary. They need employees who can think, and who can invent the best solution, not just look for the "right answer."
Our partners at the Bank of Montreal's Institute for Learning were especially interested in working with us to refine new learning models and to establish what works in the field of telelearning.
Northern Telecom was also more interested in researching new models of learning with us than in selling to us as a new market segment.
And it's not just the business sector; the population as a whole is wide awake on this one: Public demand for more and better access to post-secondary education and training is significant and growing.
The TL•NCE is a living lab for the new models and technologies that enable knowledge building and collaborative learning. This means we are the source of tools to develop the knowledge workers Canada--and every other country in the world--needs so badly.
There are three key areas that need transformation if we're going to get there.
First, we need to transform access to higher education and training so that our entire population can keep on learning lifelong.
Second, we need to transform the quality of learning so that more of us can do high-value knowledge work.
And thirdly, we need to transform the very nature of learning, to encourage innovation and inventiveness.
Our TL•NCE partners, both corporate and public sector, are committed to a common vision of building a knowledge society in Canada, and to expanding our models, know-how and technologies worldwide. We are collaborating with 225 client communities from universities, schools, training organisations, large corporations and small workplaces, with unions, teachers' federations, and organisations across Canada and around the world.
Everything we hear from the public, our corporate partners, and the participants in our telelearning trials tells us that what we are doing is part of the very necessary reinvention of the university.
We have four beacon technologies: CSILE, focusing on knowledge building in the primary and secondary school communities; Virtual-U, focusing on post-secondary and corporate training--I'll discuss it at greater length shortly; Teleform, which focuses on continuing education; and Cadretel, a knowledge management and collaborative design tool.
These are all important to telelearning. But today, I want to concentrate on our Virtual-U software, which is currently the subject of the world's largest test bed for online networked learning.
We began in 1996, working with 12 universities, the Bank of Montreal and 2,000 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, in workplaces all over the world. Our network of researchers here in Canada is now opening up our field trials to universities in the U.S., Europe and the Caribbean.
We are currently studying 230 courses, 7,000 students and 150 instructors, and our research database is growing.
And what we're learning goes to the heart of my point here today: The TL•NCE is one of Canada's hidden gems. We're learning about what works, what doesn't work, for whom and under what conditions. It's tremendously exciting.
We have found amazing results and profound transformations.
Virtual-U has transformed access to learning by making it available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Students and instructors can log on and participate when it's convenient for them, from anywhere in Canada or around the world.
Increasingly, it's possible to use teams of instructors in different cities, or even different countries.
An overwhelming majority of students report a positive experience. One of my favourite stories is about Mary, a psychiatric nurse in Hamilton. Mary had to requalify because of new Ontario regulations. As a fulltime nurse with four children at home, she couldn't attend regular university classes.
So she enrolled in a Virtual-U advanced psychiatric nursing course at Douglas College in B.C. She told us that "Virtual-U has massive capabilities... It's perfect for people who have kids and want to get back to the work force, for people who have disabilities and can't get out, for people who are on welfare and need to upgrade their skills. I love it and recommend it to anyone who is at least a little computer literate."
Think of the potential!
It's now possible to study just about anything online. Most students would take online courses again, citing the effectiveness of the learning environment as well as better opportunity to manage their time efficiently.
Enthusiasm from master teachers, the most experienced professionals, has been extraordinary. We've had comments such as "epiphany" and "best experience of my career." This isn't to say that their experience was problem-free. But the results apparently made the learning curve--or in some cases, the 'learning cliff'--worthwhile!
Completion rates are dramatically high, comparing favourably with completion rates of face-to-face courses, and much higher than completion rates for print-based courses and online distance education.
The quality of students' work was often much higher than in classic courses. One new student told us: "I could not conceptualise how learning online would work. I imagined we all had to go online at the same time (like a chat line) or that my computer skills would not be adequate. Now that I have completed the course I would not want to do distance education in any other way! It was user-friendly, exciting, very interactive, and kept me interested and involved in learning as much as I could throughout the course."
Meanwhile, instructors describe the Virtual-U as a "Trojan Horse": "It took only two hours to realise that I was being exposed not only to a new technology but, even more importantly, to what was to me a new ideology, one that focused on student-centered collaborative learning." Many said they would raise their expectations of students in their face-to-face classes, having seen how bright and inventive they could be in the interactive networked learning environment.
I could tell you much more--about how active and engaged the participants are, about how this way of doing things places the resources where it counts: at the service of the learner.
We are creating the know-how, the learning models, and technologies that will catalyse and sustain the knowledge era. This is not trivial. It's changing the very fabric of how education and business work.
Just as electricity lit up our lives, telelearning has the potential to light up our minds, to develop knowledge workers, and to build a powerful new industry based on this brain gain.
In doing this, we are building on Canadian values which are integral to the very basis of a knowledge society. Collaborating, problem solving, leveraging and inventing within a multicultural community are part of the Canadian heritage. The beginnings of that experience are already wired into the way we think and behave. With the help of good science, we must transform these values and experiences into new mindsets, skill sets, and technologies.
To achieve these gains, however, investment in the quality of the learning environment and in effective instructional design is essential. The environment is sensitive. The greatest success stories, such as the University of Phoenix Online, Open University's MBA programme or the Virtual-U courses, are all associated with small class size. In every case, the instructors employed group learning and student-centered approaches.
Training and support in instructional design for telelearning courses is considered key. Instructors report the biggest challenge is not how to use the technology but how to conceptualise and design an online course.
Why does this matter? It's crucial to know if and how something works before investing in it. That's when it becomes a competitive asset.
However much we invest in technology, it's going to be insignificant in relation to our investment in human resources and training. The investment in technology and infrastructure seems huge to us right now, but it's actually a very small proportion of the cost of changing the way we operate. Unless we base that on knowledge of what works, we risk being dead wrong and wasting huge resources.
Technology can be used badly, perhaps even more easily than it can be used well. That is the TeleLearning advantage: a new model and strategy of networked learning that can generate and sustain the building and sharing of knowledge effectively in the future, avoiding or minimising the pitfalls and wrong turns.
Using even the most advanced and expensive technology is no guarantee of success. It is the design of the instructional model and approach and the ability of the technology to support proven, effective learning that are the key ingredients for success.
This focus on ensuring the quality and nature of learning distinguishes telelearning from the hype prevalent today. Everyone is jumping aboard the Web bandwagon. It's the next shining object, even though many are not clear about how it works and how to succeed.
This is where the TL•NCE provides such tremendous potential. We are generating answers to these critical questions--answers based on research. We've been studying it, we can tell people what works. It's not trial and error; it's designing the future.
That's why I am calling today for a massive collaborative effort. The TL•NCE can provide the forum for all sectors of Canadian society to come together to create the Canadian Virtual University--a culmination of all the best efforts this country has to offer.
We can build competitive advantage for Canadians by equipping them to achieve prosperity in the knowledge society in Canada. And we can share our knowledge globally.
We need to remember that knowledge is a perpetually renewable kind of wealth. The more we use it and share it, the higher its value.
The TL•NCE is one of many hidden gems in this country. But the generous, prosperous future we envisage calls for a treasure chest.
All the efforts of the past to find the perpetual motion machine, or the alchemist's formula have culminated in the understanding that the human brain is the true engine of wealth.
What an exciting time to be an educator!
We feel honoured and privileged to be working on building these tools. We--all of us here--are the custodians of the future. It is our duty to ensure that we can build on this know-how and these values.
If we do it right, we can create a rising tide which lifts all boats. We need not continue with the models which divide society into haves and have-nots, knowers and know-nots.
For the first time in history, spending resources--intellectual resources--can yield compound interest instead of depleting our capital.
If we work fast, we can spread this model so that greater and greater numbers of Canadians are learning--not dropping out but completing, contributing, enjoying, performing better and differently. They will be doing not only better work, but also different work--solving problems, not just generating the right answers.
The Canadian Virtual University would be a powerful engine for building knowledge work capacity and prosperity. It would revolutionise access, transcending boundaries of time and place for post-secondary education and training. It would revolutionise the quality of education and training. And it would revolutionise the nature of education and training by focusing on inventive productivity, collaborative learning and knowledge building.
This isn't something that should wait 10 or 15 years. I urge you to partner with us, invest in this kind of learning, take away ideas and use them; benefit from them.
We want you to know about us, and to help us build a whole new industry around telelearning in Canada, and as our contribution to global understanding and prosperity.
We have the know-how, the people, the skills and the values.
Let's take all our hidden gems and put them into a collective treasure chest that will make the whole world a better place to live and learn.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by L. Douglas Todgham, Vice-President, The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada.