Assessing the Economic Impact of Copyright Reform in the Area of Technology–Enhanced Learning

    3. Distance Education and TEL in Canada

    3.1 The Extent of Distance Education

    Distance education can be defined very generally as "a form of education in which students are separated from their instructors by time and/or space".6 This broad definition incorporates a variety of delivery approaches, variously described by terms such as alternate delivery, distributed learning, self–directed learning and online learning. With Canada’s vast expanse and its relatively small population, the development of a system to deliver education to students in remote and sparsely populated regions was an important undertaking. Over time, distance education has also become important in meeting the needs of students with disabilities and special needs, students outside of Canada, adults returning to school, workers undertaking professional development, and graduate researchers needing to draw on the scholarly resources within different institutions.

    There are no comprehensive data on distance education in Canada. At the K–12 level, distance education consortia linking elementary and secondary institutions have been established in a number of jurisdictions. Major responsibilities for delivery of distance education courses has in some cases been given to independent organizations, such as British Columbia’s Open Learning Agency and Ontario’s Independent Learning Centre, which recently became part of TVOntario. The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) indicated that, in 1994, correspondence enrollments totaled 225,321 for 953 elementary and secondary courses.7 If growth occurred at the same pace as overall enrollment in primary and secondary schools, correspondence enrollment would be up to around 226,200 by 2001.

    At the post–secondary level, the Canadian University Distance Education Directory provides a list of distance education courses Canadian universities offer in some 40 subject areas. All but 3 of the 56 universities covered in the 2001/2002 directory offered distance education courses, with some institutions (most notably, Athabasca University, but also Acadia, Waterloo and the University of Manitoba) providing instruction in most of the listed subject areas. Universities do not provide enrolment data for distance education, but the Council of Ontario Universities (2000) estimates that in 1998/99 there were well over 26,000 full course equivalent registrations in "distributed learning courses" in the province, with many of these from on–campus students. This suggests that participants in distributed learning account for about one of every 9 university students — a ratio that if applied at the national level leads to an estimate of almost 65,000 full course equivalent registrations for 1998/99.

    Community colleges are also active in providing distance education. Through OntarioLearn.com, for example, a consortium of 22 Ontario Community colleges offers 400 on–line courses. To estimate the provision of distance education, it is necessary, as well, to take account of the offerings of some open universities, such as Télé–université du Québec and the Open Learning Agency of British Columbia, that are not included in the university directory, and of various collaborative arrangements to facilitate the delivery of courses to distance learners. The latter include Contact North, which serves residents in Northern Ontario, the Franco–Ontarian Distance Education Network and Inter–Universities North, a co–operative arrangement to deliver courses to communities in Northern Manitoba. In addition, the statistics cited above exclude the large number of non–credit personal and professional development courses provided by universities.

    Although distance education serves a broad range of students, one of the main markets consists of older learners who value the flexibility and convenience of distance learning. Statistics Canada sheds light on this segment through its Adult Education and Training Survey, which measures all the education and training activities of people 17 and over who do not attend regular school and university.8 The survey indicates that, in 1997, more than 6 million people aged 17 or over, or nearly 28% of adults participated in education and training activities. Participation was higher for the employed than the unemployed population and was sharply higher for adults under 55 than those 55 and over. While public schools, colleges and universities accounted for three–quarters of all programs and one–quarter of all courses taken in 1997, the survey indicates that commercial schools and employers are also important providers of adult education.9

    3.2 Technologies Used to Deliver Distance Education

    While there is growing interest in new information technologies, much distance education continues to be based on print materials. The Adult Education and Training Survey found, for example, that "recent developments in educational technology, such as educational software and particularly the Internet, are still used sparsely by learners".10 Within educational institutions, new learning technologies were the medium of instruction in only about a quarter of the courses taken by adult learners. The majority of the offerings listed in the Canadian University Distance Education Directory consist of print supplemented by other tools, including audiotaped lectures, voice communication and Web sites. At Athabasca, Canada’s largest distance education university, graduate courses are delivered online to cohorts of students and undergraduate courses are mainly provided through print with on–line enhancements such as Web pages, e–mail and computer conferencing.11 At the elementary and secondary level, as well, reports point to the continued importance of print–based materials in distance education.12

    Although they are not yet dominant, computer–based technologies, which have considerable appeal because of their versatility and ability to support a variety of real–time and asynchronous communications, are growing in importance. A variety of computer–based learning systems are in use. Some courses are delivered in real time through the Internet or using audiographics or compressed video and some are provided in a form that allow for independent self–paced learning. Courses may be prepared by the instructor, developed by subject experts with the assistance of instructional designers provided by the institution, or created through the collaborative efforts of a number of institutions. Computer–based learning systems utilize a variety of commercial software. WebCT, the most popular educational software, offers a suite of tools to support the creation of customized courses, facilitate course management and delivery, and enable communication among students and between the students and instructor.

    In a recent study of online learning in post–secondary education, Cuneo et al. (2000) found that 57% of colleges and universities offered online courses over 1999/2000 and that the median offerings of these "online institutions" was 25 courses. Although online learning or "e–learning" may describe a form of distance study, these terms are also used to describe technology–enhanced learning that occurs within a traditional classroom.13 In the study by Cuneo and his associates, twelve criteria were use to identify online learning and courses were counted as "online" only if they satisfied a majority of the criteria.14 Among those institutions at the forefront in the use of online learning are Acadia University, where all students and staff have notebook computers and are linked to network resources everywhere are campus; the Technical University of British Columbia, a new public university that delivers the majority of its courses online; and Collège Boréal, a recently established college that uses advanced technologies to deliver programs to Francophones at 6 remote Northern Ontario campuses.

    Institutions involved in online education are investing in a number of activities to strengthen their physical and organizational infrastructure. A recent survey found that, over the recent period, online institutions have been giving particular attention to: instructor training in teaching technologies; recruitment of more technical staff; cooperation with other institutions in software licensing; policies to encourage students to acquire computers; and provision of open access computers to students.15

    At the primary–secondary level, examples of the application of new learning technologies include the Contact North’s use of audiographic and computer conferencing facilities to deliver secondary courses to Northern Ontario residents; the Saskatchewan Government Correspondence Schools’ use of satellites to deliver one way, and in some cases, interactive two–way video programs; and Nova Scotia’s provision of distance education courses through sites equipped for interactive audiographics on Ednet, the Wide Area Network administered by the provincial education department. Provincial government’s have joined together and also formed partnerships with private firms to promote the development of digital content and services. Along with the delivering course content to students, computer–based technologies are being used to provide support to teachers and inform parents about their child’s program of study.16

    3.3 Significant Developments

    Among the changes underway in distance education, three developments stand out as being potentially significant for copyright policy. First, distance education at the post–secondary level is growing rapidly. Registrations for distance education courses at Canadian universities have been increasing much faster than registrations for campus courses17. A recent survey by Ipsos–Reid reveals considerable interest among Canadians in online study, with 26% of the respondents indicating they had searched the Internet for courses and 59% stating they were likely to take an online course in the future.18 In the U.S., where the conditions are similarly favourable for online study, International Data Corp. estimates that college students enrolled in distance education study increased from 710,000 in 1998 to 2.2 million in 2002 — and grew from 5 percent to 15 percent of all higher education students.19

    The growth in distance education and online learning is being fuelled by a number of forces, including technological changes that have made it feasible for 9 out of every 10 students to have a computer at home20 and the trend to a increasingly knowledge–based economy in which jobs require problem–solving ability and continued learning. Distance education has strong appeal to adults who are looking for a flexible, convenient form of learning they can combine with work and home responsibilities. Distance education can be expected to grow as the demands for skill upgrading and for knowledge acquisition increase. Looking out to the year 2005, the Advisory Committee for Online Learning (2001) outlines the vision of a Canada in which lifelong learning is "an accepted fact of life":

    Even if job and family commitments prevent Canadians from attending a campus, they will find online the learning opportunities they need as a basis for personal fulfillment, not to mention keeping their job, finding a new one, seeking a promotion or creating their own business. E–learning will allow learners to choose among an unprecedented range of courses and programs from different colleges and universities to find the precise mix that meets their needs.

    Second, a wider variety of materials and of resources is being used in distance education courses. This is partly the result of the movement from strictly print–based correspondence courses to online programs or courses that involve both print and online components. In addition, it reflects the expanding role of distance education technologies, which now includes delivering materials that supplement in–class instruction and supporting advanced research training. Within both K–12 and post–secondary institutions, there is an increasing emphasis on computer–mediated systems that allow students to access a variety of supplementary content, develop their research skills and engage in practice and self–testing.21 For students involved in advanced research, new learning technologies offer an opportunity to participate in "distributed research communities" and benefit from the advice and guidance of scholars in different universities within and outside Canada. The Canadian Arctic Shelf Exchange Study, for example, brings together students and scientists working on a ship in the Beaufort Sea and in laboratories at various universities and private facilities in Canada and other countries.22

    Third, the market for post–secondary distance education is becoming global and competition among providers in various countries is increasing. Canadian students can now choose from a wide range of online courses offered by public institutions and commercial providers in various countries. The directory, World Wide Learn, for example, provides information on accredited online degree programs, training programs and continuing education programs available globally in 144 subject areas.23 As one response, Canadian institutions are establishing collaborative arrangements to better position themselves in the market. The Canadian Virtual University, for example, is a consortium of 13 Canadian universities that have collaborated to provide a single doorway to over 250 programs and 2000 distance education courses. Universitas 21 is an international network of 17 leading universities, including McGill University and the University of British Columbia. A major purpose is to establish a quality assurance framework that supports the efforts member institutions to compete in "the emerging global market for educational services". To the extent they affect course content and quality or the costs of delivery to distant education students, copyright policies will affect the ability of Canadian institutions to compete in this growing market.


    6 This is the definition used in U.S. Copyright Office (1999).

    7 Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (1997),

    8 Full–time students are only included if: employers are subsidizing them; they are 20 or over and enrolled in elementary or secondary programs; or, they are 25 and over and enrolled in postsecondary programs.

    9 In 1997, commercial schools and employers each supplied 20% of adult education and training courses.

    10 Statistics Canada and HRSDC, A Report on Adult Education and Training in Canada: Learning and Living, Cat.# 81–586–XPE, p.25.

    11 This draws on Davis (2001).

    12 For example, Council of Minister of Education, Canada (1997).

    13 Both are included in the definition used by the Advisory Committee for Online Learning (2001).

    14 The criteria include, for example, the following: course materials are delivered through digital networks; students submit assignments via digital networks; the course curricula is in electronic rather than print form; registration in the program is by the Internet; computer–mediated communications are enabled between students and instructors or tutors.

    15 Cuneo and Campbell (2000).

    16 A notable example is the LearnAlberta.ca project.

    17 Athabasca University, for example, experienced about a 23% growth in course registrations over 1999/2000 when overall university enrolment was increasing in the 2 to 3 percent range.

    18 This is from: The ClickZ Network Statistics

    19 This is from: The ClickZ Network Statistics

    20 Statistics Canada, Education Quarterly Review, vol. 8, no. 4, 2002.

    21 Developments were discussed in Hirshhorn (1999).

    22 This is discussed in Canadian Association of Research Libraries (2002).

    23 Information is available here