Pan-Canadian Research Agenda

A couple of years ago Tim Buell and I wrote a paper entitled Towards a Pan -Canadian E-Learning Research Agenda.

This literature review was designed to answer  two foundational questions:

1.    What constitutes a “research agenda, generally;” and

2.    What is the current state of the literature surrounding research agendas in e-learning generally, and in Canada, specifically.

We had hoped to move to a next phase of surveying and meeting researchers, teachers , administrators, industry reps and policy makers to actually create this agenda. I had attempted to build partnership with Canada Council on Learning to undertake this task, but didn’t get anywhere.

In discussion with George Siemens we thought that the process should be revived. Canada continues with a complete lack of a national agenda to develop, research and exploite the power of e-learning. Many countries recognize that lifelong learning afforded by e-learning provides an empowering tool to address a wide variety of social, economic and individual needs. Our absence of planning, much less action, remains a national shame and huge opportunity lost.

5 thoughts on “Pan-Canadian Research Agenda

  1. Terry, I think this is a timely opportunity. We need a pan-Canadian agenda to help established and aspiring researchers to understand where our work fits in the larger scheme of things. So many studies and research programs seem to languish, not because they aren’t good, but because they aren’t situated in a bigger conversation.

    I welcome this initiative, and I think you and George are in a good position to make it happen.


  2. I like the “ferment in the field” metaphor – especially as we must look at this as a grassroots approach and we would also be looking at it from a multidisciplinary perspective.

    maybe our group is the “fermenters” – the farmers or vintners of learning hoping for a good crop

    Other suggestions:
    1. Research agenda cannot be confined to academics – much of the innovative activity is being done by those service areas assisting academics – eg. educational technologists, instructional designers, media personnel.

    2. We should perhaps look at ways to expose the lack of innovation, the lack of preparedness, the lack of attention to the incoming skillsets of students, needs of students that most instituions demonstrate in their plans, faculty training for distributed learning practices.

    3. We should also look at degree of research on learning and teaching in canada. Where and how are instructional designers, educational techniologists, learning space designers taught – what research is actually conducted on the teaching/learning process – who does it? Not most faculties of education – where’s the faculty of higher education? of distributed learning? of educational information design? of learning spaces?

    4. I’m concerned also about terminology. Distributed learning is preferred over education, but learning can be a result of any number of planned/unplanned interventions.

  3. Hi Terry,

    Great paper, a timely “call to research (arms!)” I think the time has come to engage in some serious research in two areas:

    1. What the goals for e-learning are, and
    2. what the barriers to achieving these truly are.

    I think it would also be good for researchers to start targeting journals more specific to institutional change and development, general learning theory, and education policy rather than those that are e-learning specific. Your comment “the need for research and development in e-learning has still not been effectively communicated to provincial and federal governments” on p.15 is key; who are the educational decision-makers in these bodies? What are THEY into? This will help to broaden the critique of e-learning; at the moment we seem a largely self-congratulating bunch, dissatisfied with progress. Part of this dissatisfaction may well be our own fault for not engaging with the sort of scholarship more aligned with educational change (good to see Beaudoin, 2004 musing the same thing for DE; how much more for e-learning!) I see the possible roots for this in your first bullet, p.9. Perhaps the lack of traction e-learning has (compared to its potential) could be the result of e-learning advocates talking to themselves in the mistaken belief that they were on to something somehow detached from adult learning, institutional development, and general education theory?

    I have read rather broadly, but have to admit that I am yet to see a rigorous treatment of the potential philosophical alignments of e-learning with regards to knowledge, teaching and learning. I had a go some years ago in a reasonably well-cited paper “A theory for e-learning” {} but have moved on in my research activity, so I’m, not sure if anything more has been said about this.

    I agree with your ‘definition’ problem; my own one is “e-learning is pedagogy empowered by digital technology”. This helps to remove any requirement to weigh the concept down too much with equally difficult terms such as ‘blended learning’.

    I had a shot at identifying barriers to e-learning diffusion (see {}), but, again, my own research is now heading down a different route. Here in New Zealand, e-learning received a tremendous boost with a generous, contestable government fund (the e-learning collaborative development fund, {}), which required institutions to team together. Outcomes from this fund include the building of significant e-learning infrastructure in less-developed polytechnics, enhancements to Moodle (almost all universities and polytechnics here in New Zealand have a Moodle installation and it is the main LMS for some), eXe, and Mahara. The Tertiary eLearning Research Fund (TeLRF, {}) also sponsored various research activities into e-learning-related matters; the eMM is a significant outcome of this. Projects had to be broadly aligned with the government’s own stated objectives. The relationships formed from these projects have led to continued collaboration and discussion – frequently at international levels.

    Seems to me that your proposed CIDER agenda on p.9 is worthy of significant attention, but given the fragmentation of research already available it would also be a significant exercise! The outcomes of such a project, if successful, will hopefully provide the ‘touchstone’ so clearly missing from e-learning theory at the moment.

    For what it’s worth, I find it useful to differentiate between strategic and operational concerns and between formal and informal learning when considering research in e-learning.

    All the best as you follow through!

  4. Hi Terry,

    This is just to say thank you very much for giving us who are outside Canada a chance to join conversation about e-learning at SCoPE 2008. We should not take it for granted to be given a place for that.

    And I really think it would be great if SCoPE and the second edition online and teaching e-book and other volunteer work of high quality websites provide a honor system (a small contribution of $5 or 10 per person) so that some of the people who are helped and hope to do could give donation for gratitude.

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