eConcordia ripe to grow as attention turns to online course delivery

Faced with increased demand for a greater variety of courses, eConcordia is ripe for expansion. It is anticipating the addition of four new courses in January with a goal of 35 within the next 24 months.

Patrick Kelley, executive in residence at the JMSB, has been brought in as a liaison with the faculties and to work on a business development plan for eConcordia as it enters this new phase. Kelley sees online courses as a necessary part of the education landscape, in a context where our current generation of students has grown up with computers. “They’re used to learning online and there’s an expectation that institutions should provide material using this avenue,” Kelley says. This year, the Globe and Mail used availability of course materials online as one of the criteria for its university report card.

Distance opportunities

eConcordia CEO Andrew McAusland sees the benefits of the courses currently offered for a variety of students. For example, a CEGEP student may take eConcordia courses during the summer prior to their first year at Concordia University.

International students may take advantage of a “year at a distance” program where they take their first year online in their home country prior to coming to the university to complete their program. Students taking an eConcordia credit course can arrange to write their final in-class exam at a nearby educational institution, even if nearby means Australia, India or China. eConcordia offers students the flexibility to complete their elective credits from whereever they happen to be.

Popular option

eConcordia was founded in November 2000 as Concordia University Foundation’s initiative to deliver online courses. It grew from one pilot engineering course to the 10 courses now offered today; McAusland sees eConcordia’s growth as part of Concordia’s commitment to accessibility.

“Students are attracted both to the content and the medium of delivery.” During the past academic year, eConcordia enrolment was approximately 9,800.According to McAusland, statistics show that one in five students will likely take more than one online course. eConcordia courses offer an impressive retention rate of nearly 95 per cent.

He suggests that courses that teach a specific skill set, introductory, preparatory or review courses are ideal for an online environment. “We will never offer a degree online. We recognize that learning online is a complement to the classroom experience and a teaching institution should continue to offer classroom-based education.”

Certificate programs

But with increasing demand, there are new areas to explore. One is the introduction of the online Certificate in Canadian Studies that will be launched as a distance education program in Sept. 2007 (see Journal, Oct. 26) in addition to non-credit professional development certificates. “We want to move out into the international and non-local market,” McAusland said.

Public Security is an upcoming online course that begins in January. “The course covers a broad range of issues and geography,” said Patrick Devey, eConcordia’s Director, Research & Development. “It goes all over the world and within our own borders, covering law enforcement, the governance side and how conflict affects public policy.”

Another new course is Global Conflict in the Middle East, taught by professor emeritus and Middle East expert Henry Habib.

eConcordia’s content is shared with Concordia. Any course offered through eConcordia is subject to the same rigorous approval process as any other course; from the course’s Professor, Department Chair, Faculty Dean, and ultimately, the Provost. Once approved, eConcordia uses its in-house staff and resources to develop the credit courses based on content provided by Concordia professors.

McAusland, who is also Associate VP, IITS, estimates that developing an online course costs between $40,000 and $70,000.

In addition, resources are needed to maintain the course throughout its lifespan. eConcordia absorbs all costs related to production and operation. Additionally, it pays the department for its content while the department continues to receive full-time equivalency funds for the online course. As eConcordia expands, it is expected that increased revenue will go back to the faculties.

Kelley is pleased that the President’s new Strategic Plan has set distance education as a priority. He sees that as an acknowledgement of the importance of online education in the future.

“This is a true realization of the process of lifelong learning.” With increasing demands in the workplace to retrain, upgrade skills and increase certification, online education is becoming a crucial means of knowledge delivery.