The need for learning experiences while remaining at the
workplace is a goal of many continuing education services
in Canada. The Faculty of Continuing Education at the University
of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, is no exception. It has traditionally
offered courses to provide knowledge, skills and/or attitudes
to adults in their workplaces. Increasingly, learners are
also encouraged to develop a ladder between certificates
and diplomas earned through continuing education that enable
adults to apply for advance standing into regular post-secondary
undergraduate admission at the University. These types of
continuing education innovations are seen to benefit the learner,
the workplace, the university and the community.
These leading edge innovations also extend into graduate
education at the University of Calgary. Commencing in 1985,
the Masters of Continuing Education (MCE) graduate programme
was developed under the auspices of the Faculty of Graduate
Studies for delivery by the Faculty of Continuing Education.
The programme has a specific focus on the workplace and requires
applicants to have a minimum of five years work experience
in a workplace environment. Typically, the enrolment each
year is limited to two cohorts of 24 adult learners. Because
75% of the graduate programme is delivered online, learners
have the flexibility and opportunity to study within an educationally-structured
environment while balancing other life responsibilities. The
programme provides specialisations in Workplace Learning,
Leadership and Development with a third focus currently under
The programme is based on a curriculum development model
which includes completion of First- and Second-year Institutes
at the University of Calgary worth four credits with nine
course credits completed through online education courses
accessed by learners from home or office environments. This
blended delivery approach necessitates learners and instructors
who are comfortable in working within classroom and virtual
environments. While most students completed previous schooling
in the classroom, many are inexperienced online learners.
The programme utilises FirstClass software with a dedicated
server accessed at the University of Calgary, and all adult
learners are required to install FirstClass software in expectation
of the first online course in the Fall. Students receive a
brief orientation to FirstClass at the First-year Institute,
and a basic description of computer-mediated communication
Each learner is required to complete a research study for
graduation. Many of the research projects are work-based but
the online environment is providing increasing research opportunities
in the MCECMC environment. A twist to this model is
to provide research opportunities at the outset of the programme
to enable learners to learn about research before embarking
on their own projects late in the programme. For example,
the transition period can be difficult for learners who have
completed the First-year Institute and arrive at home lacking
in-depth knowledge or practice of the software they must access,
install and utilise for their online courses. To address this
issue, an MCE Learner Research Group was formed, and a study
was initiated with the support and guidance of this author.
Through the completion of a pre- and post-survey tools and
selected learner interviews, a series of learner snapshots
is currently under development to indicate where, when and
how learners are experiencing difficulties and what recommendations
can be made to prevent this in future.
These research opportunities are self-directed motivators
for learners. They provide first-year learners with an opportunity
to work together as they learn more about a problem, its causes
and ways to remedy through an active research process. It
is an extremely rich learning environment for learners to
have an idea, to work together as a group, to experience a
mentoring relationship with a faculty member in the programme,
through to writing and completing a paper for a conference
and/or publicationall while continuing to work. This
is but one example of why graduate continuing education programmes
are so powerful for adult learners.
The Role of Facilitation in Continuing Education Graduate
Learners are anxious to explore the principles of adult
learning, research and new knowledge in the context of identifying
challenges, dilemmas and uncertainties in their workplace
environments. Unlike traditional graduate programmes, learners
in an online programme come with a sense of questioning, a
desire for answers with a healthy dose of sceptical persuasion.
Through inquiry, reflection and new and revisited knowledge,
learners become open to alternative perspectives leading to
new insights and learning. Communication dilemmas, discussion
styles, and differing insights evolve and online disagreements
or conflict may arise on occasion. Online conflict comes in
many forms including, but not limited to, long silences from
one or more learners, cryptic learner remarks, questioning,
limited involvement with others, subtle communication cues,
to name but a few examples. Using discussion, tactful questioning,
open responses, debating, scenario-building, case-analysis
methods, reflection with a healthy sense of humour, the facilitator
is able to model their unique communication styles to students.
Often, learners are quite surprised to see there are ways
of addressing these challenges in ways that will convey the
message but maintain a friendly, respectful and trusting approach.
These types of communication processes can be lifelines for
learners as they become empowered to develop their own comfort
level and online voice.
The role of the instructor in the online CMC system is complex.
The instructor has a facilitation role that is highly dependent
on the ability to introduce, guide, mediate, group facilitate,
problem solve, build consensus among the group, attain resolution
and develop closure to discussions. Oft times these tasks
are convoluted and messy especially at the beginning
of a term. Resources such as Salmon (2000) and Pratt and Palloff
(1999) can be extremely helpful in understanding the role
of facilitation and e-moderating in any online graduate programme.
The authors personal experience in teaching three separate
online graduate programmes in Canada suggests that the perspective,
demeanour, openness and invitation to join with a community
of learners is as valuable to the learners as the value and
knowledge of any discipline.
The lessons learned from online learning in this programme
include the shifting of roles of the learner and faculty in
the online environment; the focus on the transition that learners
express as they proceed from novice to experienced online
learners; the way in which they view themselves as online
learners and hence as practitioners in the workplace; and,
the deep learning processes that can occur for graduate students
within the online, graduate continuing education environment.
Further information on the MCE Programme is available at the
University of Calgary website at: http://www.ucalgary.ca/cted/mce.
Palloff, R. & Pratt, K. (1999). Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Salmon, G. (2000). E-moderating. Sterling, VA: Stylus