Special Report

Canadian Virtual Ed. Dips Into For-Profit Realm

By Michelle R. Davis — January 30, 2012 2 min read
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While there may not be much involvement by private companies in the online education sector in Canada, that doesn’t mean the idea of earning profits in this arena is being ignored.

Take, for example, the Leading English Education and Resource Network, or LEARN, a nonprofit organization based in Quebec that provides online resources, including virtual courses to students and schools in the province. LEARN also has a for-profit arm, called i-Edit, which provides e-textbooks, consulting services, and other products related to online learning, said Michael Canuel, the chief executive officer of LEARN and the chairman of i-Edit.

For its work through LEARN in the Canadian public schools, the organization is paid by the provincial government. But through i-Edit, it has provided its services in Madagascar and is talking with Panama about consulting there to help integrate online learning into schools. Several American school districts are using the organization’s web-conferencing platform and its content-management system, Mr. Canuel said.

The difference, however, from a purely moneymaking venture is that the profits that are made through i-Edit are funneled back into the nonprofit LEARN, Mr. Canuel said.

“Our ultimate mandate is to serve our community [in Quebec] as best we can,” Mr. Canuel said.

Other Canadian companies, like Desire2Learn Inc., based in Kitchener, Ontario, are also reaching across the border, but not typically with online courses, said Terri-Lynn Brown, the director of learning solutions for Desire2Learn.

Her company provides software and learning-management systems to help power online learning courses in some U.S. school districts and states, such as Alabama and Maryland.

Ms. Brown said she doesn’t see many Canadian schools purchasing online course content. “They certainly need the infrastructure, and our company provides the online learning environment,” she said, “but the [virtual] schools themselves are generally run by the districts” whose teachers develop the courses or use resources provided by the provinces.

U.S. Course Connections

Several American online-course providers say the distinctiveness of Canadian curriculum standards, plus the differences in online learning requirements from province to province, make it hard to export online courses north.

See Also

For more on virtual education in Canada, read “Virtual Ed. in Canada Favors Centralized Programs.”

Other barriers include language differences—in Quebec, for example, where French versions of online courses would be required—and the fact that Canada generally follows the British spelling of English and uses the metric system. Such considerations, “for some online course providers, may mean developing new or significantly modified content,” said Jeff Kwitowski, a spokesman for K12 Inc., an online education company based in Herndon, Va. He said K12 does not do a significant amount of business in Canada.

But the Florida Virtual School, the largest state-sponsored U.S. online school, does serve several Canadian schools.

Andy Ross, the general manager for the global services division of the Florida Virtual School, or FLVS, acknowledges there’s more of a tradition of Canadian educators developing their own courses. Even so, some districts in Canada are buying FLVS courses and adapting them to the Canadian curriculum.

The Manitoba province, for example, has purchased nine FLVS courses. Canadian educators have also been interested in consulting Florida Virtual on such issues as online teacher training and the management of online courses, Mr. Ross said.

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A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 2012 edition of Education Week as Canadian Ed. Dips Into For-Profit Realm


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