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Canadian higher education post-pandemic: investing in a quality, inclusive, and flexible education

Nhi Nguyen
Rebecca LeBoeuf
Rebecca LeBoeuf
|
November 4, 2022
Table of Contents

Achieving higher quality education with innovation has always been a pillar in Canadian higher education. As stated in the Canada’s Fundamental Science Review published in 2017:

“We believe Canada should aim to become the best-educated nation in the world with a reputation for generating startling discoveries across a range of scientific disciplines, breakthroughs in applied natural, health, and social sciences, and transformative insights from the humanities.”

The pandemic pivot over the past 2+ years has indeed highlighted the  goals mentioned above, as well as revealed new development trends towards the vision of high quality education. The most prominent trend is the switch from emergency, response based  actions to strategic, long-term strategies. Furthermore, institutions work to facilitate a learning environment where students are the knowledge owners, instructors become the facilitators, and faculties remain agile and flexible to any changes needed. Crucially, pedagogical technology is recognised to play a role in supporting educators drive positive educational shifts. 

In this article, we want to explore in-depth the educational movements that are taking place now and in the future from Canadian perspectives, and how edtech companies like FeedbackFruits can assist institutions in reaching these strategic goals.

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The top trends that drive Canadian higher education 

Trend 1: Witness an increase in internationalization

International orientation has been established as one of the key strategic goals in Canadian higher education from the 1980s. Since then, Canada has stood with the US, UK, and Australia as the renowned destinations for international education. 

Despite a decrease during the pandemic, the influx of international students is estimated to increase to 3 million by 2030 [1]. This continuous growth undoubtedly brings out great revenue, yet presents institutions with several challenges and needs to be addressed. First, is the increasing competition with not only the major countries but also with other rising candidates such as Singapore, China, and many others. Internationalization also prompts institutions to ensure an universal, and responsive curriculum that accommodates varied needs, backgrounds, and cultures. Failure to ensure international study content is likely to lower the interest of international students, leading to lower retention, enrolment rates. Online, hybrid, and blended courses will continue to be the preferable modality despite the gradual return to on campus classrooms [2]. Many students have come to enjoy the flexibility offered by diverse course models, thus expressing more motivation, and engagement to study. Incorporating more online learning elements is now a major goal for many Canadian institutions. 

Trend 2: Adopt inclusive pedagogy to create equitable, responsive learning environment  

The need to cultivate an inclusive, equitable, and accessible learning environment in Canadian education has been driven by different motives, namely: 

  1. The revitalisation of minority language, which aims to protect and maintain the existence of Indigenous languages as a means of communication and as a connection to culture [3].  
  2. The need to ensure learners’ access to all official languages, by offering multilingual instructions, programs, as well as investing in professional development of indigenous language instructions [3]. 
  3. Interest and enrollment in French immersion programs are expanding, demanding a bilingual approach to the curriculum. 
  4. Internationalization presents a diverse student body with diverse needs, abilities, and backgrounds, highlighting the need for personalized learning approaches. 
  5. Students’ learning expectations have shifted greatly to require more flexible course delivery, skills development, and micro-credentials [4]. 

​​Canada has made significant progress towards inclusive education over the last few decades. Inclusive Education Canada (IEC) was launched as a separate organization by Inclusion Canada in 2009, with the commitment to quality, inclusive education for all students in Canada. Universities collaborate with community organizations, business leaders and governments to ensure an accessible, responsive learning environment by incorporating inclusive pedagogy into course policies, materials, activities & assessment, and technology use. 

Trend 3: Enhance education with technological innovation

The implementation of technology further realizes the potential of education. Recent years witnessed the ever-increasing use of technology in various aspects of education, helping to enhance teaching and realize students’ learning potential. Tools developed based on artificial intelligence and machine learning help to make assessments and learning more automatic, promoting a digital, and often remote, learning culture.

Since 2000, technological changes like mobile devices spurred new ways of digital learning, so that even before the pandemic, education has taken place in digital contexts. For example, a national survey before the pandemic points out that 79% of post-secondary education in Canada offer programs that could take place online [5]. Nevertheless, in the post-pandemic era, digital and remote learning becomes significantly more prevalent. The inaccessibility of on-campus facilities due to lockdowns shifted a large portion of learning online. Thanks to the flexibility of technology-enhanced remote learning, this shift continues even after lockdowns. Now, it is estimated that each year, Canadian higher education students take approximately 1.5 million credited courses online [1]. This tremendous number implies that technology-enhanced learning has emerged as a prominent trend in Canadian education, and will likely continue into the future, leading to more practices of hybrid learning.

The future of technology-enhanced education is a promising one. For instance, artificial intelligence will continue to automate learning and assessment procedures; gesture recognition techniques will help to integrate more visual and aural components into the learning process; and learning will become more personalized, allowing more individualized and self-adaptive learning experiences [1].

Trend 4: Focus on soft skill developments and micro-credentials

Finally, there is also a growing focus on developing soft skills, which is closely related to the changing demands of the workplace. Nowadays, machine learning and artificial intelligence have made many tasks traditionally performed by humans automatic. As such, workplace demands for these technically narrow tasks drop, and demands for more interpersonal and social skills increase [4]. For example, teamwork ability, creativity, interdisciplinary knowledge, interpersonal communication, and cross-cultural competencies. The demands for such soft skills urge educational institutions to repackage traditional programs with a focus on human skills and interdisciplinarity, equipping students with necessary soft skills and preparing them for future work.

For example, in response to this trend, many educational institutions now design curricula that are more interdisciplinary and do not solely based upon credit hours [4]. A variety of learning experiences, including community-based research and workplace experiences, are now integrated into training programs, improving students’ career-ready skills. Another example is the development of programs focusing on micro-credentials.  By definition, a micro-credential is a certificate of “assessed capability that is alternate, additional, or an element of formal education qualification” [6]. These certificates can be showcased on digital platforms, representing the acquisition of specific work-related skills.

To conclude, approaches like multidisciplinary curriculum design and micro-credentials help to improve students’ transition into the workforce by preparing them with necessary work-related skills. It is likely that these approaches will cover more skills in the future and become a more outstanding trend in Canadian higher education.

The aforementioned trends, though promising, are by no means easy to address, as acknowledged by many academic technologists. As part of our mission to support institutions worldwide to drive educational transformation, FeedbackFruits wishes to assist Canadian faculties in creating a high quality learning environment which drives engagement, meaningful interactions, and lifelong learning. 

FeedbackFruits’ technological solutions are developed to accommodate varied pedagogical approaches, and enhance different course modalities (in-person, online, hybrid, or blended). We constantly develop and introduce functionalities that help faculty create a personalized, inclusive learning experience. For example, the French language mode is our latest step in the effort to make FeedbackFruits accessible to more instructors and students.

Most importantly, FeedbackFruits is proud to have been collaborating with Queen’s University and contributing to the achievement of their strategic educational goals. 

References

[1] Ontario's Distance Education & Training Network. (2015). The future of higher education: A Canadian View. Link.  

[2] EDUCAUSE. (2022). 2022 students and technology report: Rebalancing the student experience.  

[3] EdCan Network. (2019, June 20). Trends in Canadian education 2018-2019. https://www.edcan.ca/articles/trends-2018-2019/

[4] MacDonald, M. (2019). 7 university leaders contemplate the future of higher education in Canada — University affairs. Link.

[5] Brennan, J., Deer, F., Desai Trilokekar, R., Findlay, L., Foster, K., Laforest, G., Wheelahan, L., Wright, J. M. (2021). Investing in a Better Future: Higher Education and Post-COVID Canada. Royal Society of Canada. Link.

[6] Shao, Z. (2022). Analysis of trends in education for Canada. Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research. Link.

[7] Times Higher Education. (2022, October 4). Queen’s University. Times Higher Education (THE). Link.

[8] Queen's University. (n.d.). Courses in entrepreneurship at Queen's | Dunin-Deshpande Queen's innovation centre. Link.

[9] Queen's University. (n.d.). Virtual cafe for women entrepreneurs: Let's talk goal setting! Link.

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