Overview of the Course

The purpose of this course is to prepare you to plan and manage e-learning effectively in your institutions and organizations. We will do this through readings and discussions of some of the key issues. The assignments will also give you an opportunity to apply some of these ideas to practical planning activities.

As the title indicates, the course is focused on the use of e-learning technologies in higher education and it is aimed primarily at people with management responsibilities working in this sector or those who aspire to work as educational managers. If you don’t fit this profile, you can still benefit from this course but you might have to work a bit harder to make sense of some of material and concepts.


As you begin working through the course you will notice that we use a number of different terms somewhat interchangeably: e-Learning, learning technology, educational technology, online learning and so on. This is perhaps a bit sloppy because these aren’t synonyms, but then there aren’t any clear and commonly-accepted definitions of the many terms that are used to describe the use of technology in teaching and learning. In practice you will find teachers, instructors and administrators using these and other terms, often to mean different things. This is a problem with our field. We do try to clarify the terminology issue in Unit 1 when we discuss the meaning of e-learning.

Evolving Thinking About Planning for E-Learning

My thinking about how to plan effectively for e-learning has evolved over the 16 years that I have been involved in this course. And it has evolved along with my career as I moved from a relatively marginal, but central, Distance Education support unit in a research-intensive university (UBC) to a much larger, more diverse and central Learning & Teaching support unit at a large technical institute (BCIT) to an intergovernmental agency (Commonwealth of Learning) where I provided support to governments and higher education institutions around the world.

When I started teaching this course, I subscribed wholeheartedly to the view that the effective use of e-learning in higher education required central planning and central support. In fact, this is the point a I make quite strongly in the chapter, Revisiting the Need for Strategic Planning for e-Learning in Higher Education. Ideally there would be an e-learning strategy that was linked to the larger institutional strategic plan and each school or faculty would have its own strategy for e-learning that flowed from the institutional strategy. Institutions would support their e-learning strategy by establishing (if they didn’t already exist) central support units to provide instructional design, media production, faculty development, and technical support. I considered the more grassroots and ground-up approaches that were driven by individual faculty as early stages in the development and maturation of the institution’s approach to e-learning. Ultimately, I believed, if an institution wanted to be serious about e-learning it would progress from this to a more planned and strategic approach. But, I no longer believe that. Or at least, I no longer believe that this necessarily the approach that all higher education institutions should be striving for. My experience working in and with different institutions has led me to the conclusion that strategic planning for e-learning may not be necessary in all cases and may not produce the results that proponents think it will.  I have seen far too many examples of strategic plans that don’t get implemented and too many examples of innovative e-learning happening in the absence of a strategic plan. Now I’m not suggesting that we should abandon planning altogether. I am not advocating a wild west approach where everybody does his or her own thing. What I am suggesting is that we need to be much more flexible in our thinking about this and accept that different contexts demand different approaches. A large mega-university such as the Indira Ghandi National Open University in India with 4 million students is going to require a much different approach to planning and managing e-learning than a small liberal arts institution like Amherst College in the United States with only 1,800 students.

I will have more to say about this later in the course and in our discussions but I wanted to raise this issue at the outset because I think you will find there is a very strong bias in favour of the centrally-planned approach to e-learning in many of the readings. Certainly the main text by Bates & Sangrà makes a strong case for this approach. I don’t think we should reject this approach but we do need to be much more mindful of the contexts in which we are working.(As an aside, I am not aware of any research that demonstrates clearly the value of strategic planning for e-learning. If you are aware of any, please let me know.)

My hope is that as you work through this course you will develop your own perspective on this issue and determine what you think is the best approach for the context in which you work. Regardless of the approach we adopt, institutions need to be ready for e-learning and this course is primarily about institutional readiness for e-learning and attempts to answer the question, what are the key factors that are needed in order to effectively implement e-learning in a higher education institution?


This Introduction provides a general overview of the course and all the logistical and administrative details including information about readings, resources, instructor information and more.

The course content is divided into six units:

Unit 1- Understanding E-Learning provides an introduction to the concept of e-learning, what it means, the rationales for using it, and an overview of some of the current and emerging technologies and the implications for teaching and learning.

Unit 2 -E-Learning Readiness  introduces the key readiness issues of organizational structure, planning, funding, IT infrastructure, faculty readiness, learner readiness and organizational culture and planning. Several of these issues are covered in more detail in units 3 and 4.

Unit 3 – Institutional Organization and Support examines various ways in which e-learning can be organized in higher education institutions. These include centralized and decentralized models, and “Do it Yourself” approaches. We also look at where e-learning fits in the organizational structure and hierarchy and how it is governed at an institutional level. Various funding models are also covered.

Unit 4 – Institutional Planning for E-Learning looks at institutional planning for e-learning and the strategic planning process.

Unit 4 – Government Planning for E-learning looks at government planning and policy for e-learning. Governments play a key role in public education and have the potential to have a significant impact on the use of e-learning. In this unit we examine the various approaches that governments use to plan for and influence the use of e-learning in higher education.

Unit 6 – Implementing E-Learning discusses different approaches to course and program development, learner and faculty support issues and faculty development.

Background to the Course

This course was originally developed for the graduate certificate in Technology-based Distributed Learning (TBDL) that was offered by the UBC Distance Education & Technology department from 1997-2002. Tony Bates was the primary author of the original version of the course. The course was revised in 2002 when the TBDL  was turned into the Master of Educational Technology and taken over by the Faculty of Education. Then in 2003 Mark Bullen took over responsibility for the course and made further revisions. Since then the course has been revised and updated on an annual basis. In 2014 Mark Bullen completed a major revision to the course.