Do you speak Spanish, yet?

I was reading MacLean’s magazine last night and came across an advertising supplement for distance learning in Canada. Several pages of writing and numerous advertisments – not one mention of New Brunswick or New Brunswick post secondary education institutions (or advertisments).

It’s times like these that I really start to feel old. It doesn’t seem that long ago – maybe 1996-1997 that I was sitting in a room in Fredericton and the speaker was saying that the next ‘call centre’ style growth industry in New Brunswick was to be e-Learning (or Web-based learning). He said that thousands of people would be employed in good jobs doing content develpment, graphic design, software development, content translation/localization, etc. New Brunswick was to lead the world.

Now, not even a mention in a MacLean’s article. What happened? Where did the promise of e-Learning go?

Some say it left with Rory McGreal. Some say it was the dot.com meltdown. Some say it was a political failure – the 1999 Tories had no interest in e-Learning.

On a side note, whatever happened to Bernard Lord’s one foray into e-Learning? Remember? All of our kids were going to take Spanish via e-Learning because Lord said our future was not only being bilingual – it was being trilingual. Does anybody know if that course is still running? Has the vision of a Spanish New Brunswick gone the way of the Dodo? Maybe that should be worked into the terms of reference for Lord’s new language commission.

But I digress.

I would say that it was a multifaceted problem. The poster yesterday was right when he/she implied that most of the industry’s work was for government clients. But that’s not a bad model – the Ottawa model – use government contracts to get good at something and then take it to the world.

Certainly the 1999 Tories didn’t seem to be interested in ‘sector’ development – but if you think it through – most of the McKenna efforts beyond call centres were mostly smoke and mirrors too.

I hate to sound like a broken record but the only e-Learning firm that has survived from the early 1990s was the large multinational player – SkillSoft (formerly SmartForce) in Fredericton.

That, essentially, was the problem. We based the sector development strategy on a bunch of small, local firms with almost no cash, virtually no clients outside New Brunswick and no real niche in the market. So when the sector hit the early 2000s downturn – they all collapsed. As for the post secondary institutions, I never thought they had any real interest in e-Learning and were not really interested in it. Sure you can take some courses through ‘distance’ education in New Brunswick – but we are nothing compared to Athabasca or some of the others.

There was a small, private online university in Freddy but that too went out of business.

If we had to do it over again, here would be my advice:

Focus a considerable amount of R&D funding into the sector (technology/usability at UNB, language/localization at UdeM, etc.).

Attract a number of large, global players (Ireland, India, California and Alberta are good target markets) to seed the industry.

Use NB as a testbed for e-Learning usage – in the colleges, universities, private sector, etc.

Government plays a lead role in usage (not just that silly Spanish course).

Our education system should have started churning out specialists for the sector.

It’s too late now – most likely. Once again, we were leapfrogged by several other jurisdictions.

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0 Responses to Do you speak Spanish, yet?

  1. nbt says:

    “New Brunswick was to lead the world.”

    And you kept a straight face? Man, you really got to sit in more rooms (outside the province). lol

    On a serious note, not to sound like Ron Paul when it comes to his immigration policy, but I think if we had a stronger economy, laptops or e-learning wouldn’t even be an issue because the demand for wireless technology would increase as more educated people migrated into province in search of high paying positions with no bureacratic strings attached. In other words, the trickle down effect from having more educated individuals entering the province due to a strong economy (private sector) would benefit all demographics and income levels as technology would be more widely available.

    At the moment, with out-migration the way it is (and education levels low), there is a trickle up effect where demand has decreased due to the numbers using, or in this case, not using technology. They have brought the province down to their level.

    Reminds me of a few years back when a college buddy of mine got married in Spaniards Bay Newfoundland and two days straight his cousins from Toronto (who worked on Bay street) were complaing about having no access to wireless or cell phone coverage. It was like it was the end of the world.

    To a certain extent it was, they [his cousins] got to leave and continue on with business as usual while the people of that region continued to be a burden for the rest of the province due to their inability to access everday technology. It’s almost like not having a telephone in the mid 70s.

  2. mikel says:

    Come on NBT, can you spell ‘bollocks’. You think educated people sit around saying ‘hmm, well, there are only PUBLIC sector jobs here so I’m really not interested’.

    Downtown Fredericton was among the first areas to have public wi fi. Fredericton is a public sector town, meanwhile Saint John and Moncton are the leading private sector information technology sectors and they’ve got bubkus for wi fi.

    That all came to downtown fredericton because the bureaucrats wanted it, not the private sector. In Saint John they’ve barely got a few areas with wi fi.

    It’s fine to have an agenda but really, when it colours EVERYTHING then you just miss reality. Newfoundland is no different than anywhere else, if you don’thave the population, then you don’t get the service.

    It’s the same in northern ontario, which is about ten years behind southern ontario and where you can barely get cellphone coverage in most places.

    It is a serious problem, rural new brunswickers have complained for years, but the government set to work to set up southern new brunswick and then let it die. Most rural areas have to pay a fortune just for hi speed internet.

    Meanwhile, in the US, the USDA, one of the biggest departments in the states, is taking to getting wireless to rural areas. In Canada the federal government doesn’t say a word about it, and anybody waiting for the Department of Agriculture to make wi fi a priority will be waiting awhile.