An e-learning initiative is underway across municipalities in Canada, allowing employees to have access to over 1,300 technical and business courses online.
Dubbed eUniversity, the program was initiated by the British Columbia chapter of the Municipal Information Systems Association (MISA BC) in February, and later extended to other MISA chapters across Canada.
To date, 26 municipalities have signed up for the eUniversity program, said Colin Redwood, chair of the education committee at MISA BC.
Vancouver-based online learning provider Chalk Media is providing the learning content management system for the eUniversity portal. MISA BC signed a three-year commitment with Chalk Media to run the municipal e-learning system, said Redwood, who is also manager of information services at the Corporation of Delta, a municipality in B.C.
Redwood said the online learning tool has provided big benefits to certain municipalities, especially those in remote locations, which would have otherwise required staff to travel to city centres in order to get training.
“We don’t think that the e-learning is really a substitute for other kinds of courses, but it does have some real advantages in complementing more traditional courses in a sense that people can do it at their own time,” Redwood said.
The portal has two components, said Redwood. The first one provides access to Mind Leader courses, which range from technical programs, including courses on Linux, Novell, Microsoft and Cisco technologies, to end-user business skills development.
The second component involves tools that allow users to develop their own courses, with the possibility of sharing those courses with other municipalities that may find need for them, said Redwood.
The course-sharing aspect across municipalities may be the easy part. According to Redwood, it’s the actual course development by municipalities that can be challenging.
Although the feature for developing custom courses is available (a fire department in B.C. has already developed its own course through the tool), Redwood said there hasn’t been many takers.
“We would like to see some courses developed if we can find someone to step forward and put the effort into developing the course material,” said Redwood, adding that the work involved is usually purely voluntary.
To access the eUniversity portal, municipalities would have to sign up and purchase licences through MISA BC for the Mind Leader courses. A minimum number of licences is prescribed for municipalities signing up, which would depend on municipal population, said Redwood.
For instance, municipalities with a population of less than 10,000 may get a minimum of one licence, while municipalities with a population of more than 100,000 would need a minimum of 10 licenses, a statement from the MISA Ontario Web site indicated.
The eUniversity can be an affordable option for municipalities to provide training to employees, said Redwood. He explained that although a licence can only be assigned to one user at a given time, the agreement with Chalk Media allows the municipality to re-assign the license so that once a user completes a course, the training administrator can simply deactivate the user and re-assign the license to someone else.
Sharing the cost of the e-learning system was also a big driver for extending the eUniversity portal beyond MISA BC to other Canadian municipalities, said Vic Morcom, who was one of the proponents of the e-learning tool.
“Because it’s on the Web it just makes sense (to extend the service), so the more people involved the more we share the cost; so we drive the cost down by sharing,” said Morcom, who has since retired as manager of information services at the City of Abbotsford in B.C.
Morcom said the ability for user-developed courses was one of the business requirements for the e-learning portal from the beginning.
For the e-learning system to work within municipalities, however, it needs the support of the HR department, which is usually in charge of staff training, said Morcom.