Heritage Christian Online School is British Columbia’s largest distributed learning programme when you count student numbers by full-time equivalent. Over the last ten years we have grown into a full service provider on a number of levels in BC. Our full time enrolment is well over 2,000. Every year we cross-enrol over 3,000 students from nearly every high school. We develop our own online course content and license to schools across Canada, both public and independent—so we assumed that we could easily work in other provinces, particularly our neighbor to the east. We have found in our two provinces greater differences in systems and standards than we first thought.
Alberta is as different from BC in how it approaches education as Canada is to the United States. On the surface we look the same. In terms of representative student enrolment, we are the two western provinces that have been at the top of online education for years in our country. There is the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol that is supposed to be aligning our curriculum. But, alas, we are still so very far from each other. Since we started two years ago we have been on a steep learning curve. Some of the key differences are found below.
Alberta is good at developing a relational leadership approach with its schools and divisions. BC is focused far more on regulation. We have had to look a lot harder to find out the regulations, learning outcomes and management systems in Alberta. In BC everything is spelled out on the Web. Yet, we have found that Alberta Education works more closely with its schools in their budgeting, developing three year plans and providing guidance with much less regulation.
BC has led the way because it has regulated distributed learning so that school districts and independent boards know what to do to get started and follow the rules. Alberta has moved a bit more slowly because of three factors:
- The grandfathering of unique conditions for Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC) has made it difficult for start-up programmes in various school divisions and the private schools. This is changing as those unique conditions for ADLC are being removed.
- ADLC has adopted a much more blended approach to learning than what is found in British Columbia, which has focused more on the total distance learning student.
- Perhaps a third reason that Alberta Education has developed distance learning educational policy more slowly would be the well developed and resourced traditional home schooling movement in Alberta. In British Columbia, many homeschoolers transitioned to distributed learning because that is where the resources were.
Private schools have not aggressively embraced distributed learning, but we believe it will become a new frontier in Alberta. Heritage had to have a campus in Alberta before we were allowed to start online. There is considerable concern that we are just importing a BC programme—this is of course, not the case. We are now working closely with an Alberta based non-profit that is running the campus programme. We have started Alberta Christian Online School and are working with students all over the province. Instead of a programme that has multiple regulations that can almost stifle innovation, we are working closely to shape our distributed learning programmes with Alberta Education to fit them into the organization’s expectations.