Created in 1996 by the Québec school board network along with the Ministry of Education of Québec, SOFAD offers a variety of distance learning resources to students enrolled in Adult Education and in Vocational Training. Although SOFAD is an independent non-profit organization, it is governed by representatives of the school board network that created it. It employs 30 full-time staff and uses the services of more than 200 external suppliers. SOFAD is known for being a key partner of the Ministry of Education of Québec.
SOFAD works with every school board in Québec. Since it is not a school, students are required to register in their local school board and are under the supervision of a school board teacher. SOFAD also offers learning resources in both French and English available for purchase on an e-commerce website (http://www.sofad.qc.ca). The learning resources offered by SOFAD are as follows:
- Printed learning guides and their online interactive version, combined with online digital learning resources. All these resources can be purchased by schools or by students through the e-commerce website and can be used through portailsofad.
- A variety of specialized online learning resources, that can be purchased and accessed through the website.
SOFAD also designs and develops customized online learning resources for several other organizations including the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, Québec College of Nurses, Québec College of Medical Specialists, Télé-Québec, Québec Manufacturers and Exporters.
In 2000, SOFAD began offering online courses in response to the increased use of technology in distance education and, in 2003, it introduced customized services to businesses and organizations with specific needs in the area of training, evaluation and staff certification, becoming a key player in different sectors outside of education in both Québec and Canada. The e-learning access portal, eduSOFAD, is currently being replaced with a brand new portal called portailsofad.
All courses are entirely self-paced and asynchronous. The courses provide students with all the material, assignments, tools, and resources (e.g., a planner, a learning log, a self-evaluation activity) needed to complete the objectives independently. The material is presented in a multimedia environment that allows interaction between the students and the teachers, immediate explanations, and feedback. During the online learning, students can check their progress through several methods that are part of the course structure. The time allowed to finish a course can vary based on the school board, but is generally fixed at about six months.
SOFAD approves institutional course requests once payment is made, and creates an admin login for the institution that provides access to an interface with access codes to online courses and digital books, the institution then assigns these access codes and books to learners. They may also assign a trainer or tutor to each of the learners registered in an online course. The catalog page list courses offered as well as a description and short demo of the course. The e-book catalog page lists the digital documents available, and a click on the title of a book provides a description.
Three types of learners can take advantage of SOFAD’s online courses and services:
- Learners enrolled in distance education with a school board;
- Learners enrolled in an establishment of a school board; or
- Independent learners who wish to pursue a subject on their own without registering with a school board.
The online courses offered by SOFAD provide for interaction with multimedia and interactive content, in some situations there is interaction with other learners or with the trainer. Whether the learner is registered remotely or in an institution, the role of the tutor and the trainer are roles of facilitator, caregiver, support for learning. There is a formal exam for learners in institutions, and evaluative assessments are under the responsibility of the school boards. Independent learners are not required to take a formal examination unless arranged by a school board institution.