521.4.1 – DLEs in rural areas

Authors: Ben Chaddock and Myrna Pokiak

We wish to start by bringing our thoughts to the 215 children forced to attend a residential school in Kamloops, BC, never to return home again (CBC News, 2021). This heartbreaking news is another reminder of the dark history of Canada’s maltreatment of First Nations peoples. The Residential School system will forever tarnish the history of our country and other maltreatments of the First Nations people across this great land.

The last Residential School closed in 1996 (Gray, 2021), but the healing will take generations. We would like to acknowledge that for many Dene, Metis, and Inuit peoples, the current school system continues to be a reminder of the pain and grief caused by past governments and religious organizations. During this most difficult moment, we can only wish that the spirits of the children find their way home, and the world takes notice to ensure such things never happen again.

In today’s post, Myrna and I explore the challenges surrounding the application of digital learning technology in rural communities. We decided to explore these challenges in the context of Canadian rural communities, including the Far North.

Many challenges are facing Canadians in our rural communities. With regards to education and the advent of digital technologies, there is a mix of positive and negative impacts. We have accumulated a list of these impacts and summarized the notes below. Suppose our goal is to aim towards a future where as many Canadians as possible have access to the tools and resources they need to achieve their personal, professional, and community goals. In that case, our ability to communicate our needs and carefully allocate our resources will contribute to achieving this equality of access in due time. In the meantime, great awareness needs to be taken by our education leaders to maximize the experience of our current student body.

Positive Impacts – things that are going well:

    • Attending educational programs from home communities
        • In areas where internet capacity is adequate, students can remain in the comfort of their home or community environment and participate in educational programs.
            • This can be helpful for children who still rely heavily on their parents or need support in balancing their academic studies with the rest of their day-to-day activities.
            • For example, remote learning students were able to get more sleep, reduce chatter or bullying, lower the stakes, and focus on the development of the whole student, and discover the power of self-pacing and self-determination (Fleming, 2020).
        • Teaching in Canada’s Far North is very challenging; yet, the number of schools has increased over the past 4 years, from 7 to 20 institutions (ECE, n.d.).
            • The Northern Distance Learning (NDL) program uses a blend of online and in-person high-school classes to help students access a greater variety of courses (ECE, n.d.).
            • At From East Three secondary school in Inuvik, NWT, classes of up to 20 students can participate at a time (ECE, n.d.).
            • Student success rates are promising (about 70% credit acquisition rate), and are made possible by strong relationships between students, teachers, and administrative staff (K12 SOTN, n.d.). The NDL illustrates how distance learning can help fill a need in the community given the right tools and resources.
      • Expand cross-cultural connection
          • Khoo (2019) frames digital learning not as a commodity, but as an aspect of a gift economy, whereby learners can interact and build connections with students and teachers outside their immediate social and cultural groups (34:17).

Negative Impacts – things that need more attention:

    • Limited Infrastructure:
        • Currently, only 45% of rural Canadians have access to high-speed internet (Broadband Fund, 2021).
        • Two financial projects have been announced to help bridge this gap, “the federal government’s $1.75-billion Universal Broad-band Fund and the CRTC’s $750-million Broadband Fund (Brownell, 2021).
        • However, Byron Holland, chief executive of CIRA suggests that $6-$12 billion is needed (Brownell, 2021).
        • This situation is attracting interest from large players in the communications sector, who are using this situation as a consolidation powerplay.
            • For example, “Rogers, one of the country’s largest service providers, recently promised to create a $1-billion fund to increase connectivity in remote, rural and Indigenous communities if its proposed takeover of Shaw Communications is allowed to go through” (Brownell, 2021).
        • Although digital infrastructure and broadband capacities have improved, consumers continue to increase their reliance on digital technologies. If consumer needs and use of the internet remain stable, then hardware infrastructure and broadband capacity may have a chance of catching up; however, until then, there will be a lag since current capacity already lags behind consumer need (White, 2020).
    • High cost of internet
        • The price and quality standard of internet access is also different in northern Canada (Latour, 2018).
        • For example, the internet provider Northwestel is currently able to provide 150 GB/month for $129. However, this marks an improvement with Northwestel offering just 100GB/month for the same price back in 2018. In comparison, that same year, Bell Canada offered Toronto customers unlimited monthly data for $50 a month (Levinson-King, 2019).
        • The Nunavut territory is the only region of Canada without access to fiber-optic internet. To reach the Canadian household average data usage, a Nunavut household would have to spend $7,000 annually, approximately 5-6 times more than the average (Tranter, 2021).
    • Cultural
        • To maximize the use of online learning technologies, greater attention needs to be placed in areas of curriculum design to “respect and build on aboriginal ways of learning. In fact, that might also benefit non-indigenous learners as well” (Bates, 2019).

It is in our nation’s best interest to create opportunities that maximize the creative and intellectual capacity of the peoples of this land. As more and more Canadians are required to use the internet for personal, professional, and educational activities, increasing access to the digital landscape will help us maximize the value each Canadian can share with their community (Canadian Internet Use Survey, 2019). Improved internet infrastructure will aid in this goal. Until then, support for programs that blend online tools with in-person learning will help young Canadians reach their academic goals. With regards to educational design, administrators need to strongly consider the needs and limitations of our rural learners and incorporate alternatives into curriculum structure and assessment resources.  For example, eLearning programs should include access to printed materials. Moreover, digital tools should be used as a supplemental resource, not a replacement for professional and caring teachers in each community. Using a combination of communication and consideration, together, we can innovate and build towards an educational experience that helps all Canadians reach their creative potential (Kuu, 2019).


Bates, T. (2019, March 3) Why are there few online programs in Canada’s Far North? https://bit.ly/3i6ciXk

Broadband Fund (2021, March 19). Canadian Radio and Television Communication: Broadband Fund Closing the Digital Divide Canada. Retrieved May 30, 2021, from https://bit.ly/3i50Hb6

Brownell, C. (2021, April 8). The pandemic has exposed Canada’s internet problem. Maclean’s: Technology. https://bit.ly/34tNpga

Canadian Internet Use Survey (2019, October 29). Statistics Canada. Retrieved May 30th, 2021, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/191029/dq191029a-eng.htm

Education, Culture, and Employment (n.d.) Northern Distance Learning. Government of Northwest Territories. https://bit.ly/3gc5kO7

Flags on federal buildings to be lowered in memory of Kamloops residential school victims. (2021, May 30). Canadian Broadcast Corporation: Politics. https://bit.ly/3yPf4pS

Fleming, N. (2020, April 24) Why Are Some Kids Thriving During Remote Learning? Edutopia. https://edut.to/3yR4ChG

Gray, B (2021) Digital Detox 5: The Harm Was Always There. https://bit.ly/2RWLu11

Gray, B (2021) Digital Detox 6: Build Back Better. https://bit.ly/3vCRSci

Internet Performance Test (n.d.) CIRA. Retrieved May 30th, 2021, from https://performance.cira.ca/

ISED National Broadband Internet Service Map (2021, March 25). Government of Canada. Retrieved May 30th, 2021, from https://www.ic.gc.ca/app/sitt/bbmap/hm.html?lang=eng

Khoo, Su-Ming. (2019, April 11). Openings: bounded (in) equities: entangled lives. [Video]. YouTube. https://bit.ly/34tGX97

K12 State of the Nation. (n.d.) NWT Northern Distance Learning Program. State of the Nation. https://bit.ly/3c4Q6sQ

Latour, J (2018, August 23). Canada’s north deserves a better internet. CIRA. https://bit.ly/2SHO2Qu

Levinson-King, R. (2019, September 9). Huawei heats up the battle for internet in Canada’s north. BBC News Toronto. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-49415867

Tranter, E. (2021, January 24). Deeply disturbing: Nunavut internet is still slower, more costly than the rest of the country. CTV News. https://bit.ly/3p313jK

White, E. (2020, October 20). After decades of promises for better northern internet, progress has been made — and the promises keep coming. Canadian Broadcast Corporation: Sudbury. https://bit.ly/2RZjgmn

521.3.2 – Reading Reflections

Originally published May 31, 2021. Backdated for public readers.

As I alluded to in my last blog, in Unit 3, we explored different educational methods and their respective strengths and weaknesses. In today’s reflection, I wish to outline the more significant structures at play so that you can also acknowledge such designs in your learning environments.

There are three major teaching philosophies or epistemologies:

    • Behaviourism
    • Cognitivism
    • Constructivism

Aside: Most interestingly, this unit’s reading proposed a 4th and new teaching philosophy, Connectivism, whereby learners optimize digital tools and maximize a learner-centred approach through social discourse.

John Watson’s theory of Behaviorism, influenced by Vladimir Bekhterev and Ivan Pavlov, proposed that learning results from external stimuli (Sprouts, 2020; Amin, 2017). For today’s discussion, this model is also considered a “teacher-based” approach. Examples include learning environments that rely heavily on lectures and assignments crafted by the teacher.

Cognitivism instead shifts the emphasis to the learner and explores the “thought process behind the behaviour” (Amin, 2017). Examples include the work of Jean Piaget, who hypothesized children build an understanding of the world through their senses, from breastfeeding to inductive reasoning, and this scaffolding or schema helps them understand how to interact with the world in a productive manner (Cherry, 2020). Alternatively, Lev Vygotsky believed that each generated passed down learning and that cognitive development could only be understood when social and cultural contexts were considered (Cheery, 2020). Cognitive theory presupposes that people make decisions based on logic, informed by information and memories (Amin, 2017). Therefore, although cognitivism lends well to the learner-centred approach, now held in high regard by academic intellectuals, it lacks an appreciation for the emotional component of learning.

Constructivism accommodates this need and incorporates both an appreciation for logic and humanistic elements (Amin, 2017). As a result, constructivist learning models believe that willfulness, creativity, and autonomy help learners accumulate knowledge in a meaningful way, improving retention, and inspiring interest to learn more (Amin, 2017).

This is where our Unit 3 readings jump in! We explored five different impact structures that our MALAT professors will be using to help facilitate our learning during this distance-education program: groups, nets, set, communities, and collectives.

      • Groups
          • According to Dron & Anderson (2014), groups may vary in size (dyads of 2, demes of 30, or tribes of up to 150) and are closed off to others. Dan Coyle (2010) discussed the benefits of the group and how it can help participants attend their sports practice and engage in deep learning in his book, The Talent Code.
          • Examples include the master/apprentice dyad, grade school class size, grad school seminar size, and project teams like our recent MALAT debate. When building cohesion in the group, leaders can use the work of Tuckman (1965) to help participants understand their role and how they can best contribute before adjourning in preparation for the next group activity.
          • Leaders and participants should remain vigilant to help avoid groupthink caused by “structural (insulation, impartial leadership, lack of methodological procedure, homogeneity across the group) or social (stress of external threats, recent failures, difficulty in decision-making, moral dilemmas) challenges” (Dron & Anderson, 2014, 2014. p. 115).
      • Networks
          • Conversely, networks are open to the public and feature a flexible membership that carries a mix of both strong and weak ties between participants (Oddone, 2016). Examples include discussion forums on the internet, social media websites, and perhaps in a more analog form, even the public library.
          • As a result, networks are very learner-centred, and self-determination is required to discover new information and consolidate conceptual frameworks (Oddone, 2016). This allows for the egocentric needs of the learner and can spark innovation in their field of interest (Oddone, 2016).
          • Veletsianos (2016) describes a network as a bounded system where people use a public or semi-public profile to build a list of friends or connections, and network connections can openly view that list (e.g. Facebook or LinkedIn).
      • Sets
          • To help narrow the overwhelmingly vast amount of information on the public web, sets, like data sets, help learners chose and sort through relevant information and acquire knowledge in a more productive manner (Dron & Anderson, 2014).
          • For example, think of hashtags on Twitter whereby users can drive into a topic or thread with greater efficiency. As a result, sets may contribute to stronger ties between participants, a topic we discuss further when defining communities (Dron & Anderson, 2014).

In summary, Dron & Anderson (2014) illustrate groups, nets, and sets and their respective modalities using the following Venn diagram (p.83).

Shifting the scope of our discussion from the 1,000-foot view to the 10,000-foot view, let us now explore the final two impact structures, Collectives and Communities.

    • Figure 3.1: Social forms for learning: Sets, nets, and groups (Dron & Anderson, 2014, P.73)


        • Collectives are an environment composed of people’s actions and their products (Dron & Anderson, 2014). For example, rating systems like eBay reviews or Facebook Likes organize information from various users to increase productivity.
        • In the right circumstances, they can “replicate or even improve upon the organizational value of groups, networks, and sets without the overhead of group processes, and take on many of the roles of a teacher” (Dron & Anderson, 2014, p.199).
        • However, collectives are susceptible to the Matthew effect, whereby users who submit reviews or likes first will significantly impact the likelihood of future ratings. Examples of the Mathew effect include people who vote in elections early, people who decided to like or not like a post when it is immediately published, and people who first submit an eBay or Google review for a new business. The input of those early users weighs more heavily than later users (Dron & Anderson, 2014); therefore, deliberate manipulation, loss of teacher and learner control, lack of pedagogical intent, and shifting contents can all impact the effectiveness of collectives (Ferreira-Meyers, 2015).
    •  Communities
          • Although some readers may be confused about how the attributes of a group and community differ in the context of online learning environments, as I was for a few weeks, Dron & Anderson (2014) define communities as intersections between the above impact structures.
          • A Community of Practice occurs at the intersection between the group and network environment. For example, such a ‘cluster’ may include many people who “share a purpose, practice, and often location, but [no]… explicit hierarchies, exclusions, and roles of a more defined group [exist]” (Dron & Anderson, 2014. p.80).
          • A Community of Interest, or Tribe, exists at the intersection of a group and a set. This can include a closed group of people who are “often bound by the interest in a topic more than by the group itself, although this may change in time” (Dron & Anderson, 2014. p.80). An example from the world of sport would be a Vancouver Canucks fan group or even a fantasy hockey league, whereby participants may come and go in time. Moreover, if the group agreed, they may switch their interests entirely to another sport.
          • The Circle, or your circle of friends, exists at the intersection between a network and a set (Dron & Anderson, 2014). For example, your friend group may expand and contract as circles of friends change or even combine. Within your circle of friends, invitations to specific events (concerts) are more casual than the traditionally defined ‘group,’ and the choice to attend the event is yours and yours alone (Dron & Anderson, 2014).
          • Indeed, there are many ways to define communities, and in digital spaces, Henri & Pudelko (2003) argue group cohesion is the critical factor in their four definitions.
                • Communities of interest
                • Goal‐oriented communities of interest
                • Learners’ communities, and
                • Communities of practice (COP), defined by Wenger (1998) as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (2). Furthermore, Wenger (1998) argues COP’s include three components:
                      • Mutual engagement (activities that promote social bonding),
                      • Negotiation of a joint enterprise (build something together),
                      • A shared repertoire (of tools and abilities).
          • Conversely, Riel and Polin (2004) identify three types of learning communities:
                • task‐based
                • practice‐based, and
                • knowledge‐based
  • Many factors drive the effectiveness of learning environments. When creating a distance-education curriculum in the digital space, teachers must carefully consider the ‘impact structure’ and curriculum design. Each learner will have their learning preferences, whether they prefer a teacher-based method with solid instruction, a learner-based method with greater freedom, or perhaps a social-based method found in Collectivism, but that is for another day.

In conclusion, I would like to illustrate the differences between groups, networks, and sets using the work of Dron & Anderson (2014). Building upon Paulson’s (2003) model of cooperative freedom (time, place, content, medium, pace, and access), they extrapolated ‘access’ into technology, method, relationship, delegation, and disclosure, increasing the number of metrics from 5 to 10 (Dron & Anderson, 2014). As a result, the cooperative freedom model illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of groups, networks, and sets in the context of a digital learning environment.

Figure 4.1: Notional cooperative freedom in groups (Dron & Anderson, 2014. p.99)
Figure 5. 1: Notional cooperative freedom in networks (Dron & Anderson, 2014. p.138)
Figure 6.1: Notional cooperative freedom in sets (Dron & Anderson, 2014. p.172)

These differences are fascinating and serve as a great introduction to our Unit 3 debate topic: Are digital learning environments equal? According to Veletsianos (2016), “teaching a group might require different instructional and assessment strategies than facilitating learning in a network” (p. 246), which seems apparent given the illustrations above. However, how do we define the word equal? And if definitions differ, who is more accurate? Instead, perhaps, as we discovered today, it is the careful definition of language that will help us arrive at a shared understanding and maximizes the use of the tools available.

Stay tuned for updates from the debate.


Amin, Z. A. (2017, October 15). Learning Process: Behaviorism, Cognitivism and Constructivism. Slideshare. https://bit.ly/3wJRXuR

Cherry, K. (2020, March 31). The 4 Stages of Cognitive Development. Verywellmind.com. https://bit.ly/3uII6Ew

Cherry, K. (2020, April 16). A Biography of Lev Vygotsky, One of the Most Influential Psychologists. Verywellmind.com. https://bit.ly/34zz6H6

Coyle, D. (2010). The Talent Code. Arrow Books.

Dron, J, & Anderson, T. (2014). Teaching Crowds. Athabasca University Press.

Henri, F., & Pudelko, B. (2003). Understanding and analyzing activity and learning in virtual communities. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19(4), 472–487.

Oddone, K. (2018, January 21). PLNs: Theory and Practice. linkinglearning.com. https://bit.ly/3uwHilS

Ferreira-Meyers, K. (2015). Dron, Jon and Terry Anderson (2014). Teaching Crowds – Learning and Social Media, Edmonton: AU Press. Journal of Learning for Development2(2). Retrieved from https://jl4d.org/index.php/ejl4d/article/view/123

Paulsen, M. (2003). Online education and learning management systems: global e-learning in a Scandinavian perspective. Information Retrieval. https://bit.ly/3wPTaB9

Riel, Margaret & Polin, Linda. (2004). Learning Communities: Common Ground and Critical Differences in Designing Technical Support. DOI:10.1017/CBO9780511805080.006.

Sprouts. (2020, April 20). Watson’s Theory of Behaviourism [VIDEO]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/V09FuazW8bc

Tuckman, B. (1965) Development Sequence in Small Groups. Psychological Bulletin. Volume 63, No. 6, 384-399. Naval Medical Research Institute, Bethesda, Maryland. https://bit.ly/3wMneO4

Veletsianos, G. (2016). Digital learning environments. In N. Rushby & D. Surry (Eds), Handbook of Learning Technologies (pp. 242-260). UK: John Wiley & Sons.

Wenger (1998) Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press. DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511803932

521.3.1 – Visual Network Mapping

Originally published May 31, 2021. Backdated for public readers.

In today’s post, I am exploring a visual representation of my network connections. I started with a basic drawing illustrating the numerous groups and networks I have been involved in throughout my life. I then contrast that understanding with a more sophisticated representation of my connections powered by Kumu and data from my LinkedIn profile.

The hand-drawn illustration was an interesting, albeit quick, way to wrap my mind around how the groups and networks I engage with are interconnected. Although it is now represented in chronological order, with my family and grade school connections at the top and the more recent connections lower down, I find it interesting that in my first draft, I started in the present moment, building back from my current position as an employee of Cycling BC. I also represented unexpected changes or non-traditional career paths by perpendicular changes in the flow of the connection bubbles. For example, jumping into university or professional cycling represented a large shift in my life plan. However, I have been fortunate to build a wonderful collection of contacts throughout my studies and professional activities, the quality and interconnectedness of which is difficult to illustrate in a hand-drawing.

Next up is the Kumu-powered visualization of my social networks and groups. Although it did not turn out as I was hoping, it did illustrate how my social network has grown chronologically. Whether it is because I exported the incorrect dataset from my LinkedIn profile or did not manually input enough tags for each member of my community, Kumu does illustrate how my network has changed based on the date of new connections.

Since networks are classified as open and free to join, yet LinkedIn requires you to ‘approve’ connection requests, in LinkedIn a network? Or perhaps an intersection between a network and a group, also known as a Community of Practice (Dron & Anderson, 2014).

What do you think?

To learn more about the definitions of the above terms, please review my most recent post here.


Dron, J, & Anderson, T. (2014). Teaching Crowds. Athabasca University Press.