Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT)

The members of the Blended and Online Learning Task Force produced this draft SWOT Analysis on 11 March 2013, based on experience within the group and on various external and internal background materials that have been assembled for the Task Force.  These materials include a survey of department heads that was conducted in February/March 2013.  The Task Force is sharing this SWOT analysis with the university community from mid-March to mid-April for feedback and comment.  We are seeking suggestions regarding the future direction of blended and online learning at the University of Manitoba.  Feedback, comments, and suggestions may be made at one of the meetings we attend, at one of the focus groups we are holding, on the 'Comments' section of this posting, or by emailing 

A printable version of the following SWOT for Engagement Process (as at March 22nd) can be found here.


  1. Many faculty members are already committed by way of involvement and/or support to engage in fully online learning.
  2. 50%+ of respondents to a survey of Heads believe there will be an increase in blended and/or fully online learning offerings on campus. 
  3. The University of Manitoba has recently introduced a new learning management system (Desire2Learn: D2L), which is more integrated and robust than earlier systems. The University will soon have only one learning management system rather than two once Angel is discontinued.
  4. At least one successful blended learning course (Psychology) has been launched so the University has implemented blended learning and done it well.  The Division of Extended Education, through its Distance and Online Education unit, has offered two courses in blended format and has worked with international partners in blended learning.
  5. 33% of Continuing Education courses in Extended Education are offered in fully online or blended format. 
  6. Some units (Dentistry, Nursing, and Social Work, for example, appear to be thinking about the strategic mix of various delivery modes).
  7. The University of Manitoba ranks 3rd among ten Canadian Virtual University (CVU) dual-mode institutions with respect to the percentage of curriculum offered fully online (8%), behind Thompson Rivers (20%) and Memorial (11%).  UM also ranks 2nd among those CVU universities in undergraduate registrations in fully online courses, and 3rd in the total number of students taking fully online courses.  22% of the undergraduate student credit hours in the Faculty of Arts are in fully online or blended format.
  8. Student demand remains high for fully online courses: 22% of UM undergraduate students took a fully online course in Winter 2012 (8150 students in Summer 2011, Fall 2011, and Winter 2012).
  9. Extended Education funds the infrastructure for the development and delivery of fully online courses offered in partnership with other academic units for the development.  Extended Education does not currently provide support for blended courses, although it has developed blended courses in conjunction with Graduate Studies.
  10. 70%+/- of summer-session students surveyed in 2012 indicated they would be interested in taking courses in a blended format.
  11. The median course completion rate for fully online courses offered through Extended Education is 86%.
  12. There is good research and scholarship on online and blended learning within the University.
  13. The University has a mandate to serve the entire province, as well as an accessibility mandate. Online and blended learning provide geographic as well as temporal accessibility to courses.
  14. There is senior-level interest in and support for the development of a blended and online learning strategy.
  15. Quality control in fully online courses is well established, and courses and programs completed wholly or partly online have parity with face-to-face courses.  The delivery method for UM courses in not listed on transcripts.
  16. We have a variety of services in various units that can be marshaled to provide more systematic support for blended and fully online delivery, including: 
    • Copyright office
    • Information Services and Technology
    • University Teaching Services
    • Access and Privacy Office
    • Extended Education
    • Libraries
    • Academic Learning Centre

  1. There appear to be embedded notions in some parts of the university, including some faculty and students, that face-to-face learning is superior to blended or online, but without supporting evidence.  (Indeed, the research suggests otherwise.)  Face-to-face delivery is perceived as the norm, however, while fully online and blended are perceived as the “other.”
  2. A number of Heads (and perhaps, therefore, departments) have no interest in participating in either online or blended learning, as suggested in a survey of Heads.
  3. Many people in the university community do not understand what blended or online learning involves, and do not have the information to make decisions
  4. Desire2Learn, the new learning management system, has a number of limitations, including its interface, the lack of flexibility for users to rearrange its components, and the limited amount of data that can currently be extracted from it.
  5. Support for course delivery across all modes (varieties of face to face, blended, fully online) is fragmented and uncoordinated.  D2L, classroom-technology, and other digital infrastructure is supported by Information Services and Technology (VP Admin side); physical infrastructure is supported by Physical Plant (VP Admin side); face-to-face and some blended delivery is supported by University Teaching Services (Provost side); and fully online support is from Extended Education (Provost side).
  6. There are a limited number of classrooms with the technology or configuration to engage fully in blended learning opportunities (making use of the connections between the online and face-to-face components of a specific course).
  7. The University of Manitoba is very weak in blended and online program delivery at the graduate level. Face-to-face delivery is even more embedded at this level than at the undergraduate level.
  8. There are different budget and teaching models for fully online delivery, on the one hand, and face-to-face and blended delivery on the other, largely because fully online delivery is through Extended Education (with some exceptions).  There may be a financial incentive for units to offer distance education courses—including fully online courses—through Extended Education, which does not exist for face-to-face or blended courses. “Regular” teaching is face-to-face delivery from September to April.  Fully online teaching through Extended Education is usually considered to be overload teaching for regular faculty.  As a result, most fully online delivery is by sessional staff.
  9. Teaching in fully online or blended formats may not be considered comparable to face-to-face teaching in tenure and promotion procedures.
  10. Instructors may not have experience with blended or online learning, and there is no substantive, systematic training for teachers in any mode (varieties of face-to-face, blended, fully online).
  11. Our use of blended and fully online delivery modes is not as strategic as it could or should be, although some units (Dentistry, Nursing, and Social Work, for example) appear to be thinking about the strategic mix of various delivery modes.
  12. We may not provide sufficient support to students in our blended or online learning classes. There should be more information and supports available to help students succeed. Many students enter online courses for convenience, but with little understanding of the unique challenges.
  13. IT systems with multiple login requirements, with complex or limited capability for shifting content across systems, and which are viewed as too confusing push faculty to use friendlier external systems such as Facebook and Dropbox, but which involve increased institutional risk including possible privacy violations.
  14. There may be a lack of understanding across the university about copyright issues in blended and online learning environments.
  15. We do not have dedicated institutional research capacity to conduct comparative analyses of learning outcomes, student satisfaction, costs, and other matters across multiple delivery modes (fully online, blended, and varieties of face-to-face).
  16. We do not have university-level policies and procedures governing multiple modes of course and program delivery.


  1. Blended and online learning can be a platform for a global classroom. 
  2. Flexibility and accessibility for students.
  3. Demographics are changing. The fastest growing group of young people in Manitoba is Aboriginal, many of whom are located in the North. The University of Manitoba has a mandate to serve the whole province and must be willing to get out into the communities, especially in relation to Indigenous Achievement, to serve this population.  Adult learners over age 25 are another growing demographic with accessibility challenges (full-time work and family responsibilities).
  4. Blended and online learning provide the opportunity to develop the skills and capabilities students require to succeed in, and critically engage with, digitally networked environments.
  5. Blended learning provides the opportunity to combine the best pedagogical approaches from face-to-face and online delivery.
  6. There are many potential alumnae who may be interested in various learning opportunities through online education from the University of Manitoba rather than other institutions, if the option is available to them.
  7. This would be an opportune time to move blended and online learning into graduate studies. There is great opportunity to build capacity for graduate online degrees because of our strong brand, particularly in the province.
  8. Increasing our blended and online delivery could lower physical infrastructure costs.
  9. There is an opportunity for the University of Manitoba to provide leadership in how technologies can be used in blended and online learning.
  10. We have leading national and global subject-matter expertise in many academic areas, which we can share with the world through online education.
  11. Our technological infrastructure to support online learning is strong.
  12. Many students are better wired than in the past, and we are not utilizing the incredible computer power we have in the classroom with laptop computers and various mobile devices.
  13. There are potentially better learning outcomes for students in blended formats.


  1. Beyond Campus Manitoba (a consortium of Manitoba public universities and colleges providing online courses, with some administrative and technological infrastructure provided by COPSE), there is no provincial strategy for funding or developing blended and online programs.
  2. Increasing global and national competition to recruit students to study in fully online or blended learning formats, particularly at the graduate level.
  3. External regulatory bodies may not recognize some online or blended credentials.
  4. Students outside of urban areas may have technical limitations/ infrastructure that reduce their access to learning management systems and other online systems and resources.
  5. The fastest growing population in Manitoba is Aboriginal, and many do not live in Winnipeg. We need to address their needs.
  6. Some students may have a lack of skills using software developed for blended and online learning.
  7. Faculty members are using external systems because of superior functionality and easy of use compared to our own systems, but which involve increased institutional risk including possible privacy violations.



  1. I have read through your points on strengths, weaknesses, and threats and note a oversight. Isn't anyone thinking about the problems of developing appropriate content to effectively launch on-line and blended modules? Problems involved might include:

    1. time commitments and how development of material will be remunerated and facilitated through course breaks.
    2. duplication of effort within a department
    3. technical assistance to develop material that takes advantage of computer mediated delivery.

    It's nice set up committees to think about what may prove to be a popular and effective pedagogical strategy, but what kind of resources is the U of M prepared to devote to this exercise to make it a serious undertaking.

  2. The support of a division of instructional designers, visible & readily available will be needed to assist faculty to see and understand what is possible, engage in the process, package their content and create the experience. Instructional design support informs IT and systems requirements. Individuals with this background are not present on Bannatyne campus.

  3. Thank you both for your feedback. Your contributions keep the conversation moving along!

  4. Thank you both for your feedback. Your contributions keep the conversation moving along!

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