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blended learning

Online tools like two-way video conferencing, an interactive SMART board and a learning management system allow heavy duty equipment technician apprentices get their accreditation while staying in their communities.

A new blended learning approach at the College of the North Atlantic is allowing heavy duty equipment technician apprentices in Labrador City, Newfoundland, to stay in their home community rather than travel 1,600 kilometres to the college's Bay St. George campus in Stephenville, Newfoundland, for the five eight-week stints of classroom study required to earn their apprenticeship.

The program brings together eight apprentices and one instructor at each of the college's two campuses via a state-of-the-art blended learning environment, which includes two-way video conferencing, use of an interactive SMART board, a high-resolution document/imaging camera as well as a learning management system to house course notes and materials to ensure apprentices can access them on demand.

Launched in the fall of 2012, the initiative has already had impressive success – 100 per cent of the students have passed a provincial exam that typically has a 58 per cent pass rate. And it has been recognized with two international awards from the National University Technology Network and the Online Learning Consortium, for innovative use of online learning delivery.

Greg Ryan, the advanced trades instructor who developed and leads the program, says apprentices on the Labrador West campus can now stay in their communities instead of leaving their homes and jobs for eight weeks at a time. Students attend class in the morning and return to work from noon to 8 p.m. "It's a pretty intense schedule, but it's a win-win because they are getting the program delivered at their home location and they are retained as employees," he says. "Before, it was a major upset in their lives – some apprentices were refusing to leave their communities to do the training, and this would affect their ability to complete their apprenticeship."

Technology allows students in the Labrador West classroom to observe Mr. Ryan deliver instruction from the Bay St. George campus, and Mr. Ryan can also see all the students. "It's interactive and it's inclusive – everyone feels they are part of one classroom," he says, noting that the program has plenty of potential for apprentices in other trades. "The scalability of this is massive – our hope is that we can reach more apprentices in other remote locations to help them complete their training."

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