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Athabasca University

Athabasca University: Supporting Innovation

For related information, see Industry Partnerships.

“The investing community believes that the Internet is hitting edu¬cation, that education is having its Internet moment.”

-Jose Ferriera, Founder and CEO, Knewton


The worlds of business, government, and education are becoming increasingly focused on several interconnected themes: innovation, productivity, digital, and knowledge. Thanks to analytics (data mining) and other emergent tools and practices, our economy and society are tied to these concepts like never before - driving both economic and academic activities in new directions.

Supporting Innovation


Private and public sector organizations and citizens alike, are expressing ever increasing needs for products and services to help them innovate, increase their productivity, build digital skills, and – together with K-12 and post-secondary institutions - continuously facilitate learning (knowing) more. Alberta has additional demands driven by economic growth, pushing everything from universities to the energy sector to seek new solutions.


The global elearning industry is projected to grow 23% by 2015, to a $166 billion dollar industry (GSV EDU Education Sector Factbook 2012). This does not include learning analytics, game based activities, etextbooks, virtual labs, or the biggest market of all – tools for blended/online learning environments. As illustrated by the March 18th Chronicle of Education’s A Boom Time for Education Start-Ups chart at right, EdTech investment in the US alone is large and growing.


Alberta has the resources it needs with the capacity to provide, or work with partners to leverage, local and international needs; and pathways to global markets. These include an entrepreneurial culture, talent, world-class education and research systems, ICT infrastructure, innovation supports, EdTech and analytics SMEs, and - at 40,000 - Canada’s primary digital education provision, expertise, and research team; Athabasca University.


As the next page will demonstrate, the University is moving into a number of areas with internal resources and initial partners. The potential for much more – from education, research, and commercial perspectives – is high. With the right partners, resources, and collaboration supports, Alberta has tremendous potential to be an innovation, productivity, digital, and knowledge growth leader.

Collaborative Initiatives: Innovation, Productivity, Digital, and Knowledge

As an online institution, Athabasca University was impacted by the internet more completely and immediately than most education providers, making it the core of academic, service, research, and capital planning well before most institutions. At the same time, as a provincially-funded institution with a national population, growing pressure to achieve efficiencies, innovate, and employ entrepreneurial approaches to resource provision affected AU faster than average. The resulting combination – leveraging digital resources to increase productivity, with the goal of improving knowledge provision and increasing innovation – was initially driven by the need for new business models and solutions; it is now helping to further our capacity, service, and reach.

Creating a Culture of Innovation

  • Build awareness of and opportunities for R&D among faculty, grad students, and service units
  • Encourage research projects with R&D partners throughout the Technology Readiness Levels
  • Help faculty explore options to commercialize research (start-up or partners) – push
  • Look for opportunities to meet emergent needs through pilot programs with local SMEs
  • Build relationships in capacity areas (Analytics ICT, EdTech, health, remote sensing, etc)
  • Connect with innovation support networks

Internal Partners: AVP Research, Deans
External Partners: AITF, TEC Edmonton, granting Councils, Cybera, government pilot programs

Building a Network of Services

  • Support networking within Campus Alberta, and build bridges to Education / other provinces
  • Provide leadership as part of Campus Alberta, and Alberta’s Moodle consortium
  • Continue to explore shared elearning service provision and supports in academic, analytics, administration, assessment, and other areas

Internal Partners: VP IT, Computing Services
External Partners: Enterprise and Advanced Education, Post-secondary institutions, BCcampus

Supporting the EdTech Sector

  • Connect with EdTech companies and networks
  • Identify gaps to global market success
  • Help companies achieve R&D needs– pull
  • Provide information re: what AU can do for them - R&D partnerships, design, expertise, piloting, validation, testing, quality assurance
  • Connect to user groups, and highlight the potential in productivity and related areas
  • Act as an advocate re: sector opportunities and potential to contribute to economic growth

Internal Partners: VP IT, Computing Services, Centre for Learning Design and Development, TEKRI
External Partners: NRC, EdTech SMES, start-up/ICT networks, innovation supports, user groups

Enhancing Productivity

  • Assist existing organizations to improve their performance through the use of technology, analytics, and knowledge management
  • Connect organizations to productivity, ICT uptake, entrepreneurship, and other supports
  • Leverage Canada’s largest MBA program to build connections with and support companies

Internal Partners: Faculty of Business, Project Management Research Institute (PMRI), Pro SolO
External Partners: Corporate and government productivity support initiatives


To explore the above ideas, review areas for collaboration, or identify specific initiative leads, please contact Kelvin Cole, Industry Liaison Officer at / 780-919-1354.


Updated December 15 2015 by Student & Academic Services

AU, CANADA'S OPEN UNIVERSITY, is an internationally recognized leader in online and distance learning.