Classroom to Online Content – A Shift in Approach

Pam Seran-Wallace
Manager Marketing and Communications, Real Estate Institute of Canada

The Real Estate Institute of Canada (REIC) is a provider of advance education and designation programs for professionals working in all sectors of the real estate industry.  REIC  has been educating and certifying real estate professionals since 1955 using in-class and home-study formats.  Over the past year, REIC partnered with the University of Fredericton, an online university, to take one of its most recognized courses, Ethics and Business Practice, online.

The ethics course is a three-day in-class program designed to aid the real estate practitioner to further develop and refine their decision making skills from an ethical standpoint. This course introduces factual and hypothetical case studies, group discussions, workshops and videos to study various real estate ethical codes to provide students with the tools and strategies to maintain strict ethical standards. The course is seen as the most rigorous of its kind in the real estate sector.

The beta version of the online course had a successful run from June 2014 to August 2014. REIC Director of Education & Business Development, Lesley Lucas, CAE, shares the experience of transitioning this foundation course to an online format while maintaining its integrity and dynamics.

Q:   What prompted REIC to venture to online education?
A:    A component of REIC’s current strategic plan is to offer online professional development opportunities in order to remain competitive in the field of continuing education. As the ethics course is central to our designation programs and is our signature course, it made sense to select this one first. Taking our classes online, not only gives us a competitive advantage, but helps our students accommodate further education into their professional and personal lives. It also helps to overcome geographic limitations for professionals living in remote regions of Canada. 

Q.   What was the process like to take the course from classroom to online?
A:    Taking a physical course manual to an eLearning format requires a totally different approach in terms of teaching and presenting content. We had to consider how to take a course that in-class is very interactive and present it in a way that would allow that interaction and discussion to exist in the online version and be just as effective. To achieve this, we reorganized the structure of our course material by condensing or expanding sections. Key themes were introduced at different times throughout the nine-week course. We introduced ways to bring the “live” collaborative nature of this course online. For example, we added questions for students to answer and share with their colleagues for discussion purposes and we included activities and assignments for students to complete individually and then port to the site to foster interaction.

Q:    What were some of the challenges that you faced during this process?
A:     The major challenge was refocusing our thinking about how to use online technology to educate students. In a classroom setting the instructor sets the pace and ensures everyone is on track.We had to create a method that would encourage students to check in and demonstrate they are following the course material and staying on schedule. One solution is to add a self-test for each module of the course.

We also had to think of the amount of time we’re expecting students to devote to the nine week course. The content was structured to give students one to two hours on average each week to do the reading assignments, participate in the forums, and complete the self-assessments.

Q:     How did you address group interaction and dynamics?
A:     Our goal from the beginning was to ensure the same high quality content and collaboration that the ethics course is known for. We incorporated live faculty-led sessions using WebEX. Before the course starts there is a live online session with the instructor where the students are given an orientation and overview of the site. Students are given the opportunity to introduce themselves and get to know each other as well as their instructor. They are also encouraged to ask questions in live time. Throughout the remaining weeks of the course, students have access to forums that allow information exchange and collaboration. At the end of the course, there is another live session for interactive opportunities amongst students and faculty.

Q:      How long did it take to get the course up and running?
A:     This was our first foray into online education, so the project evolved over a number of months. REIC staff, the instructor and the technical and administrative staff at the university were all involved at various points in time.  The university provided resources and general guidance to assist us in conceptualizing and developing the project. Once we had the course material the way that we wanted it, it didn’t take long for them to design, develop and deploy the course for online delivery.   

Q:    Why did you choose to partner with University of Fredericton?
A:    The University of Fredericton is solely an online university. As such their experience and expertise was a huge draw for us. We were very impressed with the range of programs they offer as well as the fact that they work with professional associations to provide advanced educations and credentials. Needless to say they are experts in elearning and they are very skilled at marketing courses to professionals, so it was a very good fit. Overall it was an easy decision to want to work with them.

Also important was the fact that the university employs an open source elearning platform called Moodle. Moodle is a state of the art course management system that is intuitive, flexible and nimble. We were impressed with the number of features available with this platform for both faculty and students.

Q:     What advice do you have for associations considering the online platform for their education programs?
A:      There are a number of factors to consider when looking to take courses online, such as budget, goals and resources. Researching educational technology tools and approaches to online teaching and learning is key to increasing your familiarity and comfort with the range of choices available and to select which platform will best achieve your objectives. Additional things to consider include staff resources – do you have a dedicated person to manage the project, do you have in-house technical expertise in elearning, or will you be relying on the vendor to help you conceptualize, develop and deploy your online programs.

Pam Seran-Wallace has over 10 years’ experience in communications in the not-for-profit sector and currently works for the Real Estate Institute of Canada (REIC).  REIC is a leading provider of advanced education and designation programs for real estate industry professionals in Canada. Dedicated to the highest professional and ethical standards, REIC has been educating and certifying specialists since 1955.