Centre for Learning Technologies – Lessons Learnt

As I was going through some old reports I came across an article I had written about the CLT. My first job out of the military was as Project Manager (Learning & Performance Systems) at the CLT. This was probably the best job I ever had and much of what we did has formed the basis of my current consulting practice.

Today, many higher education institutions are creating innovation centres that are outwardly focused and revenue-generating, so in the spirit of learning from our experiences, I’m posting the article here.

Overview

The Centre for Learning Technologies (CLT) was an applied research, consulting and resource centre for the use of new media in learning, knowledge management, and workplace performance support. Bridging the gap between research and practice, the CLT aimed to link learning theory, business practices and research to real-world, organizational challenges and applications. Clients included private corporations, public organizations and higher education institutions. The specialized consultants and researchers were located at Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB.

The Centre offered an objective source of resources and services through four market offerings, each with projects focused on learning, knowledge management, and performance support. The four market offerings were:

  1. Innovation Practices
  2. Professional Services
  3. The Learning Community
  4. Usability, Human Factors Specialty Center

These areas had been identified as gaps during an industry assessment conducted by the CLT with the support of the New Brunswick Government’s department of economic development. The four areas above were identified as niche areas, with no other organizations in the region offering these services at the time. The project areas: learning, knowledge management and performance support were identified as growth areas in the Organizational and Performance Improvement fields and corresponded to the expertise available at the CLT.

History

The Centre for Learning Technologies was established in 1996 at Mount Allison University. The Centre was created through the support of several private and public organizations, with the majority of the funding coming from ACOA. Assistance came in many forms including start-up operational funding, capital financing and business guidance. Funding for capital costs, such as the new building, was in the range of $3.5M while operating capital was approximately $200K.

Contributing partners included:

  • NBTel (now Bell Aliant)
  • Digital Equipment Corporation (later Compaq – HP)
  • Andersen Consulting (now Accenture)
  • Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA)
  • Federal Government Infrastructure Program
  • Royal Bank of Canada
  • Bragg Communications
  • Mount Allison University
  • Weston Foundation

One of these contributions, the secondment of a business development officer, spanned a period of two years. The original concept for the CLT was as a multimedia Centre of Excellence with a mandate to help the university and organizations across Canada in the area of new media learning. The mandate and focus of the CLT changed as it developed, moving to a focus on bridging the gap between applied research and practice in workplace performance. The main rationale for this move was the requirement to become revenue-generating and self-sustaining after its first year.

During its five years in operation (1996-2001) the CLT generated about 85% of its costs. The remaining 15% was covered by the university. By its last year, the CLT was closing this gap. The university’s administration decided to close the CLT in the Spring of 2001, citing lack of profit and little alignment with the university’s main business of undergraduate education as reasons for closure.

Observations and Lessons Learnt

  • The lack of operating capital (barely enough for Year 1) forced the CLT into a business model that pushed it away from the university’s core mission, thus alienating the Centre from any potential internal supporters.
  • The CLT was not aligned with a specific academic department. The original intent was to have the CLT work with the Education Faculty, but this department was closed just as the CLT was created.
  • The revenue-generation mandate forced the CLT to focus on external clients and strong relationships with internal university departments did not develop. There were few internal champions of the CLT at Mount Allison University.
  • The original proposal for the CLT spoke of considerable potential revenues and profits. These unrealistic expectations did not help in seeking funds to offset revenue shortfalls.
  • It took five years for the CLT to develop a professional reputation and a client base. By 2001, clients were approaching the Center directly.

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