Candian Distance Education Network

The Knowledge Network is the educational television network of the province of British Columbia, a part of the Province's larger effort to make post-secondary education available to all parts of the province using various delivery systems. In 1978, the Province established the Open Learning Institute (OLI). Its task was to develop and deliver educational programming using distance education methods. These included correspondence courses, audio, film, teleconferencing, videodiscs, and strategies for reaching outside the conventional classroom. In 1980, in order to further the goals of distance education, the Province created the Knowledge Network as part of OLI. The Knowledge Network reaches over 90% of all households in British Columbia. Its mandate, however, has led it to pursue two different types of audience. On the one hand, the Knowledge Network was mandated to provide general public education programs which might interest casual viewers. On the other hand, the Knowledge Network was also directed to collaborate with the Province's educational institutions to deliver formal instruction which would only interest registered students. This double focus has led to a progressive diversification in the types of programs offered.

In 1988, however, OLI was substantially re-organized. It was renamed the Open Learning Agency (OLA) and reshaped into three constituents: (1) the Open University, offering courses in the arts, sciences, and administrative studies, (2) the Open College, responsible for adult basic education and vocational courses, and (3) the Knowledge Network responsible for the delivery of courses and the provision of general educational programming.

The Knowledge Network's pursuit of two different types of audience is typical, however, of virtually all educational networks in Canada. As organizations concerned with education, educational networks naturally attempt to extend and give shape to the larger projects of their respective ministries of education. Consequently, they are involved in the delivery of course material, collaborate with educational institutions, and reflect various curricula in their scheduling. As television networks, however, they also find themselves confronted with a much broader constituency--in terms of age, background, ability, education, etc.--than would be likely in any classroom. Furthermore, they reach this constituency under conditions unconducive to learning. Hence, like all other educational networks, the Knowledge Network has construed education in a broad sense. It means not only formal education or the content of lectures and courses, but also the attempt to create a generally literate, lively, and well-educated citizenry.


The result is clear in the Knowledge Network's schedule. The Knowledge Network devotes roughly half of its 6,000 annual broadcast hours to traditional educational material (credit and non-credit courses, college and university lectures, K-12 content, etc.). Furthermore, less than 30% of its content consists of tele-courses. It devotes the other half of its broadcasting hours to content of a more general and entertaining nature. This includes programs devoted to film (international, Hollywood, Canadian), general documentaries, teleplays, how-to programs, music programs, children's shows, and so on.

In recent years, the very effort to construe education as both formal and informal has led to the criticism that educational networks are no longer fulfilling their mandates. For some they are increasingly perceived as publicly-funded entertainment undertakings competing unfairly with the private sector. This has, in turn, led to calls for them to be defunded, re-organized, abolished, or sold to private interests.

-Paul Attallah


"B.C. Funds Small Net." Variety (Los Angeles), 29 March 1993.

Mugridge, Ian, and David Kaufman, editors. Distance Education in Canada. London; Dover, New Hampshire: Croom Helm, 1986.

Open Learning and Distance Education in Canada. Ottawa, Canada: Department of the Secretary of State of Canada, 1989.

Sweet, Robert, editor. Post-secondary Distance Education in Canada: Policies, practices, and Priorities. Athabasca, Canada: Athabasca University, Canadian Society for Studies in Education, 1989.