Ilinniapaa Skills Development Centre (iSDC) | Customer Success | D2L
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Ilinniapaa Skills Development Centre (iSDC)

Learning Tailored to Inuit Needs

iSDC Combines Traditional Oral Knowledge with Online Learning to Support Professional Development in Inuit Communities

When Inuit communities in Nunavut identified a skills shortage in frontline social care jobs, iSDC and Tungasuvvingat Inuit developed a new college-level diploma for community support workers. Knowing that many potential students would be unable to attend classes in person, iSDC used the D2L Brightspace platform to design an online learning solution specifically for Inuit learners.

At a glance

Client: Ilinniapaa Skills Development Centre (iSDC)
Learners: 50
Industry: Professional Development

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  • Help learners prepare for new careers in social care by building on their existing skills.
  • Provide flexible competency-based education to help different types of learners achieve their goals.
  • Remove barriers to entry for learners who cannot attend classes in person.


  • D2L’s Brightspace platform
  • Quizzes
  • Game-based learning tools such as Storyboard
  • Release conditions


  • Helps oral and visual learners excel by combining traditional Inuit knowledge with modern teaching techniques.
  • Harnesses gamification techniques that enable learners to focus on developing real-world competencies.
  • Empowers learners to study in their own home, in their own time, and at their own pace with a mobile-friendly online learning platform.
  • Eliminates admin work and enables teachers to develop course content quickly.
Ilinniapaa Skills Development Centre (iSDC) Logo


Based in Iqaluit, Nunavut, in northern Canada, iSDC delivers a range of competency-based preemployment skills and skills development training, and specializes in supporting students from Inuit communities in Nunavut and throughout Canada.

"Inuit culture puts emphasis on prior learning and experience, and that matches well with the competency-based learning approach that we’re taking with D2L. The goal isn’t to get a high test score, it’s to demonstrate that you have developed your knowledge, skills, and abilities."

Trish Rennie, Former Technical Coordinator, iSDC

The Challenge

Accredited through the national Indigenous Certification Board of Canada, iSDC’s mission is to help the Inuit community develop their skills in a culturally safe environment.

“We focus on programs for Inuit learners, designed by members of their communities, and built around Inuit societal values,” says Trish Rennie, former technical coordinator at iSDC. “We work with Inuit elders to develop our content, so our courses include knowledge that has traditionally been transferred orally as well as text-based knowledge from books and websites.”

iSDC supports learners across the country, but its main location is in Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, Canada’s most northerly territory. To make sure that it was providing the right courses to meet the needs of the local community, iSDC ran a survey, the results of which highlighted a skills shortage in frontline social care jobs across Nunavut.

“We need people who can work at the hospital, at the boarding houses and youth centers, and at shelters,” says Trish Rennie. Helen Roos, iSDC owner and Lead Curriculum Designer and Instructor collaborated with Tungasuvvingat Inuit in Ottawa and applied for funding from Employment and Social Development Canada. The innovative online learning and work experience placement project is helping to increase the number of Inuit community support workers (CSWs), particularly to go between the Baffin Region of Nunavut and Ottawa: a natural regional corridor of “churn” for some Inuit families.

Online learning removes barriers to entry

iSDC knew that it would be critical to minimize barriers to entry for the new program. Many potential students already have full-time jobs or family responsibilities, making it difficult for them to find time to study. Moreover, iSDC feared that the need to travel long distances across difficult terrain in a polar climate to attend college would discourage learners in remote communities.

“The program is free, we are able to subsidize travel and childcare, and we pay a living wage to learners while they are on work placement,” says Trish Rennie. “But even with those barriers removed, some people just can’t sit in a lecture every day for eight hours straight. We wanted to build an online learning solution that could empower our learners to study whenever and wherever it works for them.”

Ilinniapaa Inuit classroom

The Solution

Helen Roos had seen D2L’s Brightspace learning platform in action at other institutions, such as the Virtual High School and some of the other colleges in northern Canada.

“When we started looking seriously at learning management systems, Helen just said, ‘I want that one.’ When I saw the Brightspace platform and compared it to the previous software product that I’d been using, I remember thinking, ‘Oh, this is great.’ For example, when I’m building quizzes, I love that it gives me a live preview. As I’m putting in the questions and answers, I can instantly see what the quiz looks like.” – Trish Rennie, Formal Technical Coordinator, iSDC.

Since adopting the Brightspace platform, iSDC has developed over 100 courses, ranging from foundational subjects, such as computer basics, to more specialized courses in areas including occupational health and food safety.

“We look at everything from the traditional social and cultural and perspectives of Inuit communities,” says Trish Rennie. “For example, we’re developing the first program on safe food handling in the Arctic. Food safety is different up here. We don’t really have problems with rodents or pests because it’s too cold. On the other hand, learning to use a traditional tool like an ulu for food preparation is very different from learning to use a standard kitchen knife.”

She adds: “Inuit culture puts emphasis on prior learning and experience, and that matches well with the competency-based learning approach that we’re taking with D2L. The goal isn’t to get a high test score, it’s to demonstrate that you have developed your knowledge, skills, and abilities.”

To that end, iSDC is embracing gamification as a key mechanism in its online courses. Working with D2L Creative Services, iSDC has built interactive graphical storyboards featuring Inuit characters, which helps students confront the kind of tough decisions and real-world scenarios they will face during their work placements. In these activities, there are no wrong answers—just a safe place for students to practice their skills and learn.

"D2L has been an excellent partner in helping us deliver engaging, relevant course content in a culturally safe online environment while always viewing skills development from the perspective of Inuit communities and their traditions."

Trish Rennie, Former Technical Coordinator, iSDC

The Results

The first cohort of around 50 students has already embarked on the new CSW and management Trainee diploma program, and iSDC has received excellent feedback on its online learning platform. Learners report that they enjoy the flexibility of being able to study in their own homes, which allows them to gain new skills without neglecting their existing work and family responsibilities.

From an accessibility perspective, students appreciate the fact that they get the same rich user experience whether they use the Brightspace platform on a PC, tablet, or smartphone. The user interface has also been designed to support visually impaired users, helping to make sure that iSDC can deliver the same quality of learning for everyone who engages with its services.

The same inclusive attitude applies to different types of learners. iSDC has used the rubric feature in the Brightspace solution to develop a special oral-adapted rubric, allowing students to present their assignments orally rather than writing an essay.

“We even have a journaling course, where we encourage students to write or draw, take photos, or even sing or dance about the topics that are important to their lives and their skills development,” says Trish Rennie. “The Brightspace platform’s video capabilities let them submit their assignments in whatever form they choose, and our instructors can provide feedback by video too.”

She adds: “The question we’re always asking is how can we be everything to everyone? Every student’s situation is different. D2L is helping us meet so many different needs at once.”

To that end, the Brightspace platform enables iSDC’s instructors to create new course content in a rapid, agile manner, and saves time by automating tasks such as grading quizzes or releasing assignments to students at appropriate points in their learning journey. This helps teachers reduce their admin workload and spend more time focusing on what really matters: their students.

“There’s a saying in the Inuit community that they went from igloo to iPhone in one generation. What we’re trying to do is help people make connections between traditional skills and the modern workplace. D2L has been an excellent partner in helping us deliver engaging, relevant course content in a culturally safe online environment while always viewing skills development from the perspective of Inuit communities and their traditions.” – Trish Rennie, Formal Technical Coordinator, iSDC.

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Fueling up:

Upskilling to grow careers

Name: Zaria
Age: 27

Policy prescriptions: Invest in a Learning-Integrated Life; Transform the learning of today with new partnerships; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

Zaria has five years of work experience and is ready to change jobs and enter a field that has high growth potential in her region. The national government has been investing in collecting better skills-based labour market information for years and has developed a public platform to offer individuals specialized tools to assess their skills against current market needs, and to locate employers that are currently hiring.

On the employer side, the human resources team is closely examining a recent internal skills audit done at their organization and determines that the organization needs additional digital marketing specialists. They initiate a search for individuals with the skills they will soon need and spot a strong candidate in Zaria who requires only light training on regulatory issues regarding the sale of electric vehicles, along with some formal skills development courses on social media marketing strategy. After a successful interview, Zaria is offered the job.

Upon joining, Zaria will receive an educational benefits stipend from the company, and access to a company-provided platform of curated programs for skills building from approved providers. Upon completion of a set of courses, Zaria will receive a credential from a company approved program verifying her technical knowledge and marking the end of her probationary period at the company. To ensure she continues to build her skills, she will move into a formal mentor program with one of her colleagues to receive continual peer-to-peer feedback on her demonstration of skills and knowledge. information

This affordable and accessible learning through employer-funded training has enabled Zaria to begin working while also upskilling to ensure her long-term success in the company and growing industry. The employer is investing in its employees, and company leaders are thinking further into the future about the skills the company needs, and the types of job candidates who will succeed. This match, based on skills potential, was made possible because of government investment in high-quality labour market information and a national platform that matches job candidates with career opportunities based on the candidates’ skills and the identified skill needs of a given job.

Taking the road less travelled:

A networked postsecondary education

Name: Sam
Age: 18

Policy prescriptions: Transform the learning of today with new partnerships

Sam is a prospective postsecondary student who has always been interested in pursuing a global and interdisciplinary education. Sam’s siblings have all instilled in her the importance of studying abroad, having spoken fondly of their academic exchange semesters, field research trips, and intensive language immersion programs. She is inspired, but unsure whether this pathway will be available if she chooses not to complete a four-year degree at one institution.

Sam is interested in understanding how emerging technologies can be used to modernize and improve government services—an area in need of talent not only in her home country of Canada but also abroad. She could take on a general political science, public administration, engineering, or computer science degree at the university close to her home, but none of those degrees feels like the right fit to build the skills she needs to pursue this career interest.

While researching options, Sam learns of a new degree completion pathway that allows students to take courses from a network of universities, colleges, and polytechnic institutions throughout Canada and stack them for skills-based  credentials that are recognized by major Canadian employers. A set of four of these credentials grants an individual a degree-equivalent endorsed by each institution. Sam identifies the skills and knowledge she wants to work towards and charts out four credential pathways:

  1. Service delivery design
  2. Change management
  3. Applications of emerging technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence)
  4. Machinery of government

With this customized learning pathway, Sam has full flexibility to decide how she wants to structure her courses, the institutions within the network she will study at, and the format and model of courses she prefers—whether live in-class instruction or online courses.

Cost flexibility is built in as well—students pay a standard fee based on the number of competencies they intend to learn rather than the normal standard of ‘credit hours’. The province in which Sam lives has endorsed this networked model of  postsecondary education and adjusted its financial assistance program to better support students. Grants and other non-repayable assistance take into consideration the number of courses the student is taking across all institutions when assessing financial need. Previously, Sam would have been required to be a full-time student at every institution to receive support.

Sam also has the option of starting with foundational courses or applying for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) information so her existing knowledge and skills can be tested and she can move on to more advanced topics.

Sam completes her first three credentials in three years and uses her certifications to apply for a one-year work-integrated learning experience with the federal government in Germany where she can learn first-hand about the applications of artificial intelligence in government. When she returns home, she applies for PLAR to certify her learning on the machinery of government and is granted a degree acknowledging her four-part customized education.

The collaboration between universities, polytechnics, and colleges to create a networked approach to degree completion, and its endorsement by the provincial government, allowed Sam to graduate as an alumnus of multiple postsecondary education institutions. Her exposure to different thought spaces and networks was highly valuable for ensuring she was engaged throughout her education and set up for post-graduation success. In the rapidly evolving field she has chosen, she understands how important it is to continuously upskill, and is prepared to return to formal education for more stackable credentials as she continues throughout her career.

Route guidance:

Personalized professional development

Name: ZheYuan
Age: 33

Policy prescriptions: Prepare teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

ZheYuan is about to join Marama’s school as a new secondary school teacher. He completed his professional teacher education a decade ago, and teaching looks a bit different today than it did when he was studying. With the incorporation of learning technologies in the classroom, and expectations of teachers delivering competency-based education information, he needs personalized professional development to feel comfortable and supported in this new opportunity.

The school district has been on its own learning journey since shifting to a competency-based education model, and has had some growing pains. Over time, the district has come to recognize that success depends on school administrators working closely with teachers to co-create systems of instruction, and pathways to professional development. The district has its own online learning management system (LMS) for teacher professional development, with a catalogue of content covering a range of subjects including:

  • Strategies for student-centred instruction
  • Design thinking—how to prototype and iterate on solutions to test new approaches
  • Online content—using learning management systems to advance competency-based education
  • Data analysis—interpreting student progress

ZheYuan is excited that he can take on professional learning to suit his needs on his own schedule. He recalls an earlier time when he had to spend nine hours a month in-person taking the same professional development courses as his peers who were teaching very different subjects and had varied skill levels and pedagogical needs than him, which was less than effective.

ZheYuan can also take advantage of his teacher community in the LMS, connecting both in asynchronous chats and in live discussions with other teachers and experts from across his region to ask questions and share his experiences. He sees some upcoming dialogues hosted by his school district to share learnings and signs up for those sessions, knowing he will get a valuable peer perspective from other teachers. ZheYuan is thankful that his school leaders recognize and value professional learning and provide the supports and the time needed for improvement.

D2L Whitepaper Contributors

Lead Authors:
Malika Asthana, Manager, Strategy and Public Affairs
Joe Pickerill, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, International

Jeremy Auger, Chief Strategy Officer
Mark Schneiderman, Senior Director, Future of Teaching and Learning
Brendan Desetti, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, United States
Mike Semansky, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, Canada
Nia Brown, Senior Manager, Strategy and Public Affairs

In the driver’s seat:

Owning the personalized learning journey

Name: Marama
Age: 14

Policy prescriptions: Prepare teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

Marama is enrolled in a school with a competency-based education model information. Students are responsible for owning the personalization of their learning pathways, making choices alongside their teachers in how and when they learn.iii Teachers play a central role in guiding and validating all learning, regardless of where it takes place—offering formative assessments to evaluate a student’s mastery of skills and knowledge. Teachers use data from these assessments, gathered through an online learning management system (LMS), to differentiate instruction and provide targeted supports so that all students progress toward graduation. As a student diagnosed with a learning disability, Marama is supported in her education by this personalized learning pathway.

All students complete an assessment in ninth grade to identify their natural strengths as a learner. Their teachers use the results as inputs to design tailormade educational pathways with learning materials and activities that suit the individual students’ learning needs. In Marama’s case, this includes:

  1. Supplementing lecture-based teaching with structured but independent reading
  2. Shadowing professionals who work on the concepts she is learning about
  3. Taking the stories and lessons she’s learned and sharing it back with classmates by designing a creative and interactive presentation

Over the course of the school year, Marama spends a third of her time in live lectures (sometimes online) with her teacher alongside other classmates—but the rest of her time is spent learning in the ways that suit her best. She can log into her online LMS from her mobile device to access her school resources and complete on her own schedule before the assigned deadline. When Marama finds a concept that interests her, she can ask her teachers and counsellor for support in finding a working professional to speak to, or work alongside for a couple weeks, from the network her school has curated over time. And when she has learned something, she is encouraged to reinforce her learning by applying her skills and developing content to share back with her classmates.

Marama’s personalized learning journey empowers her to own her education by learning in ways that are effective for her, with the support that allows her to be successful. Her teachers have high-quality data about student strengths and performance they can share with her parents to show them how she is mastering specific skills, and where she may need extra support. Her school experience empowers her to embrace her subject interests very early on, and she advances to deeper topics quickly as she submits evidence of learning that demonstrates her proficiency. She graduates having cultivated a mindset for self-directed learning early in her education.