The Canadian eLearning Network (CANeLearn) in conjunction with Canadian researchers with decades of experience in K-12 distance, online, and blended learning have compiled a comprehensive understanding of the research on e-learning in Canada.  Our compiled quantitative and qualitative research is based on independent studies, published research, and data from e-learning programs, Ministries of Education, and our Ontario members.  The infographics published with this post are for use to help frame the discussion about the role of online learning and distance education, or e-learning, in today’s K-12 schools.

The March 15th Ontario government’s announced major reform of education entitled Education that Works for You – Modernizing Classrooms (Government of Ontario, 2019a) included a mandatory four e-learning course requirement for graduation.  While there may be significant challenges in meeting that target, much of the present public discourse in the news and on social media is problematic as it poses an ‘either/or’ argument regarding classroom versus e-learning while perpetuating myths about e-learning success.  Many of the myths in the Ontario public discourse are based on limited studies and indirect perceptions from prior legacy distance education models that do not reflect today’s programs.

Early distance education course completion rates often ranged from 50% to 70% (Winkelmans, Anderson, & Barbour, 2010), with some programs reporting rates as low as 20% (Sweet, 1991).  Most distance learning programs in Canada have since shifted away from this legacy, correspondence model to community-based, online programs with active local technology and learning support.  In fact, the Ontario Provincial e-Learning Strategy Master User Agreement recognizes this model and specifies that local support must be in place for any e-learning (Government of Ontario, 2013).  Our recent data indicates most e-learning students are as or more successful than classroom only learning.  Course completion rates are comparable or better than classroom rates (and have been up to 94% completion in some consortium models).

While the potential does exist for meeting the four-course mandatory e-learning target, the concern is that the Ontario government’s e-learning implementation plan could rely on earlier, legacy models of distance education or under-resourced programs.  If this were to occur, the quality and success of e-learning would be undermined.  Without adequate resourcing, any learning modality – classroom or online – will not be effective or be able to support a full range of students.  Successful e-learning models favour a reallocation of resources and funding, not a reduction.

e-Learning in Ontario: Going Forward

e-Learning is not inferior to classroom learning, it is simply another place for learning to occur just as a makerspace, a library, a metal or wood shop, or anywhere else that teachers can structure and manage learning opportunities.  When asking does e-learning work, the better question is under what conditions can e-learning work – all students can learn effectively in any setting with proper support, resources, and funding (Ferdig & Kennedy, 2014).

Research on centralized and decentralized e-learning indicates both are successful in Canada, because it is the design, delivery, and support for e-learning that determines success (see https://canelearn.net/repost-ontario-centralized-e-learning-program/).  Structure, support, and teacher presence are the critical ingredients for success in any learning environment, and e-learning is not excluded from this.  It is not the modality or learning environment that defines learner success, it is the teacher, available resources, and supports provided for students that are critical to learner success.


Please see more research on the announcement and its implications at the links below – research excerpts follow:


e-Learning Research Excerpts

Click for infographics of the research excerpts to post and share

 

e-Learning History – Ontario

  1. The first K-12 e-learning programs in Ontario began in the mid-1990s (Barker & Wendel, 2001; Barker, Wendall, & Richmond, 1999; Smallwood, Reaburn, & Baker, 2015).
  2. The 2004 Ontario Ministry of Education surveyed distance education course providers and later hosted a provincial learning management system and created standard e-learning course content for all boards provided they followed the guidelines in the Provincial e-Learning Master User Agreement – see http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/elearning/MasterUserAgreement.pdf (Barbour & LaBonte, 2017).
  3. Today, approximately 65,000 students or 5% of secondary students enroll in an e-learning course in Ontario (Barbour & LaBonte, 2018; Kapoor, 2019)

 

e-Learning Models

  1. e-learning is not a student in a room by themselves completing online content (Durkacz, 2019; Jones, 2019; Powers, 2019; Rivers, 2019; Syed, 2019), it is interacting with a teacher online and a facilitator/mentor in person (Borup, Chambers, & Stimson, 2018; Davis & Niederhauser, 2007).
  2. Most e-learning programs in Canada have shifted to community-based models with active local tech and learning support (see https://canelearn.net/what-does-online-learning-really-look-like/).
  3. A community-based e-learning model with local support and access is clearly described in the literature on successful programs (Barbour & Mulchay, 2004; Borup, Chambers, & Stimson, 2018; Ferdig, Cavanaugh, DiPietro, Black, & Dawson, 2009).
  4. The presence of a school-based facilitator/mentor is required in the Ontario Provincial e-Learning Strategy (see http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/elearning/MasterUserAgreement.pdf).
  5. While there are in-person interactions in these e-learning models, this is not blended learning as has been claimed by some in the media (Paikin, 2019; Syed, 2019).
  6. For a complete discussion of e-learning models see https://canelearn.net/what-does-online-learning-really-look-like/.

 

e-Learning Effectiveness

  1. Early distance education completion rates were 50% to 70% (Winkelmans, Anderson, & Barbour, 2010), with some programs reporting completion rates as low as 20% (Sweet, 1991).
  2. Ontario’s model with local support and access has completion rates comparable to or better than classroom-based courses with up to 94% completion in some programs (Barbour & LaBonte, 2018).
  3. The Consortium d’apprentissage virtuel de langue française de l’Ontario had only a 4% e-learning failure rate during the 2009-10 school year (Barbour, 2010).
  4. Some claim e-Learning is not a replacement to classroom learning, that only a minority of students succeed, and at-risk students most disadvantaged (Farhdi, 2019), yet
  5. Ferdig (2009) found that “students who are considered at-risk, including those who have dropped out, been expelled, or who have health problems, can succeed in online K-12 learning, given learning contexts and support personnel that meet their individual needs” (p. 23).
  6. The Ontario Ministry of Education provides guidance ensuring all students, including those with special needs, have equitable access to appropriate e-learning opportunities (Government of Ontario, 2013).
  7. When asking does e-learning work, the better question is under what conditions can e-learning work – all students can learn effectively in any setting with proper support (Ferdig & Kennedy, 2014; Ferdig, Cavanaugh, & Freidhoff, 2015).

 

e-Learning Remote Technology Access

  1. Newfoundland and Labrador online learning program implementation led to the necessary connectivity and technology being put in place to achieve the goals of that policy (Barry, 2013).
  2. Contact North produced a report examining the ability of educational projects in Ontario to increase connectivity and technology throughout the province (Paul, 2012).
  3. Ontario is Improving Internet and Cell Phone Service in Rural and Remote Communities: Plan will connect up to 220,000 new homes and businesses (Government of Ontario, 2019b).
  4. Connect to Innovate – http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/119.nsf/eng/home – high-speed Internet to 300 rural and remote communities to connect institutions like schools and hospitals “last-mile” infrastructure to households and businesses
  5. Eastern Ontario Regional Network – https://www.eorn.ca/en/index.asp – A 5,500-km network of new and existing fibre optic cable 160 new access points for Internet Service Providers High-speed Internet services for residents and businesses
  6. Telesat LEO – https://www.telesat.com/ – A global constellation of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites that will deliver fiber quality broadband everywhere.

 

e-Learning Class Size

  1. e-Learning class size limits generally do not include the educators involved in the design of the e-learning course content or the local support provided to e-learning students.
  2. Research has consistently found when e-learning class size increases it has a negative impact on student performance in comparison to their face-to-face counterparts (Friedhoff, 2019; Gill et al., 2015; Miron & Gulosino, 2016; Miron, Shank, & Davidson, 2018; Miron & Urschel, 2012; Molnar et al., 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2019; Woodworth et al. 2015).
  3. The current research does suggest that the scalability challenge to four mandatory e-learning courses is likely to impact quality without significant resourcing (Barbour, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013; Barbour & LaBonte, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018; Barbour & Stewart, 2008).

 

Mandatory e-Learning

  1. No other Canadian province or territory has any form of e-learning requirement and only six US states have some form of online learning graduation requirement, typically only for one online course (Kennedy, 2018).
  2. Michigan Department of Education reported a four-year graduation rate of 74.33% in the first year of mandatory e-learning, but saw an increase each subsequent year (see https://www.mischooldata.org/Other2/DataFiles/StudentCounts/HistoricalGradDropout.aspx).
  3. A four-course requirement for all secondary students in the province would mean an increase from 50,000-60,000 students in e-learning to over 600,000 taking e-learning courses (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2019)
  4. The existing system would need to scale by more than 10 times requiring a significant investment in technology access and connectivity and a 10-fold increase in local supports (see https://canelearn.net/repost-ontario-e-learning-graduation-requirement-scalability/).

 


 

References

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Barbour, M. K. (2011). State of the nation: K-12 online learning in Canada. Vienna, VA: International Council for K-12 Online Learning. Retrieved from https://k12sotn.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/StateOfTheNation2011.pdf

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