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As was described earlier this week, 0n 15 March 2019 the Government of Ontario announced the Education that Works for You – Modernizing Classrooms proposed policy.  Today, we wanted to examine the e-learning graduation requirement in greater detail.  As a reminder, the proposal calls for:

Secondary students will take a minimum of four e-learning credits out of the 30 credits needed to fulfill the requirements for achieving an Ontario Secondary School Diploma. That is equivalent to one credit per year, with exemptions for some students on an individualized basis. These changes will be phased in, starting in 2020-21.

In our initial message, we reported that there are six US states that have some form of online learning graduation requirement.

  • Michigan (2006): successfully completed at least one course or learning experience that is presented online (i.e., 20 hours of online learning)
  • New Mexico (2007): an Advanced Placement, honors, dual enrollment or distance learning course
  • Alabama (2008): complete one online/technology enhanced course or experience, with an opt-out for students with IEPs
  • Florida (2011): at least one online course
  • Arkansas (2013): at least one digital learning course for credit
  • Virginia (2013): at least one online course

Ontario’s proposed four course e-learning graduation requirement would put it at four times that of any existing graduation requirement, with no exclusions for certain types of students (as we see in the Alabama requirement) or options (as we see in the Michigan and New Mexico requirements).

In her study, entitled “The Sky’s the Limit”: On the Impossible Promise of E-Learning in the Toronto District School Board, University of Toronto doctoral student Beyhan Farhadi has argued that e-learning many not be appropriate for all students.  However, the research indicates otherwise.  For example, Kent State University professor Rick Ferdig undertook an evaluation of a Michigan-based e-learning program that had a student population that was described in this manner:

The 27 students who enrolled in the program included 15 male students and 12 female students. 21 of the students had dropped out and 6 had been expelled for selling drugs (4), possession of drugs (1), or being a threat to the teacher (1). They came from 6 different districts, with the largest participation coming from the home RESA district (12). Students who attended where anywhere between 1 and 21 credits short of graduation, with an average of 13 credits required. Most had been referred to the RESA by their parent, although they had also come on their own (2) or had been recommended by a probation officer (1), mental health counselor (2), or family member (2). There were multiple reasons these students left school, including boredom, anxiety, drugs, fighting, and mental health issues. (Ferdig, 2009, p. 5)

These 27 students would be defined as being at-risk of dropping out of the K-12 system under any circumstances.  Yet the leadership of this particular e-learning focused the design of the content, the delivery of instruction, and the support provided to students on the specific needs of this specific population of students.  In the end, the study found that “students who struggled to the point of expulsion or dropping out of traditional school [were] enrolling, completing, and passing online classes. Even if only one of these students had succeeded, we would have had a significant outcome by changing the life of one individual. However, every single one of the 27 students passed at least one class in their time at the RESA’s [e-learning school]” (pp. 10-11).  Ferdig later concluded 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).

In another example of a e-learning program that focused on the conditions needed in order for a specific population to have success is the Odyssey Charter School, which was described in an earlier research study as:

Odyssey Charter School (OCS), based in Las Vegas Nevada, began in 1999 as a sponsored online charter school of the Clark County School District. It encompasses an elementary school and a high school. According to Watson et al (2008), from the Summer 2007 to the Summer 2008 OCS was responsible for 1405 full-time enrollments – with all of their students being full-time students. The elementary school was responsible for approximately half of these enrollments, while the high school made up the remaining half.

OCHS uses a blended learning model, with students physically attending the school one day a week for four hours (i.e., usually one morning or one afternoon) for a face-to-face course and the remainder of their courses are taught online. For two hours of this face-to-face time, students complete a core values course offered in a more traditional, direct instruction approach. The remaining two hours students meet with their mentor teachers to organize their coursework, check their progress, and address their academic needs. Pupils spend the four hours in one room with the same 10-20 students, while the teachers circulate from group to group visiting with students.

The faculty work on campus full-time and, in addition to their online teaching course loads, were responsible for mentoring approximately ninety students. Teachers regularly met their students by seeking them out during the four hours that the student is physically present in the school. However, some teachers simply were not able to interact with all of their students during this face-to-face time. This limitation, and the fact that students often only interacted with 10-20 students they physically attended school with each week; the OCHS began experimenting with social networking to increase the interaction between teachers and students and, especially, amongst students themselves. (Barbour & Plough, 2009, p. 57)

Both Odyssey Charter School and the Michigan-based RESA’s e-learning programs were specifically designed to ensure that the given population of students that they were created to serve had the necessary conditions in order to have success.

So while it is true that not every student could have success in the specific way that the e-learning program in Ontario is currently implemented.  If teachers, schools, school boards, and the Ministry of Education were to focus the design, delivery, and support of e-learning in Ontario to the specific needs of different populations of students, then all students could have success.


Barbour, M. K. & Plough, C. (2009). Social networking in cyberschooling: Helping to make online learning less isolating. Tech Trends, 53(4), 56-60.

Barbour, M. K. & Plough, C. (2012). Putting the social into online learning: Social networking in a cyber school. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(3), 1-18. Retrieved from

Ferdig, R. E. (2009). K-12 online learning and the retention of at-risk students. Port Huron, MI: St. Clair County Regional Education Services Agency.