I’ve had several people contact me to ask what is the Ontario Online Institute? It was announced by the Ontario Provincial Government in the Throne Speech to the legislature on March 8.

The first thing to note is that the Province of Ontario, traditionally the most prosperous of all the Canadian provinces, has been one of the hardest hit by the recession. In particular the forestry, mining and auto industries are very large in Ontario and have been particularly hard hit. However, the government did as many other jurisdictions and invested heavily in both the car industry and in public infrastructure projects to lessen the impact of the recession (forestry and mining has had to take its lumps). As a result Ontario has a $21 billion debt (3.3% of GDP), which it plans to eliminate mainly through economic growth over seven years (which most economists believe is unlikely).

What is really interesting is that despite the terrible provincial economy, the government has actually increased spending in higher education, because (rightly, in my view) it sees education as the way to prosperity in the future. Its plan for post-secondary education includes the following goals (from the Throne Speech):

  • to increase the participation rate in post-secondary education from its current 62% to 70% (to match the number of jobs requiring some form of post-secondary education)
  • an increase of 20,000 students ‘this year’
  • every qualified Ontarian who wants to go to college or university will find a place
  • a new, five-year plan to improve the quality of Ontario’s post-secondary education system
  • a new Ontario Online Institute, bringing the best professors in the top programs at Ontario universities to the homes of those who want to pursue this new option for higher learning
  • promote Ontario post-secondary institutions abroad, and increase international enrolment by 50 per cent while maintaining spaces for Ontario students.

There are 22 universities and 24 community colleges in Ontario.

OntarioLearn.com is a consortium of 22 Ontario Community Colleges who have partnered to develop and deliver on-line courses. Each partner college selects courses from the OntarioLearn.com course inventory that will complement its existing distance education offerings. This partnership approach has allowed member colleges to optimize resource use, avoid duplication and, more importantly, increase the availability of on-line learning opportunities for their students. There is a similar organization for the k-12 sector, eLearning Ontario

However, there is no such similar organization for Ontario universities, although many of them offer online courses. One of the main reasons for this is that, unlike British Columbia for instance – see http://www.bctransferguide.ca/ – there is no central credit transfer system between the universities in Ontario (although individual universities may have specific credit transfer agreements with specific colleges for specific programs: see http://www.ocutg.on.ca/).

In practice, if you are married and live in Thunder Bay and start a course at Lakehead University, and at the end of the second year your husband changes his job and moves to Toronto, and you want to transfer your 60 credits from Lakehead to York University, basically you can’t. You have to start again. (This is not the case in BC: 40 per cent of third year students at its premier research university, UBC, have transferred in from other universities elsewhere in the province. They usually do at least as well as the students who enrolled in the first year).

Thus in Ontario there is no ‘official’ site of online university courses for all the universities in the province. There is no point. If you are at York University and want to take an online course from the University of Guelph, tough – you cannot count it for credit, unless you can find a professor who will make an exception (and most don’t.)

Now coming back to the Ontario Online Institute. There is as I write absolutely no further information on this, except that there is money for it in the post-secondary education budget. However, whatever it does, it needs to find a way to enable students in any part of a very large province (Germany and France combined in terms of area) to study fully online if they wish, and to leverage the existing investment in online courses by the universities. However, very few universities in Ontario (Guelph and Laurentian may be exceptions) have complete degree programs fully online. Indeed, Athabasca University – based 2,500 kilometres away in Alberta – has many students from Ontario taking its distance education programs, because that’s the only way at the moment to do a full degree online in the program of your choice if you live in Ontario.

So there is a lot of work to be done in Ontario if it is to attract lifelong learners, under-served groups such as aboriginals, immigrants without Canadian high school qualifications, those who for whatever reason dropped out of high school, those living and working in remote areas, those moving because of work reasons in the middle of a degree program, indeed anyone wanting a flexible way to do a degree. Let’s hope the Ontario Online Institute, whatever its shape or form, manages to tackle this issue.

Now if I’m wrong, and you can transfer easily between universities in Ontario, then let me know and I will eat humble pie.

See also:

Designing research for the Ontario Online Institute

Another view on research for the Ontario Online Institute

HEQCO drops research for Ontario Online Institute


  1. Tony – thanks for this posting. I’ve been trying to figure out the “Online Institute” too – it’s more an idea of a concept than anything else. I’m puzzled by your assertion that there is money attached to it. I’ve tried to find this in the budget, but apart from $310M for 20,000 additional student spaces, there appear to be no other dollar amounts attached to any PSE initiatives.

    I coordinate distance ed courses at Thorneloe University (a college of Laurentian University). While most of our courses are correspondence, we do have a good number of online courses, which students at other institutions have taken for credit on Letters of Permission from their home school. This is not uncommon, and I’m hopeful that this new initiative from the Ontario government may facilitate more credit transfers within Ontario, rather than seeing much needed tuition fees flowing out of province.

    At Thorneloe, being a small school we don’t have enough online courses yet to offer a degree (from Laurentian) completely online, but with intra-university collaboration at Laurentian, we do offer a couple of degrees completely by distance.


  2. Tony, I find the the current Government of Ontario have been very cautious when it comes to promoting online inititatives such as eLearning Ontario. This caution has its drawbacks (others get a head start) and its advantages (others make the mistakes). However, the Gov still feels that they must push the wagon in all aspects of online education. ILC for example, is a dinosaur left over from the correspondence age, which the gov continues to throw tens of millions of dollars into every year through TVO to try and transform it into the modern age. The private sector would do it for free. In my opinion, the government should be promoting and helping the private sector move into the role of online education providors so that the wagon has a real engine. The gov should then do what all smart govs do – govern these initiatives effectively.

  3. Tony, thanks for raising this issue. I too was wondering what the OOI was and couldn’t find any detailed information. I’m happy to see others are interested too.

    Just as a point of clarification the Office of Open Learning at U of Guelph has hundreds of students (nearly 400 last year)from other universities take our online courses on letters of permission for credit toward their degree at their home university . Given the volume they are apparently not too difficult to obtain.

    On another point you raised about “under-served groups such as aboriginals, immigrants without Canadian high school qualifications, those who for whatever reason dropped out of high school”, U of G also has a degree route for them as well. The “Open Learning Program”. It is for students with no previous post secondary experience nor the usual qualifications to enter a degree program. If they complete four courses (2.0 credits) with a 70% minimum cumulative average, they may qualify to transfer into the Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Commerce Programs at the University of Guelph.

    More details about the Open Learning Program are available at http://www.open.uoguelph.ca/prospective/open-learning/


    • Hi, Patrick

      Many thanks for this information which is really helpful.

      I think the difference between the BC and Ontario systems is that in BC, credit transfers are usually automatic between BC universities. There is a transfer guide that indicates what is required to transfer from one institution to another, and this has all been formally agreed between the institutions.

      If a professor or department refuses to accept credits in the approved subjects at the approved grades from another BC institution, the student can appeal to the BC Council for Admission and Transfers, which will formally raise the issue with the ‘offending’ institution, which after all has signed on to this agreement. Thus there is no need for students to seek letters of permission, and appeals are rare. I also have a feeling that this agreement now extends to Alberta universities as well.

      However, I have to say I am not an expert in this area.

      One last question: how many fully online degrees does Guelph offer? Do you know? Or is it difficult to find out? I suspect the big problem facing any program offered by or through a new institute such as OOI will be finding enough courses for a whole degree in a coherent package, and especially finding enough first and second year online courses. This may be where a consortium approach to online course design could be really beneficial.

      Best regards

  4. Have you considered elearnnetwork.ca and Contact North?
    I have just discovered this myself.
    These service funded by Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, are part of Ontario’s ‘Reaching Higher Plan’ aimed at giving residents in small and rural communities in Ontario a way to further their education and skills training through eLearning courses and programs offered by Ontario’s Colleges and Universities.
    I wonder if Ontario is planning to continue to expand these services as part of the “Ontario Online Institute”

    It will be interesting to keep an eye on this latest developments in e-learning. I am excited.

    • Hi, Wayne

      Yes, the Canadian Virtual University does count, but it has only two members from Ontario: Nippising University and Laurentian. Many more Ontario universities would need to participate to enable widespread credit transfer between Ontario universities

      • Carleton University in Ontario joined CVU last year, making three members from Ontario.CVU universities offer over 300 degrees and university certificates and diplomas online/distance.

  5. This is most interesting as I have been teaching in the online university environment since 1992 with Walden University and Capella University. Established in 1970, Walden has more than 30,000 students, mostly in graduate programs. Its annual revenue is staggering.

    If the Ontario government is serious, it ought to adopt the proprietary models of Walden and Capella. But it’s a good first step to start a conversation.

    Here at UOIT, I teach online and hybrid courses using Second Life, Facebook, YouTube, and Skype.

    Today’s students taking these courses in Communication are extremely adept at using technology to learning.

    Professors teaching online also must be adept with the new technology and especially social media.

    As a filmmaker, I have now started to upload my films on YT.

    The channel is:


    • Hi, Greg

      Good question. As in the States, the answer depends on the local jurisdiction, in our case the province. Most post-secondary education institutions here in British Columbia have built up a case-by-case evaluation of qualifications from institutions around the world. These are now shared between the institutions and accessible through the BC Council of Admissions and Transfer. These are published as the BC Transfer Guide. If you go their web site at: http://www.bctransferguide.ca/ (Look for the box: Transfer from outside BC). It states: ‘If the course or program is from an accredited degree granting institution in the United States, transfer credit is normally granted, provided the courses are similar to those in the program to which the student is applying.’ However, other provinces may not have a similar system, in which case you have to apply directly to the institution that you wish to transfer to

      best regards


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