Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities is to be congratulated for undertaking a comprehensive survey of online offerings in its post-secondary institutions. The results were released at the same time as the Minister’s announcement about the appointment of a special adviser regarding the Ontario Online Institute.
Ontario (2011) Fact Sheet Summary of Ontario eLearning Surveys of Publicly Assisted PSE Institutions Toronto: Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities
Online learning in Ontario’s public post-secondary institutions
The full fact sheet should be read, but I summarize the key points here:
- This is a very comprehensive and statistically reliable survey. All 24 colleges of applied arts and technology and all 23 universities and affiliates responded (a 100% response rate). ‘Online’ courses refer to fully online, and hybrid refer to 50%+ delivered online but with a face-to-face component.
- Online course registrations constitute 11% of all post-secondary course registrations in colleges and universities in 2010, a total of 485,619 registrations in online courses. The proportion of registrations in undergraduate online courses in universities was higher (13%) than those for college or graduate courses (7%).
- Online courses constituted 15% of all courses, a total of 20,338 courses in all. This figure may overstate the total of unique online courses, as 110 courses are shared between 22 colleges through the Open Learn project. At an undergraduate university level, online courses constituted 7% (4,743 courses) of all courses.
- There were 762 online programs in Ontario post-secondary institutions in 2010, constituting 14% of all programs. 41% of these programs were offered through the Open Learn college consortium.
- Universities provide substantially more hybrid offerings – 50% of elearning courses and 64% of elearning registrations – than online at 43% of courses and 30% of registrations.
- High completion rates were recorded for online courses.
- The median in the college sector for the 20 colleges that responded to the question was 76.1% with most institutions reporting results between 70% and 79%.
- The median in the university sector for the 15 universities that responded was 89% with most universities reporting results from 85% to 95%.
How does Ontario compare to other provinces?
We don’t know. No other Canadian province has collected (or at least published) such data. There are no national statistics in Canada on online education. Ontario is I believe unique in that it has actually surveyed what is happening.
Although BC Campus and eCampus Alberta have portals with online courses offered by their colleges and universities, their lists are not comprehensive. BC Campus lists 2,200 online courses and 200 programs province-wide, but I know for instance that it does not include a substantial number of online courses offered by UBC. BC’s population is .34 of Ontario’s while its ratio of online programs to Ontario’s is .38, which suggests that Ontario provides a reasonable benchmark for BC. Actual data though would be better than guesswork.
eCampus Alberta lists 600 online courses and 60 programs. However,eCampus Alberta doesn’t include courses from Athabasca University, nor the Universities of Calgary, Lethbridge or Alberta (not that these traditional universities have much fully online learning).
There is a report recently from Quebec on distance education courses, but it does not provide information specifically on online courses. There are just over 300,000 university students in Québec, and distance education enrollments average approximately 7,200 FTEs, so distance education enrollments are still a small percentage (just under 3%) of the total.
First, congratulations to the Ontario provincial government for collecting these data. Ontario has now provided a reliable, statistical benchmark for measuring the extent of online learning within post-secondary education. Ontario’s data of 13% fully online, and 64% hybrid in undergraduate teaching in Ontario, suggests that e-learning is now a significant reality in post-secondary education, which makes it all the more concerning that we have so little data about its extent in other Canadian provinces. I now challenge other Canadian jurisdictions to collect comparable data.
Second, these figures are considerably lower than similar data from the USA collected by Sloan-C, and Ambient Insight Research (although more in line with the Eduventures report, which pegged online registrations at 11% in the USA). It suggests one of two things: Canadian institutions are moving more slowly into fully online learning; or the American studies are over-estimating the online movement in the USA. I suspect it is a mix of both. One of the main drivers of online learning in the USA is the for-profit sector (University of Phoenix, Kaplan, etc.) which constitutes 32% of the online market. Although students in Canada do take courses from American for-profits, these were not included in the Ontario survey, and in any case are likely to be relatively small. Nor were Ontario enrollments in Athabasca University included (40% of whose enrollments come from Ontario). So overall figures for online students in Ontario may be slightly higher. The American studies rely on very small samples (or rather, the sample size is a small proportion of the total population) and is largely self-selecting. Thus institutions more active in online learning are more likely to reply than those less active, hence biasing the results towards greater numbers of online learners in the USA studies. However, Ontario’s data would fit with Canadian’s self-portrayal that they move more cautiously and carefully than their American neighbours. What is probably common is that online registrations in both countries are likely to continue their rapid growth over the next few years.
Third, Ontario provides at last some system-wide data about completion rates, putting to bed the lie about online courses always having high drop-out rates. The Ontario completion rates also suggest that the quality of online learning is consistently strong throughout their institutions (or that their students are particularly determined).
This is probably the most significant statistical study on online learning in Canada. It provides an important baseline for future studies. It shows that Ontario has a very lively, extensive and effective online education scene. It provides an essential baseline for the development of the Ontario Online Institute. And lastly, it’s really nice to report some good news on a very cold snowy day that is all too familiar to Ontarians, but quite unexpected in Vancouver at the end of February.