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Faculty Fear Growth of e-Learning in Canada

The government of Ontario, Canada would like to convert at least 60% of all undergraduate post-secondary courses to an e-learning format.

That’s a lot of courses.

The province’s teachers, for their part, made it clear last week that they do not support the government’s aggressive push toward online learning at the college level.

The results of a province-wide survey of professors, released last week by the Ontario Association of University Faculty Association (OAUFA), revealed that the vast majority — 86% of Canadian faculty – believe that converting 60% of undergraduate courses to an online format would irreparably “harm the quality of university education.”

A New e-Learning Canada – Proposed Shifts to Cut Costs

In 2011, facing escalating costs and low college completion rates, the Government of Ontario began hashing out a number of changes to the structure and delivery of post-secondary education programs in the province.

Leaked reports showed that government officials supported three drastic changes to the post-secondary system in the province: 1) development of a 3-year bachelor’s degree to replace the 4-year standard; 2) delivery of at least 60 percent of all undergraduate courses online; and 3) adoption of a ‘year-round’ or three-semester model of continuous enrollment to replace the historical two semester system.

To gauge faculty opinion on these proposed government mandates, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) surveyed their members in April 2012. The OCUFA survey received 2,015 complete questionnaire responses from a surveyed population of 2,300 faculty members and librarians working inside Ontario universities.

Results of the OCUFA survey of professors (pdf), amounted to a “hell no,” utterance of resistance toward two out of three of the government’s planned cost-cutting and accountability measures.

  • 82 per cent of faculty responded that converting 60 per cent of undergraduate study to an online course format would “harm post-secondary education”
  • 50 per cent of faculty reported a “strong disbelief” that online learning could ever be an effective substitute for the classroom experience
  • 86 per cent of faculty responded that adopting a three-year degree structure would “harm the quality of university education”

Ontario Biggest Adopter of e-Learning in Canada

Contact North, an Ontario distance learning site, says Ontario is the number one most active province in the country for the adoption of online learning. All 24 post-secondary institutions in the province are already participating in distance learning programs, according to Contact North.

A summary report of trends in e-learning inside Ontario (pdf), released in 2011, revealed hard stats on the real number of online course conversions in the province. The reality of online course conversions – 7% for undergraduate college courses – is far from the 60% goal stated in current government planning documents.

The Ontario Summary revealed that at the undergraduate level, 21 Ontario institutions have made 4,743 courses available in an online format as of the beginning of 2011- that’s only 7% out of a total of 64,590 possible undergraduate college courses.

The report also revealed that 13 Ontario institutions have made 505 courses available in an e-learning format at the graduate level as of the beginning of 2011 – that’s only 3% out of a total of 16,859 possible graduate courses at participating institutions in Ontario.

OCUFA Survey Reports Widespread Skepticism Among Canadian Faculty

In interpreting the results of the April 2012 OCUFA survey of faculty attitudes towards the e-learning Canada initiative, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations had this to say:

“Surveyed faculty members are clearly skeptical of the online education proposal, with 82% expressing concern about a move to deliver 60 per cent of undergraduate courses in the digital space. It is important to note that this finding does not question the quality of online delivery when appropriately balanced with other classroom, laboratory, seminar, or studio engagement. What is likely of concern is the arbitrary choice of 60 per cent without any assessment of impact across all programs or disciplines.”

In any event, with only 7% of post-secondary undergraduate courses having undergone a digital conversion in the province, and with the government aiming for a 60% rate, expect to hear more strained utterances from professors in the country’s most populous province about the e-learning Canada plan’s unrealistic goals.

Vicky Phillips, Founder of Get Educated

Vicky Phillips was cited in 2009 by US News & World Report as “for 20 years the leading consumer advocate for online college students.” In 1989 she designed America’s first online counseling center for distance learners on AOL. In 1998 she authored the first print guide to online graduate degrees – Best Distance Learning Graduate Schools put out by the Princeton Review. In 2001 she authored Never Too Late to Learn the Adult Student’s Guide to College. 


Image Credit: Jeff Smith/Flickr