The 2019 National Survey of Online Learning in Canadian Post-secondary Education: Preliminary Results and Implications

Summary of the presentation The 2019 National Survey of Online Learning in Canadian Post-secondary Education: Preliminary Results and Implications. Moderated by Tony Bates.

This is a follow-up from the first survey from 2017. Results are now available at One of our main aims is to ensure our work adds value to responding institutions. 

(Obligatory thanking of sponsors)

Team:  Nicole Johnson, Tricia Donovan, Jeff Seaman, Tony Bates Also a panel of executive consultants.

Main presentation from Nicole Johnson.

We're giving you the tip of the iceberg today, the national report is coming out soon, the regional reports later.

Response Rate

- 164 of 234 institutions (70%) representing 90% of the student body and 95% of the online enrollment.

Key Findings

1. Online learning continues to steadily increase.

2. Digital learning is in an ongoing state of evolution and definitions will need to evolve to reflect changing practices. Eg. when we're asking institutions "what are the hybrid offerings" we have to have a common understanding so we don't get inconsistent responses.

3. There is a growing understanding of the importance of tracking online enrollment data. Previous reports have shaped how institutions track enrollments. We're looking for standards that would work among institutions.

4. Numerous institutions are exploring the use of alternative credentials. Again, we;re looking for common terms.

5. The use of OER is widespread but continues to be experimental.

6. The results illustrate a paradox between the stated perspective that online learning is important for institutions compared to the implementation of strategies for online learning.


Online learning is the primary modality for distance education in Canada. So we don't have a separate category for distance education. It is pervasive across Canada. 76% of all institutions do offer some sort of online.

101 institutions reported online enrollment  numbers. Online course registrations grew around 10% (compared to overall course registrations, which remained unchanged).

There is still a challenge in defining online offerings as they evolve. We have in Canada a lack of a universal reporting requirement. Each institution does it differently. Sometimes the tracking happens at the program or department level. but we need tracking at the provincial or national level.

We asked for enrollment data based on level of study. The proportions are about the same online as offline - 90% undergrad, 10% graduate.

The majority of institutions expect online learning enrollments to increase.

Blended hybrid learning is widespread and also expected to increase (almost nobody expects it to decrease). Again, we encountered a difficulty with the definition of 'hybrid' here.

We also discussed alternative credentials for the first time. The institutions are experimenting with the implementation of alternative credentials. But there is a need to come to a consensus with the definitions of (say) microcredentials, badges, competencies, etc. But most responded 'other'.

Beyond LMS technologies (which the vast majority of institutions use), video technologies have become quite popular. Eg. video lectures, live online lectures. Mobile technology and sociia also remain a major part of the tech used.

OER use is widespread. 67% of institutions responding use it. There is a recognition by some institution that cost is a barrier. There are initiatives sponsored by government.

Online learning is perceived as important to the long-term plans of institutions. But institutions that are implementing an strategic plan for e-learning are in the minority (42%).A quarter of institutions said 'not yet'.

Three of the four top barriers were related to training and support for faculty. So we asked about what types of PD and support were being offered. Most institutions offer some sort of training and support, but for the vast majority (73%) it's voluntary.


We need to do a deep dive into the data, to understand not only what's happening but why it's happening and who is doing it.

We also recognize that these results are institution-level results, and might not reflect what faculty and students perceive.

We'll be putting out a special report to address some of the year-to-year inconsistencies in (eg., enrollment data).

We also recognize that the survey creates an institutional burden, and we couldn't do it without the cooperation of the universities, and so we're looking at doing the survey every 2-3 years. This gives us consistency in reporting, and allows us to evaluate the accuracy of predictions.

Jeff Seaman comment

There is no consistency in data collection across institutions, or even within institutions. We're pretty happy we can say online enrollments increased 10%, while overall enrollments remained stable.

But the biggest takeaway is hat we have a really touch time getting consistent data. In the US the only way this happened was that there was a federal mandate to collect the same data in order to receive federal funds.


Who receives the survey? To whom does it go? Also - these are institutional responses; it would be nice to know how the data was collected in different institutions. Answer: we contact four people. One person from each institution responds. We don't use an online form any more; we use a fillable PDF that is circulated around. We're not sure that the specific measure we receive reflects reality, but we hope that the bias is the same.

We do this survey because, when we were in your shes, this survey would have been extremely useful to build arguments to get more resources for online learning.

In Ontario - the 14% increase in growth of online learning isn't an accident. It is the result of the investment of the government in programs like Ontario Learn, eCampus and Contact North.

Q: do you see the day when we get a federally or provincially mandated survey? Tony responds, "Be careful what you wish for." Maybe it would be nice for government to fund an arms-length organization. It would be nice to know the data are not being massaged by government. Or maybe CMEC could come forward and say it's a shared responsibility; right now it's mostly dependent on Ontario.

Even if we don't get money from CMEC, it would be good to at least have the authority to conduct this and improve what we're doing.

Data for small institutions? The growth is there irrespective of institution size (which is different from what we see in the U.S., where it's the large institutions that are growing - we're not seeing that pattern here).

Q from tony: what are institutions doing about faculty training. Response from audience: most on the training is part time and there's no compensation for that. Even though we're preaching this, in practice we're not doing it. Eg. the training itself isn't online. Some of the provide-wide institutions are maybe better-prepared to do this.


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