Online learning welcomes increased numbers of Canadian students

1.36 million Canadian students gain improvements in diversity, access, and opportunities through online courses

Growth in online learning continues in Canadian universities, colleges and CEGEPs offering flexible access to post-secondary courses and programs throughout the country, according to a recent report released by the Canadian Digital Learning and Research Association. The results of the Tracking Online and Digital Learning in Canada survey can be found online at:

The second annual survey of online learning was conducted in the summer of 2018. The survey team, led by Dr. Tricia Donovan and Dr. Tony Bates, targeted over 200 public post-secondary institutions across Canada, and achieved a high response rate of 80% from all universities, colleges, and CEGEPs.

Key findings include:

  • 1.36 million online credit course registrations in 2016/17, which is equivalent to 4 universities of 27,500 each, 4 colleges of 10,000 each and a CEGEP of 3,500.
  • One in five students are taking at least one online course per year, while many are taking between 3-10 courses each year
  • More than 2/3rds of all Canadian post-secondary institutions now offer online courses and/or programs.
  • Increasing student access and flexibility, attracting students beyond traditional service areas and increasing student options for credential completion were identified as key benefits of online and digital learning.
  • Additional effort required of faculty was cited as the most significant barrier (85%) of respondents; inadequate training and support for faculty in online learning was identified as a key barrier by 73% of respondents.
  • Canadian leaders hold a more positive of the learning outcomes in online courses than counterparts surveyed in the United States during the same time period.

“The 2018 survey results illustrate that most Canadian post-secondary institutions see online learning as critical to their future academic plans; particularly as it relates to increasing access for students,” says Tricia Donovan, Executive Director, CDLRA. “We believe that capturing this data will help institutions to continue to foster student success in online learning through supports for faculty and institutional practice.”

“The National survey underscores the expanding interest in online learning in Canada. For us to support this growth, we need to expand and innovate programs that support faculty. Our Ontario Extend program is aimed squarely at providing faculty with the digital fluency to confidently take their teaching online,” says David Porter, CEO, eCampusOntario.

“Online learning has the power to enable students to participate in post-secondary education more than ever before, and it’s exciting to see that institutions are responding. At BCcampus we are delighted to be in a position to help, through programs like our Facilitating Learning Online offerings, in which educators gain skills and confidence for teaching online. At the same time, we advocate for this work to be part of a larger context in which learning is designed in ways that are welcoming to all students,” says Mary Burgess, Executive Director, BCcampus

This survey was initiated in 2017 by Dr. Tony Bates, a Canadian consultant and author of many books and articles on the adoption of online learning. The intention is to continue this survey as an annual process, offering national data to inform policy decisions by government, institutions, academic departments, and individual instructors as well as to capture benefits for students.

The survey is supported by eCampusOntario, BCcampus, Campus Manitoba, Quebec Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur, CICan, Contact North, OCAS, Pearson Canada, D2L and partners from the USA: Babson Survey Research Group and WCET. By gathering Canadian data in a regular and consistent form, this data is available for use in Canada, and for comparison with broader North American trends.

For more information, contact Dr. Tricia Donovan.