Congratulations to our Canadian friends on releasing the results of their first survey of online learning activities throughout their country. Oct 2017 Canada survey logo, icon with a laptop and a maple leaf, words next to the laptop read Released on Tuesday of this week at the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning, the report (“Tracking Online and Distance Education in Canadian Universities and Colleges”) is a great advance in understanding the enrollments, modes of instruction,technologies, and trends across and within the provinces.

The Canadian Context

A translation of a few terms for our non-Canadian friends:

  • Universities are baccalaureate and graduate level degree-granting institutions.
  • Colleges resemble community colleges in the United States. They typically grant diplomas, not degrees. A few are enabled to grant degrees.
  • CEGEPs, found only in Québec, are postsecondary, pre-university colleges, aimed at providing accessible academic preparation for universities.

Pictore of Toronto There are also institutions that are francophone (primarily serve French speakers), anglophone (primarily serve English speakers), and a few that serve both.

The survey asked for counts of online education course enrollments. Therefore, one student could account for several enrollments in a term. Only enrollments for the Fall term (not year-round) were collected. While I recommended this census date, some institutions reported that this undercounted their overall online enrollment efforts.

The Findings

  • Nearly all Canadian institutions offer online education. Almost all colleges and universities offer online education courses, while about half of the CEGEPs do so. However, there is a centralized service (Cégep à distance) that offers courses on behalf of those institutions.
  • Double-digit growth in enrollments. Average online education enrollment growth for universities has been about 10% per year and about 15% per year for colleges. CEGEPs saw a minor decline in enrollments.
  • Online courses found in almost every academic subject. More than 50% of the universities reported having courses in Arts and Social Sciences, Business, Education, Science, and Nursing.
  • Online learning is a strategic asset. More than two-thirds rated online learning as important for the institution, long-term. Less than half (14%) have implemented or are implementing (26%) a strategic plan for online learning, while about a third (32%) are developing a plan.
  • Blended learning is common. Nearly three-fourths (72%) of reporting institutions offer blended/hybrid courses. About 12% of institutions report that more than 30% of their courses are offered in this mode of instruction.
  • Less use of MOOCs and OER than expected. While we are well-past the “year of the MOOC,” less than 20% of responding institutions offered MOOCs in the past year. British Columbia and Ontario have been world-wide leaders in promoting open content. Its use is still emerging as 5% of responding institutions use OER extensively and 35% report moderate OER use.

Comparisons to the United States

I was honored to write the section on comparisons of the Canadian results with surveys of institutions in the United States:

  • The U.S. is plagued with different definitions of distance education for federal, state, and accrediting agencies. Similarly, Canadian postsecondary education is under the mandate of the provinces and definitions differ.
  • Canada collected data on course enrollments, while the U.S. Department of Education’s IPEDS survey measures student headcounts.
  • Nearly all Canadian colleges and universities offer online courses, while about three-quarters (71%) of U.S. institutions do so.
  • In both countries, almost all larger institutions offer distance education courses while a lesser percentage of smaller colleges offer distance education.
  • Canada’s enrollment growth has been in the double-digits for the last several years. For headcounts in the U.S., public institutions averaged 3.0 – 5.4% growth, private non-profits averaged about 11% growth, and for-profits experienced a decrease in distance education students.
  • About two-thirds of respondents in both countries agree that distance education is an important strategic asset for the future of the institution.


Image of Dr. Tony Bates
Dr. Tony Bates

I am very proud for my role in getting the key players together, including Jeff Seaman (Babson Survey Research Group) and Tricia Donovan (formerly of eCampus Alberta).

The driving force behind the survey is Tony Bates (currently with both Ryerson University and Contact North) who combined the energy, drive, and vision to see this effort to completion.

A key asset was his assembling of a great support team including Brian Desbiens (Sir Sandford Fleming College), Ross Paul (University of Windsor and Laurentian University), Denis Mayer (Laurentian University), and Eric Martel (Université Laval).

We also need to acknowledge the fabulous sponsorship of the provincial online learning support organizations: eCampus Ontario, Contact North/Nord, Campus Manitoba, BCcampus, eCampus Alberta.

From the corporate sector, Pearson Canada and D2L also are to be thanked for providing significant funding.

Oct 2017 Canada survey team
The Survey Team from left to right: Ross Paul, Tricia Donovan, Brian Desbiens, Tony Bates, Russ Poulin, Eric Martel, and Denis Mayer. Missing: Jeff Seamans.

And thank you to Tim Hortons (the iconic Canadian coffee and donut shop) as I munch on some Timbits while writing this post.


Russ Poulin


Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies



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