Online education was already an established concept in many nations, including Canada, before 2020 and the advent of COVID-19, lockdowns associated with which have necessitated its widespread adoption. With that said, it was used much less at the time, with most educators and students favoring face-to-face instruction. It was still an emerging approach based on the new availability of easily available, high-speed internet communication and the technologies that it enabled. Adoption was taking place slowly, with various institutions deciding that specific aspects of education that they provided could be better handled remotely. The purpose of this summary is to evaluate some literature on the pre-2020 state of online education in Canada to determine its success and the most widely-used methods.
Various institutions were considering and adopting online education as of 2019. Per Ebeattie (2019), there were 1.36 million online course registrations in Canada’s postsecondary education institutions, with one in five students attending at least one. The principal advantage cited by most of the surveyed participants was that of increased flexibility and access. The lack of need to attend class and the potentially relaxed submission rules make it easier for students to keep up. Additionally, people who live a considerable distance from the educational facility can participate in the course without the need to move closer and incur the costs associated with doing so.
With that said, the switch to online education was not seen as entirely advantageous, especially where the experiences of the educators are concerned. It requires both a structural rearrangement of the course material and the purchase of equipment. As a result, per the Canadian Digital Learning Resource Association’s (2019) report, over half of all institutions with fewer than 1,000 students did not offer online courses to their students. Moreover, questions about the ability to verify the learning of students with whom one does not interact directly were raised. The Canadian Digital Learning Resource Association (2019) noted that half of all of the nation’s institutions remained neutral on the question of the validity of online degrees. Given the pro-online education slant of the report, a large portion of these opinions may be considered to be disagreement distorted by social desirability bias or similar considerations.
Overall, the narrative on online education may not have been as positive as the above would suggest. Lee (2017) provides a counterpoint to the optimistic evaluations, stating that, due to the multiplicity of different approaches to online education, adoption alone did not necessarily make it more accessible. As a rapidly developing field, online education was subdivided into large numbers of experimental approaches, not all of which were based on the same principles or operated in the same manner. Educators and facilities who disagreed about the purposes, student characteristics, and technologies used for online education would struggle to cooperate in implementing it effectively (Lee, 2017). As such, adoption would proceed slowly unless a unified paradigm were to be found.
The emergence of COVID-19 led to an increased and urgent need for online education, and the worldwide efforts to adopt effective systems created a smaller set of effective strategies that different facilities were able to adopt. Without it, it is likely that the process would have taken considerably longer. Moreover, it may have taken on a different form as a result of long-term scholarly investigations into approaches that generated the highest quality of education. Still, the adoption of online education was proceeding steadily, and various postsecondary institutions were at least considering it. Overall, it appears that even after a complete return to face-to-face instruction, online education will have an increasing place in Canada.
Canadian Digital Learning Resource Association. (2019). Canadian national survey of online and distance education: Public report. Web.
Ebeattie. (2019). Online learning welcomes increased numbers of Canadian students. BCcampus. Web.
Lee, K. (2017). Rethinking the accessibility of online higher education: A historical review. The Internet and Higher Education, 33, 15-23.