Institutional barriers holding back post-secondary e-learning in Canada

OTTAWA, Oct. 12, 2016 /CNW/ - E-learning has the potential to play an increasingly important role in Canada's post-secondary system as new technology and student preferences evolve. However, adoption in Canada is being held back by a number of factors, including a lack of institutional support and faculty skepticism, according to a new report from The Conference Board of Canada's Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education.

"E-learning could profoundly change the way post-secondary education is designed and delivered. In many situations e-learning can be more engaging, less passive, and more customized to different learning styles than traditional lecture-based learning," said Michael Bloom, Vice-President, Industry and Business Strategy, The Conference Board of Canada. "But the use of e-learning is minimal across Canadian universities." 


  • Lack of institutional support and faculty skepticism are holding back e-learning adoption
  • From a quality perspective, e-learning may be more engaging, less passive, and more customized to different learning styles than traditional lecture-based learning
  • E-learning accounts for between 10 and 15 per cent of PSE learning

The Conference Board's first fully online report, Learning in the Digital Age, explores the potential of e-learning in Canada and makes recommendations to improve its adoption. E-learning is being gradually adopted by Canada's post-secondary institutions, accounting for about 10–15 per cent of all post-secondary, full-time equivalent (FTE) enrolments. This adoption rate for e-learning is not equally distributed across Canada's post-secondary institutions. Memorial University and the University of Manitoba are among university leaders with online enrolments of 31 and 19 per cent respectively in 2010. On the other hand, a few dedicated institutions, such as Athabasca University and Télé-université du Québec, are completely online.

For the most part e-learning is not being used as an alternative format for younger, full-time degree students because PSE institutions are focused on making full use of existing classroom infrastructure. Once built, there is a strong incentive for them to use the existing infrastructure, rather than developing alternative e-learning or blended learning initiatives. Moreover, some faculty are skeptical about the format or their ability to replicate their classroom approach to learning in an online environment. In cases where institutions have not made a strategic commitment to e-learning, faculty are likely to be unsupported and therefore tend to use e-learning technologies in basic ways.

E-learning can be just as effective as traditional learning methods, in some cases more so. In recent years, average class sizes have continued to grow, which has undermined the engagement between students and instructors and among students. Advanced e-learning methods, on the other hand, use sophisticated animation and video to recreate the physical face-to-face learning environment in a personal setting. Moreover, e-learning permits learning to be delivered just-in-time, when the learner needs it. It also allows learners to learn from each other, through networking technologies.

Institutional administrators, governments and benefactors need to work together to integrate e-learning into the PSE approach to demand planning. This would help lower costs, improve accessibility, and increase the quality of e-learning. In addition, while faculty members are willing to try this new form of learning, they need to be supported to create better courses, learn best practices and reduce skepticism on the efficiency of e-learning.

This, along with topics on how to build and maintain a world class Post-Secondary Education system will be discussed at the 4th annual Skills and Post-Secondary Education Summit 2016, November 30 and December 1 in Toronto.  

Learning in the Digital Age was prepared by The Conference Board of Canada's Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education (SPSE). SPSE is a major five-year initiative that examines the advanced skills and education challenges facing Canada today.

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SOURCE Conference Board of Canada

For further information: Yvonne Squires, Media Relations, The Conference Board of Canada, Tel.: 613- 526-3090 ext. 221, E-mail: ; Juline Ranger, Director of Communications, The Conference Board of Canada, Tel.: 613- 526-3090 ext. 431, E-mail:


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