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By Barry Phillips, Sero

For enttities in Canada see Category:Canada


Partners and experts in Canada

Tony Bates of the International Advisory Committee.

Erin Mills Senior Researcher, Canadian Council on Learning and Lead author of the 2009 State of e-Learning in Canada report.

Michael Barbour (based in the US at Wayne State University) author of the 2008, 2009, 2010 iNACOL State of the Nation: K-12 Online Learning in Canada reports.

Canada in a nutshell

Canada is a large country occupying over half of the continent of North America, touching three oceans - Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic. Its population was estimated in the 2006 census as around 31.5 million but other estimates such as the CIA Factbook give up to and over 33 million currently. (Rapid immigration is one source of the discrepancy but not, it seems, the only one - the issue has generated some debate.)


Thus there would seem to be a strong argument that a Commonwealth country of this size would have many points of relevance, generally and in education, to many larger countries in the European Union. While true generally (e.g. for industrial policy) it is not at all true for education - the provinces are the relevant entities. See later for details.

Many if not most Canadian universities have competence in e-learning at least in pockets. Several major e-learning systems past and present have come from Canada, some from academia but most not - for example, in recent years WebCT and Desire2Learn, and many years ago the CoSy and FirstClass conferencing systems used at the Open University. We give the main ones below of relevance to an EU audience.

Canada is divided into 13 provinces and territories of which the most important and relevant in e-learning terms are the following:

For further details at the province level see the particular province entries listed in Category:Provinces and territories of Canada.

The Canadian Virtual University (CVU) is a group of Canadian universities specializing in online and distance education and a list of these can be found on the site.

Document of relevance: sums up Canadian distance learning courses and programmes provided by Higher Education.

Education in Canada

In Canada, almost alone among countries in the world, education at all levels is so completely devolved to the provinces that there is not and cannot be a Minister of Education for Canada. (The wikipedia article on Education in Canada gives more details including of the residual federal responsibilities. See also CMEC.) (sourced from

With the earlier caveat about the devolved approach to education, here are the basic facts.

Education in Canada is generally divided into Elementary (Primary School, Public School), followed by Secondary (High School) and Post Secondary (University, College). Within the provinces under the ministry of education, there are district school boards administering the educational programmes.

Schools in Canada

Education is compulsory up to the age of 16 in every province in Canada, except for Ontario and New Brunswick, where the compulsory age is 18. In some provinces early leaving exemptions can be granted under certain circumstances at 14.

Canada generally has 180 to 190 school days in the year, officially starting from September (after Labour Day) to the end of June (usually the last Friday of the month, Wednesday in some Ontario schools).

Canada spends about 7% of its GDP on education. Since the adoption of section 23 of the Constitution Act, 1982, education in both English and French has been available in most places across Canada (if the population of children speaking the minority language justifies it), although French Second Language education/French Immersion is availble to Anglophone students across Canada.

Originally all the provinces had educational systems divided by religion, but most provinces have abolished these. Ontario, Alberta, and certain cities in Saskatchewan are exceptions to this, as they still maintain publicly funded Separate district school boards (usually Catholic but occasionally Protestant). In Quebec, the Catholic/Protestant divide was replaced with a French/English one in 1998. Québécois must attend a French School up until the end of high school unless one of their parents previously attended an English-language school somewhere in Canada (immigrants from other countries cannot use this exception). However this rule applies only to public schools, therefore immigrants to Quebec can send their children to English private schools.

Most Canadian education systems continue up to grade 12 (age 17 to 18). In Quebec, the typical high school term ends after Secondary V, the same as to grade 11 (age 16 to 17); following this, students who wish to pursue their studies to the university level have to attend CEGEP which is a unique educational institution, between high school and junior colleges. Cegeps are often referred to as "junior colleges".

Normally, for each type of publicly funded school (such as Public English or Public French), the province is divided into districts (or divisions). Normally, all publicly funded schools are under the authority of their local district school board. These school boards would follow a common curriculum set up by the province the board resides in. Only Alberta allows public charter schools, which are independent of any district board - instead, they each have their own board, which reports directly to the province.

Primary education and secondary education combined are sometimes referred to as K-12 (Kindergarten through Grade 12). It should be noted that this structure can vary from school to school, and from province to province. For instance, Prince Edward Island school systems is the only province that does not provide Kindergarten. In contrast, Ontario is the only province which provides two levels of Kindergarten (Junior and Senior).

In Canada, secondary schooling, known as high school, "école secondaire" or secondary school, differs depending on the province in which one resides. Additionally, grade structure may vary within a province and even within a school division. Education is compulsory up to the age of 16 in every province in Canada, except for Ontario and New Brunswick (where the compulsory ages are 18). Students may continue to attend high school until the ages of 19 to 21 (the cut-off age for high school varies between province). Those 19 and over may attend adult school. Also if high schoolers are expelled or suspended for a period of time over 2 months or so they could attend night school at the high school.

Ontario had a "Grade 13" known as Ontario Academic Credit (OAC) year, but this was abolished by the provincial government to cut costs. OAC was last offered for the 2002-2003 school year. As a result, the curriculum has been compacted, and the more difficult subjects, such as mathematics, are comparatively harder than before. However, the system is now approximately equivalent to what has been the case outside of Quebec and Ontario for many years. Secondary education in Quebec continues to Grade 11 (Secondary V), and is typically followed by CEGEP, a two or three year college program taken after high school. Pre-university CEGEP programs are two years in Quebec (university for Quebecers is three years), and vocational or professional programs are three years in duration.

Private schools

In Canada there is no obligation for parents to place their children in the public school system, and about 8% of students are in the private system. Nevertheless, there are more and more private schools in urban areas (high schools, especially). It is not unusual for the wealthy and prominent in Canada to send their children to public schools, especially in the lower grades. A far larger portion of private schools are religious based institutions. Private schools are also used to study outside the country. For example one in Italy has an Ontario curriculum.

Each province deals differently with private religious schools. In Ontario the Catholic system continues to be fully publicly funded, but other faiths receive no such funding. Ontario has several private Jewish, Muslim, and Christian schools, but all are funded through tuition fees. Since the Catholic schools system is entrenched in the constitution, the Supreme Court has ruled that this system is not unconstitutional. However, the United Nations has ruled that Ontario's system is unfair. In 2002 the government introduced a controversial proposal to partially fund all private schools, but this was criticized for undermining the public education system and the proposal was eliminated after the Liberals won the 2003 provincial election.

In other provinces privately operated religious schools are funded. In British Columbia the government pays 50% of the cost of religious schools provided that they meet rigorous provincial standards. The province has a number of Sikh, Hindu, Christian, and Muslim schools. Alberta also has a network of charter schools, which are fully funded public (not private) schools offering distinct approaches to education within the public school system (note that the province does not grant charters to religious schools). These charter schools have to follow the provincial curriculum and meet all standards, but are given considerable freedom in other areas. In all other provinces private religious schools receive some funding, but not as much as the public system.

Further and Higher education

Post-secondary education in Canada is also the responsibility of the individual provinces and territories. Those governments provide the majority of funding to their public post-secondary institutions, with the remainder of funding coming from tuition fees, the federal government, and research grants. Compared to other countries in the past, Canada has had the highest tertiary school enrollment as a percentage of their graduating population.

Nearly all post-secondary institutions in Canada have the authority to grant academic credentials (i.e., diplomas or degrees). Generally speaking, universities grant degrees (e.g., bachelor's, master's or doctorate degrees) while colleges, which typically offer vocationally-oriented programmes, grant diplomas and certificates. However, some colleges offer applied arts degrees that lead to or are equivalent to degrees from a university.

Post-secondary education in Quebec begins with CEGEP (collèges d'enseignement général et professionnel), following graduation from Grade 11 (or Secondary V). Students complete a two- or three-year general program leading to admission to a university, or a professional program leading directly into the labour force. In most cases, bachelor's degree programmes in Quebec are three years instead of the usual four; however, in many cases, students attending a university in Quebec that did not graduate from CEGEP must complete an additional year of coursework. When Ontario had five years of high school, a three-year bachelor's degree was common, but these degrees are being phased out in favour of the four-year degree.

The main variation between the provinces, with respect to universities, is the amount of funding they receive. Universities in Quebec receive the most funding and have the lowest tuitions. Universities in Atlantic Canada generally receive the least funding and some, like Acadia University, are almost wholly reliant on private funding.

The Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), is the military academy of the Canadian Forces and is a full degree-granting university. RMC is the only federal institution with degree granting powers.

The higher education systems in Canada's ten provinces have different historical development, organization (e.g., structure, governance, and funding), and goals (e.g., participation, access, and mobility). This makes it impossible to summarise the overall system. The reader is referred to the wikipedia article

Universities in Canada

(sourced from

Canada has somewhat over 70 universities including the large multi-campus Université du Québec which includes Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) , the host of the Télé-université (Téluq) There is an elite group, the Group of 13, comprising the most prestigious and research-active universities, but e-learning competence is found across the span of universities in Canada.

A selection of those better known beyond Canada including for e-learning (research and/or implementation) would be something like the following:

Polytechnics in Canada

This term is seldom used in Canada (for example, École polytechnique de Montréal, which trains almost 5000 engineers. This term is also used to describe some colleges.

Colleges in Canada

There are many colleges in Canada - for a partial list see

Most are not known outside Canada, whether or not for e-learning, but one that is known is Mount Royal College.


(sourced from

A CEGEP (French: Cégep) is a post-secondary education institution exclusive to the province of Quebec in Canada. CEGEP is a French acronym for Collège d'enseignement général et professionnel, meaning "College of General and Vocational Education". They are comparable to community colleges, but are required to enter university, which is why secondary school and undergrad degrees both are one less year in Quebec.

The purpose of CEGEPs is to make post-secondary education more accessible in Quebec, as well as to provide proper academic preparation for university. There are both public and private subsidized CEGEPs with the public CEGEPs having little or no tuition fee. The CEGEP system was started in 1967 by the Quebec provincial government and originally had 12 CEGEPs. Today there are 48 CEGEPs in Quebec, of which 5 are English language CEGEPs. There are also 50 private colleges, including 6 English language colleges. While CEGEP refers technically to only public colleges, in common usage the term is sometimes applied also to private colleges offering some of the same programmes.

They are not seen at this stage as relevant to Re.ViCa but we look forward to input on this issue.

Education reform



The Bologna Process

Interestingly the Rectors of Canadian universities are closely interested in the Bologna Process. A June 2008 statement from AUCC is given below.

Higher education, like most sectors, is transforming itself in step with the ever-advancing trends of the global knowledge economy. A high profile example of this is the reform agenda being implemented by Europe’s universities through the Bologna Process. While the Bologna Process is a uniquely European initiative, its influence and impact on higher education is being felt throughout the world.

Canadian universities continue to be recognized globally for the quality of higher education delivered. They are, however, not immune to developments of the magnitude of the Bologna Process. It is therefore appropriate at this time to respond to this emerging European initiative by at once seizing its related opportunities and facing its challenges.

The internationalization of Canada’s universities includes facilitating the two-way flow of students through international student recruitment and student exchange as well as bringing an international dimension to the curriculum. It is in these areas of student mobility and curricular reform where the Bologna Process will have its greatest impact on Canadian universities.

AUCC members therefore, through this statement, acknowledge the significance of the emerging European Higher Education Area and hereby commit to undertaking a course of action to address the implications of the Bologna Process for Canadian universities and plan a path forward for engaging with our European partners, both old and new, in a spirit that mirrors Europe’s own renewal in higher education.

AUCC, through its Standing Advisory Committee on International Relations and the Board of Directors, has been examining for some time how Canadian universities can best respond to the changes under way in Europe. It began by identifying the following three key implications of these changes for Canadian universities.

Competition in international student recruitment is the primary implication. The Bologna Process, among its other goals, is also a sophisticated exercise in marketing European higher education. As the Bologna countries seek to make Europe a more attractive study destination through its degree harmonization and support for increased academic mobility, they are likely to increase their international student market share at the expense of other leading host countries, including Canada.

Secondly, the impact of the increasing number of three-year undergraduate degrees from Bologna countries on Canadian credential evaluation policies and practices needs to be assessed. The coming influx of three year degrees presents obvious challenges for admission decisions in graduate studies at Canadian institutions and raises questions about the effect this will have on our graduate programs.

Finally, student mobility, through short-term exchanges and study abroad opportunities for Canadian students is an area in which AUCC believes it is imperative to act to take advantage of the emerging landscape of higher education in Europe. The prevalence of the transparency tools in the Bologna Process, such as the European Credit Transfer System and the Diploma Supplement, along with funding programs such as Erasmus Mundus, represent a potential for increased Canada-Europe student mobility and enhanced international curricula through joint degree programs.

As AUCC pursues further action in relation to the Bologna Process, all activities will be informed by the guiding principle of the autonomy of individual Canadian universities to respond to these issues according to their own particular needs and strategies. This exercise is also guided by the acknowledgement of the challenges in pursuing any collective approach aimed at aligning with the European model, given the diversity and complexity of Canadian higher education.

AUCC recognizes, however, that responding to the Bologna Process also represents a unique opportunity to examine ‘lessons learned’ and best practices in addressing Canada’s internal system of credit transfers and mobility among institutions across jurisdictions.

In the spirit of renewed engagement in higher education beyond our borders and given the circumstances related to the emerging Bologna Process, AUCC commits to:

  • Keeping a close watching brief on the progress of the Bologna Process with respect to implementation of reforms and political direction in Europe.
  • Closely monitoring the engagement of other non-Bologna countries such as the United States, Australia and China along with other actors within Canada, such as governmental partners and other higher education stakeholders.
  • Continuing to raise awareness among its membership of key issues related to the Bologna Process through a continued national dialogue within the association, research on good practices and the organization of various information sessions and workshops.
  • Pursuing a policy dialogue with European partners such as the European University Association, to identify ways of seizing the opportunities to enhance Canada-Europe cooperation, especially student mobility, and address any challenges for Canadian universities in the broader Bologna context.

Other activities

None known. This is not to say that all is perfect with Canada's universities. Even local commentators accept that things must change.

Administration and finance



Although the provinces have responsibility for universities including providing funds, the federal government retains a funding role - and a vital one. A position paper from AUCC describes the situation.

In Canada, as in most other well-established federal systems, including the United States, Australia, Switzerland and Germany, constitutional jurisdiction for education rests with the regional, provincial or state governments. However, in all of these federations, the central governments have come to play major roles in support of higher education. They have done so in large part because of the strategic importance of these institutions in educating people for the knowledge economy and in performing research. In Australia, for example, the federal government is now the primary source of funds, not only for university research but also for the operating budgets of the universities. In the United States, by contrast, the state governments remain the primary source of operating funding for public universities and fouryear colleges, but the federal government is the most important source of university research funding and effectively reduces some of the pressure on university operating budgets by paying for faculty time devoted to federally-funded research.

Despite the Constitution’s exclusive grant of powers to the provincial legislatures to “make Laws in relation to Education” and “in and for each Province”, the federal government in Canada has shown an interest in higher education since the early years of Confederation and especially, since the First World War. The overriding goal of federal investments in higher education, particularly since the Second World War, has been to maximize universities’ contributions to economic growth, competitiveness and social development in Canada as a whole. To this end, the investments have sought:

  • to support growth in institutional capacity to provide access to growing numbers of students;
  • to promote accessibility for students through student assistance measures;
  • to develop university research and graduate education and, especially in recent years, to build internationally competitive research capacity in the universities; and
  • to promote Canada’s interests internationally in relation to, and through, higher education.

With regard to the last of these objectives, the federal government has made a number of investments over the years, including the Canada Corps University Partnership Program and Human Resources and Social Development Canada’s International Academic Mobility Programs. In general, however, these have lacked overall policy coherence and sustained commitment.

On the student assistance, research and graduate education objectives, the federal government has made major investments over the period since the Second World War, and especially since 1997, in recognition of the strategic importance of university education and research in a knowledge economy. In particular, the large research investments since 1997 have had a very positive impact on the health of Canada’s university research environment. At the same time, international competitors have also been investing in university research and major challenges remain in this country. The first of the objectives, increasing universities’ institutional capacity to take on more students, was at the heart of federal investments in the period from 1945 to 1967, first through direct grants to universities and then through the cost-shared program.

With the creation of the EPF transfers from 1977 to 1995 and even more so, the creation of the unconditional and undifferentiated CHST transfers in 1995, the federal government has paid little overt attention to this objective. No portion of the CHST or the subsequent CST is designated specifically for postsecondary education.

Quality assurance, inspection and accreditation



Canadian universities are notoriously reluctant to accept any level of direction from outside the institution, be it from provincial or federal goverment. This applies also to quality issues. Thus the regimes typical now in Europe and much of the rest of the British Commonwealth are not found - yet - in Canada. Some local commentators fear that the Bologna Process will be used by the Canadian government to impose uniformity on universities including a uniform quality process - see for example the May 2008 outpouring A load of Bologna by Alex Ussher.

However the AUCC seems to accept that some better coordination and peer review is necessary to reassure students and government. Their statement on the matter notes:

In Canada, education, including higher education, is a constitutional responsibility of the country's 10 provinces and 3 territories. The universities, which at this time are located only in the provinces, derive their authority from provincial legislation.
Each Canadian university is autonomous in academic matters including the determination of its own quality assurance policies and procedures. In addition, as the result of their longstanding commitment to a common framework of standards across provincial jurisdictions, Canadian universities have a shared understanding of the value of each other's academic credentials.
Robust institutional quality assurance policies and processes are the foundation of the Canadian higher education quality assurance regime. These policies may stand alone, and some may be based in legislation. They may operate in an environment which includes another level of quality assurance, for example the policies and processes that provide a second level of quality assurance in the higher education systems in the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. For some programs, institutional policies may be supplemented by standards of professional accreditation.

A separate note lists the provincial quality regimes. There is also a set of principles.

All rather vague from a European point of view.

Information society

In this subsection we discuss the Canadian NREN (CANARIE) and the potential Major E-Learning Initiatives.


CANARIE Inc., based in Ottawa, is the advanced network organization for Canada. It facilitates the development and use of its network as well as the advanced products, applications and services that run on it. The CANARIE Network is the National Research and Education Network (NREN) for Canada - serving universities, colleges, schools, government labs, research institutes, hospitals and other organizations in a wide variety of fields in both the public and private sectors.

However, CANARIE has a wider brief, in some ways similar to agencies such as SURF and JISC. It furthers this by promoting and participating in strategic collaborations among key sectors, and by partnering with peer networks and organizations around the world, CANARIE Inc. stimulates and supports research, innovation and growth, bringing economic, social, and cultural benefits to Canadians.

The national organization was created in 1993 by the private sector and academia under the leadership of the Government of Canada.

CANARIE Inc. is supported by membership fees, with major funding of its programmes and activities provided by the Government of Canada through Industry Canada.

In the past, CANARIE has funded many e-learning developments.

Its web site is at (English) and (French).

Existing case study

There is a comprehensive but somewhat out of date case study of CANARIE at - it was first written in 2001 but updated in summer 2004 (by Paul Bacsich and Sara Frank Bristow).

The Editor's Introduction to that notes:

Between 1993 and March 2004, CANARIE – a small, non-profit organisation – received government funding of C$360 million (£161 million) for over 225 projects focussed on e-learning, e-content, e-business and e-health. Many would credit CANARIE for assuring Canada’s reputation as a world-leading broadband adopter and innovator (and, more relevant to e-university developments, with helping the country to become a lead developer of learning object repository infrastructure). CANARIE has also helped connect over 2,000 schools, colleges and universities to its advanced CA*NET 4 network, and has created thousands of jobs nationwide.
When this CANARIE Report was written, CANARIE was an organisation “in full swing”, with government funding assured for over two more years. Nearly all of its projects saw completion by March 2004, however, and many of those discussed below finished long before that. During a presentation in June 2004, CANARIE president and CEO Andrew Bjerring noted that CANARIE’s original mandate had been to “visit the future and report back” – now that the future has arrived, it seems, it is the role of CANARIE itself that requires clarification.
At the time of writing [2004], CANARIE maintains some modest funding for completing the roll-out of CA*net 4 as scheduled, but all other project funding is on hold. Several of Canada’s federal departments are said to be collaborating on what might become a national strategic vision to help frame the future of organisations like CANARIE, and perhaps lead to the creation of an agency not unlike the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) e-Learning Strategy Unit in the UK. Until the emergence of this new strategic plan, hoped to be in the autumn of 2004, however, there will be no further funding for the CANARIE projects described below. Thus it remains to be seen whether CANARIE will succeed at reinventing itself in today’s context.

This depressing conclusion seems still to be the case. A search of the CANARIE web site for "e-learning" reveals no hits later than 2003.

ICT in education initiatives

Virtual initiatives in schools

Distance learning is a feature (to a variable degree) of the education systems in all thirteen territories and provinces. The 2010 iNACOL Report 'State of the Nation: K-12 Online Learning in Canada' estimated that between 150,000 and 175,000 students were enrolled in distance learning courses and/or programmes. This constitutes between 2.8% and 3.4% of the total K-12 student population. Unsurprisingly, given the vast land area and regional autonomy, there is an extremely broad spectrum of distance learning provisions varying by cities, districts, provinces and territories.

“The highest level of activity appears to be in British Columbia, which also has the most comprehensive legislative and regulatory regime. The only province that does not have its own K-12 distance education programme is Prince Edward Island, which relies upon programmes from other jurisdictions (similar to the three northern territories). The only jurisdictions that continue to maintain single province-wide systems are Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick.”

“...other trends include a high level of district-based cooperation in the Provinces of Ontario and Saskatchewan. The total K-12 student population in Canada for 2009-10 was just over 5.2 million.”

The 2011 iNACOL report 'State of the Nation:K–12 Online Learning in Canada' has calculated that there are now 207,096 K-12 students enrolled in 'distance learning'. This represents an overall (nationwide) growth in the proportion of K–12 students involved in distance education to 4.2% in 2010–11. however, this does mask decreases in some provinces such as New Brunswick.

The iNACOL 2011 Report mentioned above (p31) details the provincial enrollments as follows:

Province or Territory/K-12 Students/Enrolled in DE/Percent Enrollment

  • Newfoundland & Labrador/168,729/~1,000/1.5%
  • Nova Scotia/128,131/~2,450/1.9%
  • Prince Edward Island/21,126/66/<1%
  • New Brunswick/104,421/1,841/1.8%
  • Quebec/949,350/~30,000/3.1%
  • Ontario/2,061,390/~50,000/2.4%
  • Manitoba/179,975/~9,000/5.0%
  • Saskatchewan/159,465/3,285/2.1%
  • Alberta/585,397/21,339/3.6%
  • British Columbia/649,952/~88,000/13.5%
  • Yukon/2,933/95/3.2%
  • Northwest Territories/8,576/20+/<1%
  • Nunavut/8,855/~0/-

It should be noted, however, that, in the Canadian K-12 context, ‘distance learning’ and ‘distance education’ includes print-based (offline) materials. iNACOL also observed that distance education is often provided as a solution to longstanding challenges such as geographical isolation and/or non-viable study cohort sizes rather than as a choice for students.

The key 2009 report State of e-Learning Canada 2009 provides an overview of the history of virtual schools in Canada

"Virtual schooling in Canada first began in 1994–1995, and advancements in K–12 e-learning continue to develop across the country...In 2003–2004, more than one-third (36%) of secondary schools across Canada had students participating in electronic or online courses. The curriculum of most online courses was developed by the school board, district, jurisdiction or province/territory. The proportion of students enrolled in online courses differed according to the instructional level, type and size of school, and geographic location. More rural schools than urban schools reported having students who participated in online courses. Close to 40% of rural secondary schools reported offering online courses to their students, compared with 35% of urban secondary schools. Only 3% of elementary schools had students participating in online courses in 2003–2004."

Before comparing these figures with those collected by others it should be noted that the report defines virtual schools as follows:

"Virtual schools do not have a building or physical location; they are operated and managed online."

It is unclear whether this excludes the many Canadian online, distance learning programmes which consist of a physical location at which students undertake some of their online studies (perhaps a partner school) but where the students host 'school' is an online entity. It should also be noted that many programmes have appeared since 2003-04.

Canadian virtual school initiatives - by province

The information below on provincial programmes is based on the iNACOL 2010 Report - amended, updated and supplemented with additional research.

The Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation (CDLI) is Newfoundland and Labrador's technology supported distance learning arm with responsibility for educating students living in remote areas. Approximately 100 schools are active with an annual enrollment of approximately 1,500 students (the province has a population of just 500,000).

The Nova Scotia Virtual School (NSVS) is a province wide online learning programme which provides a central course management platform which individual school boards use to provide access to, and support for, their own courses. Individual school boards have also created their own platforms (Strait Regional School Board Virtual School and Chignecto-Central Virtual School). Annual enrollment is currently approximately 650 students.

The cross-provincial Francophone school board, the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP) provides online learning (and physical schools) for students in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The iNACOL 2010 report states that together the NSVS and CSAP have seen approximately 650 students enrolled per annum. Funding models are a mixture of tuition fees and publicly funded individual students or 'seats' on the programme with some priority given to students from small high schools (iNACOL State of the Nation: K-12 Online Learning in Canada).

New Brunswick is a bilingual province and has both English and French online learning programmes. The New Brunswick Distance Learning Programme currently offers "...over 40 high school courses, including all required courses at the grades 11 and 12 levels as well as many optional and advanced level courses. This allows students to access courses that, because of scheduling conflicts, illness or limited course availability in their own schools, might not otherwise be available to them." Classroom teachers can also make use of the programme and resources to support and enhance in-class and homework activities. Enrolments in both Anglophone and Francohone online programmes have declined with 1,677 and 328 students (respectively) enrolling for one or more course one of the programmes. iNACOL notes that the "...majority of distance education enrolments in the province are from supplemental students."

Students in Prince Edward Island have access to a videoconferencing system and some of the New Brunswick online learning resources but enrolments are low (even allowing for the size of the province with a population of just 140,000) with a little over 30 students enrolled.

Ontario has historically organised much of its K-12 online eduaction at the district level although iNACOL reports that the Ministry now has a more active role. The Ministry published an e-Learning Strategy in 2006 and now offers school boards access to a provincial Learning Management System and online resources. Ministry requirements regarding the use of this LMS mean that many schools and boards run it in parallel with their own LMS. School boards who comply with Minsitry policies get free access but are required to levy a charge to students from other school boards (although there are pre-existing agreements with some school boards which secure free access).

The Ontario eLearning Consortium (OeLC) is a consortium of 20 school boards designed to maximise efficiencies of scale through sharing resources and expertise. Enrolments had increased significantly in 2009-10 and, that year, totaled nearly 9,700. There is also an Ontario Catholic e-Learning Consortium although some Catholic school boards are members of the OeLC.

The French language consortium Consortium d’apprentissage virtuel de langue française de l’Ontario reported that its online learning programme saw 1,300 successful course completions in 2009-10 with a failure rate of just 4%.

The Ontario Ministry of Education is responsible for eLearning Ontario which provides secondary schools in the province with access to a wide range of online course for Grades 9 - 12. The Ministry also funds the pan school-board (with 31 Ontario school boards now listed as members) Homework Help programme. This is an expansion of a project, piloted in 2007-2008 by Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic DSB and Hamilton-Wentworth DSB. Homework Help is a freely accessible, real-time (but with both synchronous and asynchronous support) maths help programme now available to 236,000 Grade 7-10 students.

Western Canada (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan) covers several large urban conurbations (e.g. Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg) and large expanses of low-population density - as such the ICT initiatives compose a spectrum of responses to the variety of circumstances and challenges. iNACOL observe that the region has a tradition of centralised K-12 distance education initiatives but that all provinces have moved towards decentralised models (whilst in some cases retaining some province-wide programmes).

Alberta has over 20 K-12 distributed learning programmes (iNACOL notes that 'distributed' covers all forms of distance education, however, closer reading of case studies suggests that it may also encompass 'blended learning' even where this is, at core, supported 'in-class' access to a Learning Platform). Responses to Alberta's comprehensive 2010 consultation Inspiring Action on Education suggest that students generally appreciate the value of digital technologies for learning (albeit only 192 respondents Student-Centered Education, Competencies and Curriculum. Whilst Alberta has Charter Schools there are, as of August 2011, no virtual charter schools (see The Association of Alberta Public Charter Schools or, the official list of 2011 Public, Separate, Francophone, and Charter Authorities).

British Columbia's (BC) distributed learning programme is founded on district level initiatives although there are (or, have been, since some now appear to have ceased online activity e.g. the Rural Education Network) province wide programmes which underpin this (and may be used independently by distributed learning schools). LearnNowBC is a key foundation although it is an education portal, providing information, advice, guidance and also access to resources rather than a virtual school or even a Learning Management System. There are nearly 60 distributed learning schools listed by LearnNowBC although it is not clear to what degree and in what ways they use technology to support learning. In 2010 there were also 12 independent distributed learning schools in BC. iNACOL reports that there were 71,405 unique students enrolled on one or more courses via distributed learning in BC (up from 33,022 in 2006-07).

Open School BC offers services and content to school Boards in BC. Open School BC is a division of the Ministry of Education although it is now operated on a cost-recovery basis.

Open School BC is a member of the Virtual School Society which was founded in 2006 with the aim of establishing British Columbia as a "...recognized world leader in the delivery of educational programs through distributed learning." The VSS also manages the LearnNowBC website.

The Vancouver Learning Network part of the Vancouver School Board is a public school programme which annually offers approximately 90 courses - the majority of which are online - and serves some 8,000 students. Courses are tuition-free to students of any age who are Canadian citizens and residents of British Columbia. Students are able to register for a course at anytime and complete a course at any time - each student working at their own agreed pace.

The Premier's Technology Council: A Vision for 21st Century Education offers a recent (December 2010) overview of BC Government policies and philosophies with specific reference to the role of technology for teaching and learning. In common with many of the provinces, districts and schools described below there is a clear emphasis on 'Blended Learning' but little reference to distance learning and none to distributed or virtual schools.

Manitoba Education (the Ministry of Education) offers three distance learning options of which the Independent Study Option (ISO) is predominantly print-based although with some growing use of web conferencing tools.

The Teacher Mediated Option (TMO) has also offered print based courses, supported (during the school day) with scheduled, teacher-hosted, teleconference 'classes'. iNACOL's 2010 report noted that Manitoba Education was "...experimenting with using the province’s learning management system (LMS) and web-based synchronous tools in the TMO delivery model". However, the Ministry's own TMO Guide for 2011-12 makes no mention of this.

The third programme, the Web Based Course (WBC) Option, is more obviously of relevance to those interested in virtual schools and online distance learning models. WBC offers schools and teachers access to centrally developed courses and the province wide LMS to provide their own learning programmes - blended or online. In 2009-2010 there were approximately 4,000 student enrolments on the WBC making it the largest of the three options (with 530 for TMO and 3,400 for WBC).

Saskatchewan's historically centralised K-12 distance learning programme (the Ministry being responsible for delivering courses via online, TV and print based models) was, in 2009-10, devolved to school divisions. Seventeen school divisions and/or schools (there are 29 school divisions) currently also utilise the Saskatchewan Distance Learning Course Repository to offer courses or places to students outside of their own schools. iNACOL reports that in 2009-10 there were "...3,591 course enrolments from 2,650 distinct students."

The three territories of Northern Canada (Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut) have strikingly low population densities (0.03 inhabitants per square kilometre) and together comprise less than 1% of Canada's total population yet a land mass greater than that of India. As such, in many ways, the territories have less autonomy than others and tend towards re-using or adapting the existing curriculum models of other territories. This clearly influences the distance learning K-12 programmes of the region.

Government of Northwest Territories Education Dept (which lists just 50 schools) follows the same curriculum as Alberta. iNACOL notes that there appears to be only one small online course - offered through the Aurora College - a post-secondary institution. Similarly Nunavut has no obvious K-12 online learning programmes.

However, subject to growing economic pressures, it may be that both territories are seeing some developments which may help lay foundations for supporting their dispersed student populations. In the Northwest Territories post-secondary sphere Alberta-North (which provides distance education and a network of Community Access Points) announced in March 2011 that it is moving towards a merger with the eCampus Alberta. The Nunavut Department of Education also has a Community Access Programme whereby "...local schools, libraries and community centers act as "on-ramps" to the Information Highway and provide computers and support on how to make the best use of the Internet." The Department also has a scheme to provide low-cost "gently used" computers to schools.

The Yukon follows the curriculum of British Columbia - tailored to local cultural and linguistic contexts. The Yukon Education Department draws on figures from Statistics Canada to judge the Yukon as being "...the most connected educational jurisdiction in Canada with a student/computer ratio of 2.9:1." This is quite possibly still relevant although the web page has not been updated since 2008. The Department states that all (approximately 30) Yukon schools have high speed internet connection through YESNet. Yukon also has a well established tradition of providing distance learning programmes. These have been combined with collaborations with content providers in both British Columbia and Alberta to provide access to resources 'distributed learning' opportunities (which may include print based programmes or components). The Yukon Education Department Annual Report 2009-2010 states

"Regardless of a student’s location or school population, through distributed learning programs, students have access to all courses available in eight distance education schools in British Columbia, from Open School BC and Alberta’s Distance Learning Centre. Locally, distributed learning opportunities are available by connecting with other Yukon classrooms by video conferencing. French students can access distributed learning through Centre francophone d’éducation à distance."

"Students may register in a distributed learning course at any time during the year, and they have one full calendar year to complete their course. In the 2009 –2010 school year, 113 Yukon students enrolled in a total of 40 different courses through distance education schools."

The Annual Report also notes that distance education programme is "continuing to grow" with a new post being created and that all 14 Yukon community schools now have video-conferencing facilities (in addition to facilities in some other centres).

Canadian Exemplars

To be confirmed

Ottawa Carleton e-School

Ottawa Carleton E-School (OCES) is an Internet High School that is accredited by the Ministry of Education in Ontario, Canada. The mission of OCES is

" make education available to all those who are aspiring to obtain their high school diploma, yet for various reasons find it difficult to attend conventional classroom courses." This includes both current high-school age students and adult students who may wish to gain a high-school diploma.

"OCES was designed to provide high school education for many types of students including:

*Students that require a course that their own local high school is not offering in a particular semester

*Those who are pursuing careers in professional athletics or arts and must travel a great deal during the school year

*Students with health related issues that prevent them from attending a traditional high school

*Mature students who are working full time and do not wish to attend night school

*Students who are seeking entry into a college or university program and are missing a necessary prerequisite

*International students seeking Canadian education"

Courses are generally 3 month duration although students can complete in advance. Students are supported by teachers but are not expected to attend (physically or virtually) scheduled 'classes'. Fees are chargeable - the most recent listed are Can $399.00 per course.

Chignecto Central Virtual School

The Chignecto Central Virtual School (CCVS) has been developed as a response to the challenges faced by schools serving Nova Scotia's rural communities. Establishing viable student cohorts for many subjects (particularly, but not solely, special interest courses) at upper high school is often difficult.

CCVS says

"An integrated asynchronous-synchronous (real-time) model is used. Students are required to participate in one real-time class per week with the instructor and fellow classmates (two options of one-hour each; 12 to 20 students per session). They also interact with fellow students and/or their instructor at least one other hour per week (as it fits into their in-school timetable). A CCVS course is one of four courses that a student takes in a given semester."

"Features of the CCVS learning system include:"

"• An online discussion area that supports audio and video student submissions

• An eJournal and an ePortfolio area that support audio and video entries

• Online testing capabilities

• Just-in-time software tutorials

• Seamless integration of realtime text chat, voice chat, videoconferencing and whiteboard capabilities

• Personal web and file space accessible from both home and school

• A dedicated technical support person"

Keewaytinook Internet High School

Keewaytinook Internet High School (KiHS) was established to serve the First Nation communities in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN). KiHS as a pilot project for Grade 8 students in three communities but has now expanded to serve Grades 9 to 12 students in fourteen communities.

Students attend a community classroom from 9 am to 4 pm and are supported by in-class teacher and teaching assistant and an online teacher. The programme is semester based with students able to take two courses in each of the four (9 week) semesters.

"The students complete their actual studies online. The programme is primarily asynchronous, with online teachers posting activities each Sunday and students completing those activities and assignments online as the week progresses. Online teachers also schedule synchronous sessions using Elluminate® or Adobe Connect, as well as using video conferencing, to work on activities that require more direct instruction."

(Keewaytinook Internet High School vignette from iNACOL'S State of the Nation: K-12 Online Learning in Canada)

KiHS has achieved significant success in terms of completion and retention rates and progression to post-secondary education. Completion rates have increased year on year and whereas in the initial pilot year saw rates on a par with First Nation averages (19%) by 2009-10 these were 55% across the programme and up to 80% in some participating communities. Retention rates are typically 70% but with some communities achieving 90%.

Enrolment is also on the increase with a new high of 220 students active in KiHS during the 2009-10 school year.

Saskatoon Cyber Catholic School

The Saskatoon Catholic Schools System has been a leader in exploiting technologies in support of students' learning. In 1999 the Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools executive council's desire to meet the changing education environment was the catalyst for the development of the Saskatoon Cyber Catholic School (SCCS). By August of the following year the SCCS was operational offering 4 courses to the 156 enrolled students.

Saskatoon Catholic Cyber School was intended to "...have the potential to meet the needs of students in the global context by providing relevant education using current technologies.". The teaching staff were said to be recruited for " ...their content expertise within courses rather than their facility with technology. The SCCS website states that teaching staff are all part-time at SCCS and all have taught conventional classes within the school division. This information is assumed to have currency but this particular web page has not been updated for some time (although the website itself is certainly current).

Argyll Centre

The Argyll Centre is " Edmonton Public School in Alberta, Canada, with campuses in Calgary and Lethbridge, that provides distance learning for Elementary, Junior High and High School in both online and offline programs, as well as acting as a facilitator and curriculum resource centre for homeschooling families. We provide a range of learning options from parent directed Home Education, blended, and teacher directed, as well as a variety of on site programs, including Christian and unschooling."

The Argyll Centre is (in relative terms) well-established having developed from the genesis of an experiment in the mid 1990s when a number of Edmonton Public Schools investigated the implications of students having access to 24/7 learning. The Centre formally dates from 1997.

The Argyll Centre offers a variety of home-based and face-to-face, on-site, education options to students throughout Alberta. There appears to be a strong emphasis on parental engagement (or, more accurately, involvement) to the extent that in some programmes the parent is the primary educator for parts of the course(s) and the teacher for others.

Live Online is a constructivist-based approach which combines parent-teacher-pupil triad with synchronous (live) virtual classroom, asynchronous (access anytime) learning tools and spaces, and the home environment. It allows students to set and follow a self-paced, individualized program. Live Online is for Grades 1-9 and aspires to "...construct social learning communities." Students learn in "...multi-graded, cross-curricular learning cohorts."

At the heart of the Argyll Centre's menu is the online programme Learn Net (for Grades 4 to 12) which Argyll Centre describes as

"...a teacher directed, online delivery strategy. Students in both elementary and junior high LearnNet programs are assigned a teacher. Students in High School are assigned a teacher advisor for each subject. Students registered in the LearnNet program can expect teacher to provide yearly and monthly plans to support learning and time management. In consultation with parents and students, adjustments can be made to help meet individual needs."

Students can select to combine online and offline, on-site and off-site or homebased study to suit their circumstances (Blended Education). However, to qualify as blended, at least 50% of the program for grades 1-9 and at least 20% for grades 10-12, must be teacher directed instruction that follows the Alberta Program of Study. The rest of the program may be Home Education that meets the Home Education Regulation.

Other strands include the Alternative High School and the eTourism programme - a semestered " program which blends high school tourism credit courses, work/volunteer experience, and Canadian Travel and Tourism (CATT) industry certification." The full range of High School courses offered in 2011-12 is contained in the Argyll Centre High School Guide.

In 2006 Argyll Centre was said to have had supported over 5,000 students through Grades 1-12. More contemporary figures are being sought and will be added when identified.

Wapaskwa Virtual Collegiate

The 19 First Nations secondary schools in Manitoba are unable to provide the variety of Grades 9-12 courses and particularly at Grade 12 are unable to offer the opportunity for students to repeat courses where desirable.

In 2010 the Wapaskwa Virtual Collegiate (WVC) began a pilot programme (in partnership with Credenda Virtual High School in Saskatchewan and the Manitoba Department for Education) to offer a virtual high school service to Manitoba First Nations communities. WVC makes use of Elluminate for synchronous learning and Desire2Learn for asynchronous learning. Despite a steep learning curve (the iNACOL vignette notes the challenges of a novice e-larning institution playing the dual roles of course developer(s) and online teacher(s)) the WVC pilot has been extended and is about to embark on its third year with eight additional courses being developed this academic year.

Credenda Virtual High School & College

Credenda Virtual High School (CVHS) is a virtual school which employs a synchronous delivery model based on a combination of Desire2Learn Learning Management System (LMS) and Elluminate Live! Virtual Classroom (vClass) to offer online high school and post-secondary learning experiences. Credenda's offer includes

  • scheduled real time interaction with eTeachers
  • 24/7 access to course content
  • recorded lessons for review and revision
  • the opportunity for students to learn at school, home, or wherever online access is available.
  • a range of learning tools; whiteboard, audio, video, chat, web tours, breakout rooms for group work.

CVHS was established in 2005 to meet the needs of the communities in the north of the province. It has now evolved to become a First Nations high school for all students across Saskatchewan representing a diversity of ethnicity. CVHS was created to meet a specific need and was not intended to replace schools. It was designed to support schools through partnership working to meet student needs wherever class sizes were too small to justify offering a course (or the course was best delivered by a subject specialist).

Credenda charges an average tuition of $500 per class. Students living within a provincial school division in Canada may be reimbursed by their school district for up to two classes per term.

Sunchild E-Learning Community

In common with many aboriginal communities the Sunchild First Nation (Alberta) face specific social and educational challenges. The community (registered population approximately 1,200) has established a technology supported (using the internet, text messaging and telephones) distance learning programme to help address this.

Sunchild E-Learning is based on regular interaction between student and teacher and now offers a range of high school courses and some post-secondary with a clear focus on continuing education and/or employability.

"Students are expected to be logged into the computer during class times and can speak with the teacher at any time through text messaging or a microphone. In most cases, students work from a classroom environment where a Key Teacher addresses technical concerns and ensures student participation."

"The Sunchild E-Learning Community has met with remarkable success. In record numbers, students are re-entering the school system and staying in school. They're gaining valuable experience with computers, graduating and moving on to rewarding jobs or post-secondary education."

Sunchild E-Learning claims a level of education that is equal or superior to that of urban schools and increasing numbers of students. In 2010 Sunchild e-Learning was selected as the Regional Award Winner (the Americas) in the Global Best Awards.

Virtual Learning Centre and Open School (Ontario)

Trillium Lakelands District School Board's The Virtual Learning Centre has been offering online courses and support to students since 1997. The VLC is a partner of both eLearning Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Education. The VLC aims to offer a wide range of courses. Whilst there are some self-paced courses available to grades 11 and 12 most require 'attendance' (not necessarily physical attendance) at scheduled 'classes' and follow a semester model.

Residents of Ontario are eligible to take online courses at no charge. However, those in full-time attendance at a publicly funded Ontario secondary school, have to make arrangements with the home school to take courses with the VLC. Where the home schools is already collecting the full Ontario grant for the student it must be willing to share a portion of this grant with the VLC. Those outside of Ontario, pay a tuition fee to take courses. Residents of the Province of Ontario, not enrolled full-time in a publicly funded institution, are not usually charged a tuition fee.

The TLDSB Director's Annual Report 2010 states that there were 1,787 online credits granted through the VLC. The Open School Ontario is a more recent development with its foundation in VLC. OpenSchool is a continuous-entry, online-school offering Ontario high school credits "on demand." Open School is particularly aimed at catering for students for whom physical attendance in school may be inappropriate.

Ontario residents pay no tuition fees for OpenSchool. Out of Province students will be required to pay a tuition fee as determined by the Ontario Ministry of Education.

Towards a Comprehensive List of Canadian Virtual Schools

This list will be updated as VISCED research continues. At present it includes cross-school-board, district and provincial collaborations

Virtual initiatives in post-secondary education

Virtual Colleges

  • e-Campus Alberta

eCampusAlberta brings together more than 700 online courses and 60 programs offered by 16 Alberta post-secondary institutions. As of 2011 eCampusAlberta has been established for nearly 9 years and for the year ending June 2011 had recorded 16,213 registrations. The previous year’s total had been 13,107 registrations and eCampus Alberta has now seen seven consecutive annual increased of 24% or above.

== Further information ==

In May 2011 eCampus Alberta announced that it would be merging with Alberta North

  • TRU-OL

TRU-OL (Thompson Rivers University - Online Learning) offers post-secondary online courses include adult secondary school completion, certificates, and diplomas (including advanced and post-baccalaureate). Cooperative arrangements with other educational institutions, community organizations, industry, business and professional associations provide students with choices in earning recognized credentials.

Major E-Learning Initiatives

See Major e-learning initiatives in Canada.

Lessons learnt

General lessons

Notable practices


Canadian companies who have developed e-learning systems

  • WebCT was developed at the University of British Columbia by Murray Goldberg as an "unofficial" e-learning system, finally being bought by a company which became WebCTm, in turn acquired by Blackboard.
  • Desire2Learn is another Canadian-based learning management system, but this did not come out of academic circles.
  • The FirstClass system was developed in the late 1980s by [SoftArc] for use in the Ontario School Board - the product was then sold on to various companies and gradually failed to keep up with developments.
  • Even earlier, the CoSy system was developed at the University of Guelph and used by the Open University for some years in the 1980s and into the early 1990s.
  • It is not a company yet but the Kuali Student system being developed by a consortium around the University of British Columbia is exciting interst in the US and now the UK.

(Readers are refered to the relevant wikipedia articles - of wildly varying quality and length, but at least giving some of the history. For a hopefully more measured historical view see the Wikipedia History of Virtual Learning Environments.)

Eminent Canadian experts in e-learning

Such lists are always invidious but the following three have a focus close to our mission - on post-secondary deployment - as well as research, and would be known to many UK experts in e-learning:

There are of course many active researchers in e-learning also and several Francophones of whom Gilbert Paquette is the doyen. Unlike many countries, Canada has or at least had an active tradition of research into e-learning in the FE and Skills area.

And in the schools e-learning area Professor Marlene Scardamalia and Emeritus Professor Carl Bereiter are leaders.

> Countries

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