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Ontario Government Limits Scope of Mandatory eLearning Plans for High School

Plans to require four online high school credits in Ontario, Canada, have changed: the required credits have been reduced to two and made opt-outable. When the provincial government announced its plans to introduce 4 mandatory online credits to the high school curriculum, the non-profit People for Education pointed out this would make Ontario “unique in North America” since other North American school districts (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, and Virginia) that mandate the completion of some kind of online learning component either require it in the form of an online “experience” or as no more than one online credit. The Ontario government stated this requirement will help modernize classrooms and “better prepare students for the demands of the future.” However, the motivations for the plan have drawn suspicions that cutting costs is the true driver of the proposal. Thus, the issue is one of the points of dispute in the current labor action of the Ontario teachers’ unions. On November 21, 2019, Stephen Lecce, Education minister, walked back the requirement from four credits to two, and on March 3, 2020, he announced the credits could be opted out of.

Our Take

Experts assert that designing and delivering high-quality eLearning is expensive, so any plans to mandate online education should commit a considerable investment of money and resources, including the training needed to prepare faculty and students to use an online learning management system (see “Learning management systems can make or break a course”). The province currently offers online courses in a limited fashion, e.g. for students in rural areas, which are delivered using the Desire2Learn LMS. Introducing the option for senior high school students to take an online credit would introduce many more students in the public and separate school system (who numbered 628,032 in 2017-18) to the experience of using a LMS. This would have an impact on their transition to college and university courses, where many, if not most, of the courses are “blended”: at least part of the instruction occurs online, assignments are submitted through a course website, and grades are returned through online gradebook. If the new online high school courses are funded, designed, and staffed well, completing an online credit at the high school level could help prepare students for the way college and university education is currently delivered.