Online Schools in Canada

Canada's online schools make it easier than ever to begin developing the marketable skills that can help you stand out to employers. That puts the career you want within your reach. Going to college or vocational school online makes it simpler to learn what you need to know by working your studies into a schedule that truly works for you.

Several online schools in Canada offer degree, diploma, and certificate programs, and many institutions are exploring the possibility of offering new kinds of digital credentials. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, distance education was widely available throughout the country. Remote learning improves student access to courses in a large variety of subjects, provides greater flexibility for adult learners, and frequently involves using several interactive technologies.

For-Credit Online Courses Snapshot

Canadian Students Taking Them
(prior to COVID-19)

Canadian Schools Offering Them
(prior to COVID-19)

  • Canadian Digital Learning Research Association's 2019 and 2018 national surveys

What you'll find in this article:

Online Post-Secondary Education in Canada: An Overview

 According to a 2019 national survey by the Canadian Digital Learning Research Association (CDLRA), about 76 percent of public colleges and universities said they offer for-credit courses in an online format. And 71 percent anticipated that the following year would see rising enrolments of online students.

The 2018 CDLRA survey revealed that about 17 percent of public college and university students in Canada took one or more for-credit online courses during the 2016-2017 school year. On average, their course load consisted of three to four online classes.

However, all of those numbers might be substantially higher now because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As students and institutions have responded to the unforeseen challenges posed by the public health crisis, many have shifted to online learning or plan to do so (at least temporarily).

Many different private institutions also offer remote learning opportunities. Most online programs at the post-secondary level are designed to lead to a certificate, diploma, or degree.

Results from the 2019 CDLRA survey showed that when it comes to the proportion of undergraduate versus graduate students, online enrolments are comparable to overall enrolments.

What the Future May Hold

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, many Canadian institutions explored how digital technologies and remote learning could make their programs more convenient for students. In addition, a growing number of schools have been considering the role that alternative credentials might play going forward. For example:

  • Micro-credentials and digital badges are used to endorse a person's demonstrated mastery of very particular skills or competencies. Earning them tends to be a relatively short process (compared to a full program), and they can be easily online.
  • Stackable credits are designed as a system of credentials that logically complement or build upon each other. Increasingly, they are being used to help adult students gain career-focused credentials that lead to employment. Students earn each successive credential in short bursts of time (whenever their work, family, or other commitments allow). In some cases, the credentials count as credit toward a traditional diploma or degree, and multiple institutions recognize them (allowing students to move and change schools). In other cases, they are a series of stand-alone yet highly related certificates.

How Distance, Online, and Hybrid Programs Work

 First, it's a good idea to know the terminology:

  • Distance education means that all courses are taken remotely, typically at home. Courses may be delivered over the Web, through the mail, or via a public-access cable TV channel.
  • Online learning is the most common type of distance education. At a minimum, it requires a computer and Internet connection. Some schools provide the ability for students to access courses and learning materials through mobile devices such as smartphones and digital tablets.
  • Hybrid programs, sometimes called blended learning, include a combination of online and in-person training. Hybrid programs allow students to learn theoretical concepts remotely and hands-on skills in a face-to-face setting. In some programs, students complete a real-world practicum as part of their training.

Depending on your particular school, program, and courses, you might be given assignment and exam deadlines that are firm or just suggested. And you may be free to study at times and places of your choosing. When you need help, your instructors or other school staff may be reachable by phone or email.

Books and other learning materials may be delivered to you electronically or by mail. It's becoming more and more common for all materials to be accessed fully online.

According to the 2019 CDLRA survey, about 67 percent of public universities and colleges in Canada are experimenting with the use of open educational resources (OER) to help lower costs for students. OER assets are typically digital and can often be accessed, downloaded, and shared freely according to a Creative Commons license. They can include electronic textbooks, videos, audio files, and similar resources.

Commonly Used Technologies for Online Training

The 2019 CDLRA survey revealed that more than 90 percent of schools offering online courses use a learning management system (LMS). Most LMS platforms are designed to make it simple for students and instructors to electronically manage courses, share and access learning materials, communicate with each other, and track progress and participation. Some LMS platforms also allow teachers to create interactive presentations and tests that incorporate audio or video.

Examples of LMS platforms used by vocational schools and colleges in Canada include:

 In addition to learning management systems, many institutions make use of technologies such as:

  • Live-streamed or on-demand video lectures or demonstrations
  • Video conferencing software such as Zoom and GoToMeeting
  • Discussion boards
  • Private groups on social media platforms
  • Digital simulations
  • Interactive models and tutorials

Key Benefits of Distance Learning

  1. Greater access to the education you need. Many Canadians have full-time jobs, health problems, family responsibilities, or similar challenges that make it difficult or impossible to attend fixed-schedule classes on a physical campus. And some people live in rural areas far from any schools. Distance education courses make it possible to get employer-recognized post-secondary training in spite of those issues.
  2. More flexibility. Many distance learning programs provide the opportunity to focus on your studies when and where it works best for you. That can make it much easier to arrange your life in a way that allows you to participate in social events with your friends or family. Online education can also allow you to learn new skills and earn additional credentials if you already work full-time or have young children.
  3. Potential savings of time and money. Since you get to learn from home or wherever it's most convenient for you, the time it would otherwise take to commute to school can instead be used for more productive things. And having no physical classroom to attend means having no extra hassles or expenses related to gas, transportation, or parking. Plus, some online programs cost less than their on-campus counterparts.

Major Areas of Online Study

The variety of Internet-based programs available today is staggering. Students now have options in almost every vocational category—from business administration to healthcare to the digital arts and web technology. Even aspiring automotive technicians have the chance to begin learning their chosen trade online.

Business-related programs are the most widely available online courses of study in Canada, followed by programs related to health care and human services. That's based on a thorough review of listings for online programs returned by the federal government's post-secondary search tool. But you can find online degree, diploma, and certificate programs in a huge variety of other areas as well.

As distance education in Canada continues to develop, almost any subject you can study on a physical campus may soon be available through online or blended learning.

Most Common Areas of Online Study
Canadian Post-Secondary Programs

  • Business & leadership
  • Health & human services
  • Education & child development
  • Design & media arts
  • Legal, criminal justice & emergency management
  • Trades
  • Communications
  • Computer & information technology
  • Other

Source: Review of Government of Canada listings for online post-secondary programs, July 2020