A new survey from the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association (OSTA-AECO) revealed that 95 per cent of the 6087 students surveyed disapprove of the e-learning mandate introduced by the provincial government back in March.

Beginning in 2020 all high school students in Ontario will be required to complete four e-learning courses to earn their high school diploma. Clare Brett, the chair of the department of curriculum, teaching, and learning at the University of Toronto, who has studied e-learning extensively, said that a well carried out plan for e-learning can be an immensely valuable tool.

“There are learning outcomes for students in well-designed courses that are as good, if not better, than regular courses. It’s no longer the thing that people used to sort of talk about it as just no good,” said Brett in an interview with IT World Canada. “We do some really good group space things, class-based things, where there is discussion and presentation that you can use different modalities for. In that kind of more enriched environment, I think that there’s a lot of learning that can go on, and it can be very effective.”

But on the other hand, a rushed adoption or a lack of research will greatly diminish e-learning’s impact on a student’s education, indicated Brett. E-learning courses require quite a lot of preparation and may not be the time-saver and money-saver the government seems to think they are.

“Teachers need to be really aware of the differences between an online space and a face-to-face classroom and how you modify the curriculum and the kinds of experiences that you create,” said Brett. “Instructions have to be super clear. You really have to organize materials in very careful ways.”

Brett’s concerns were reflected in the student survey. Roughly 25 per cent of students indicated that they had a hard time contacting their e-learning teacher when needed, and 35 per cent said that they experience difficulties in using the e-learning software. Thirty per cent said they had difficulty understanding the lessons, and 60 per cent said their learning needs were not accommodated.

And it’s that last concern that has Brett very worried, she said. Ontario has such a diverse population with diverse learning needs, and 60 per cent is not a good sign.

“There is no one size fits all for education. It’s a scary kind of expectation and I worry about who will not succeed and what will happen to those people. I think it’s very unfair to put our young people in such a risky situation.”

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