Virtual School Meanderings

January 4, 2022

[REPOST] Article Review – Reconsidering the Mandatory in Ontario Online Learning Policies

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 8:34 am
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This item was re-posted from

Over the holidays, the following article came across our electronic desk.

Reconsidering the Mandatory in Ontario Online Learning Policies

  • December 2021
  • DOI: 10.18357/otessaj.2021.1.2.12
  • License CC BY 4.0
  • Lorayne Robertson
  • Bill Muirhead
  • Heather Leatham

Abstract – In March 2019, the Ontario government announced that commencing in 2023-24, secondary school students (Grades 9-12) would be required to gain four of 30 graduation credits through online courses. At the time of the policy pronouncement, these four credits (or courses) would become the first mandatory online courses in Canadian K-12 education. The policy decision and process were challenged publicly, and the educational context changed quickly with the ensuing contingencies of the global pandemic. The policy was subsequently revised and, at present, Ontario requires two mandatory online secondary school credits for graduation, which is twice the requirement of any other North American jurisdiction. In this study, the researchers employ a critical policy analysis framework to examine the concept of mandatory online learning in Ontario through multiple temporal contexts. First, they examine Ontario’s mandatory online learning policy prior to the shutdown of Ontario schools during the 2020-2021 global pandemic. Next, they examine aspects of Ontario’s mandatory online learning policy in K-12 during the emergency remote learning phase of the pandemic. In the final section, the authors provide a retrospective analysis of the decisions around mandatory e-learning policy and explore policy options going forward for mandatory e-learning in the K-12 sector post-pandemic.

You’ll note that the authors cite both our Understanding Pandemic Pedagogy: Differences between Emergency Remote, Remote, and Online Teaching report and the article written by our lead researchers on the situation in Ontario entitled “Sense of Irony or Perfect Timing: Examining the Research Supporting Proposed e-Learning Changes in Ontario.”

The article itself uses a policy framework to analyze the decisions made by the Government of Ontario with respect to mandatory online learning.  Overall, that analysis is quite reasoned – for example, the authors described some of the Government’s pronouncements as trial balloons and the subsequent opposition from unions and advocacy groups as rhetoric.  The authors’ use of research produced by this project was informed and nuanced.

The only point of constructive criticism that can be levels is the apples to oranges comparison that the authors make when it comes to both student performance and public perception.  At present, Ontario has an education system that is designed for face-to-face instruction, where teachers are trained almost exclusively to teach in a face-to-face setting, and where the policies are in place to preference the pedagogical model of face-to-face instruction (e.g., class size limitations, institutional supports, etc.).  Even with this model, 20% to 25% of the students are still not adequately served by the system.  So is it any surprise that based on this model that more students struggle to have success.

As one example, the authors discuss the online learning requirement that exists in the State of Michigan (which was first announced back in 2006).  They write “For the 600,000 students enrolled in virtual courses in Michigan, the overall pass rate was 55%” (p. 7).  What they fail to tell the reader is that “Of the 1,158 schools with virtual enrollments, 289 or 25% had school-level virtual pass rates of 90% to 100%. A little more than half of schools had virtual pass rates of 70% or better” (Freidhoff, 2019, p. 4).  So a quarter of Michigan schools have figured out to how effectively support online learners quite well and half of the schools were able to do it at levels consistent to the face-to-face pass rate. They also failed to inform the reader that the 55% pass rate actually represented a 79% pass rate for students enrolled in supplemental courses offered by the Michigan Virtual School (i.e., an online program that began in the late 1990s, around the same time many of the school boards in Ontario began offering e-learning), while other supplemental online programs only had a 57% pass rate.  The overall pass rate is primarily skewed by the fact that the two types of full-time online learning (i.e., where students take ALL of their courses online and never step foot into a brick-and-mortar school) had pass rates of 47% and 53% – and these kinds of programs represented 43% of the online enrollments.

This is not to suggest that the mandatory online learning policy is good or bad.  However, it is to suggest that scholars and advocates need to stop their selective and unnuanced use of the research – particularly when the end result is to suggest that online learning is inferior to face-to-face learning.  What the research presented by Freidhoff should tell us is that supplemental online learning is far more effective than full-time online learning.  It should also tell us that established supplemental online programs have figured out ways for their students to succeed in the online environment at levels consistent to the face-to-face setting.  Finally, it should tell us that schools who invest in the appropriate supports can ensure that students can succeed in the online environment at levels consistent with or higher than the face-to-face setting.  The policy questions that should be generated from this line of inquiry are how do we help online programs get to that point where they established enough to ensure students succeed OR how do we help schools get to the point where they have the appropriate supports in place to ensure students succeed?

Online learning is a medium through which instruction is delivered.  It is neither good or bad.  In much the same way that we have all had positive and negative face-to-face learning experiences, it is all a matter of how the medium is used that will impact the quality of instruction that is provided.  From a policy perspective, the better question that should be asked – but most involved in the Ontario discussion have failed to ask – is whether the Government is willing to make the investment in infrastructure, human resources, training, and policy to ensure that students succeed?


Freidhoff, J. R. (2019). Michigan’s k-12 virtual learning effectiveness report 2017-18. Lansing, MI: Michigan Virtual University. Available from

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December 21, 2013

Michigan: Further Clarification On Expanded Online Learning

Not sure how many people are paying attention this close to Christmas, but the content keeps coming. A colleague sent this to me this past week.

Further Clarification on Expanded Online Learning

Submitted by Colin Ripmaster on Sun, 12/15/2013 – 8:48pm

This past week, I fielded several questions regarding online learning.  In this webline I will address three of the more common questions:

  • What the difference is between courses that fall under section 5-O-A (virtual learning) of the pupil accounting manual and 5-O-D (section 21f expanded online learning).
  • Who the offering district is under 5-O-D (section 21f), and
  • What is meant by “providing the syllabus” to MVU

5-O-A addresses virtual learning, distance learning and independent study. The pupil accounting manual defines virtual learning as a method of receiving academic instruction in courses in which the pupil is registered and the courses are taken through a computer-based internet-connected learning environment. Virtual learning may be offered at a supervised school facility during the day as a scheduled class period, through distance learning, or through self-scheduled learning where pupils have some control over the time, location, and pace of their education.

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September 17, 2012

New High School Graduation Requirement Looming

This came through my inbox on Friday via the Education Tech News.


New high school graduation requirement looming

Should an online course be required for a diploma?

Virginia thinks so.

Starting with ninth-graders in fall 2013, all students pursuing a standard or advanced-studies diploma must take some sort of online course or part of a course to graduate.

“We want to make sure all students are exposed to this mode of instruction,” said Javaid Siddiqi, deputy secretary of education for the state.

Some teachers in Virginia Beach have already begun to switch their classes to an online format, instructing students with PowerPoint presentations and communicating with them through instant messaging and discussion boards.

Virginia is just one of several states mandating online-course requirements for students – a move that’s sparked a backlash in states like Idaho.

School districts that make requirements flexible, like this one in Tennessee, may have an easier time of it.

Do you have online courses in your curriculum? Chime in below — and don’t forget to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

So, what do you think?

January 16, 2012

Indiana Bill To Require Online Learning

This bill announced in the Fall has finally been introduced.

Senate Bill 0179

2012 Second Regular Session

Latest Information


Virtual instruction course requirement. Requires a student pursuing a Core 40 high school diploma to complete one virtual instruction course.

Current Status:

In Committee – first House

Latest Printing (PDF)

  • Action List
  • Introduced Bill
  • Fiscal Impact Statement(s): 1(PDF)
  • House Committee Reports
  • House Amendments
  • Senate Committee Reports
  • Senate Amendments
  • Conference Committee Reports

October 10, 2011

Online Learning Graduation Requirements

Note the additions made to this entry after the fact in red below.

A few weeks ago I was asked about online learning graduation requirements by a jurisdiction that is considering implementing one (or at least exploring the idea).  In the response that I sent back, I directed them to previous entries on this blog that outlined the ones that I was aware of:

I also promised a follow-up blog entry that would ask others to provide information.  I guess the best way to do this is to describe each requirement, as I understand it, and then ask others to provide any additional information:

State of Michigan

Students must:

  1. take an online course;
  2. complete 20 hours of online learning within a traditional face-to-face course; or
  3. include technology-infused lessons in all required Michigan Merit Curriculum courses.


State of New Mexico

Students are required to earn one credit in an advanced placement course, an honors course, a dual credit course or a distance learning course.


State of Alabama

A student may satisfy the online requirement for graduation through one or more of the following options:

  1. Take an online course.
  2. Participate in online experiences incorporated into courses used to fulfill requirements for graduation.


State of Florida

Beginning with the 2009-2010 school year, each school district shall provide eligible students within its boundaries the option of participating in a virtual instruction program.


Further, “Beginning with students entering grade 9 in the 2011-2012 school year, at least one course within the 24 credits required in this subsection must be completed through online learning. However, an online course taken during grades 6 through 8 fulfills this requirement. This requirement shall be met through an online course offered by the Florida Virtual School, an online course offered by the high school, or an online dual enrollment course offered pursuant to a district interinstitutional articulation agreement pursuant to s. 1007.235. A student who is enrolled in a full-time or part-time virtual instruction program under s. 1002.45 meets this requirement.


State of Idaho (proposed)

Having difficulty finding the actual wording of the proposed amendment that was accepted by the State Board of Education, but the gist of it is that students have to complete two online courses to graduate from high school. One of the two must be “asynchronous,” which they have defined as taught remotely, without a teacher present in the classroom with students, and with students and the teacher participating on their own schedule.

See (note this is the website given by the Idaho State Department of Education, but all it does is provide a title for the proposed amendment – there are no supporting materials at the time this entry was posted)

State of Indiana (proposed)

Information is limited at this time, but based on news reports “local school districts would decide specifics such as what types of courses to offer online, Bennett said, and whether students would complete online assignments at home or during regular school time.”


Sugar Salem School District

Interesting that I wasn’t able to find any information about this graduation requirement on their website, but the initial press release did state that “in partnership with Idaho Digital Learning (IDLA), all students graduating in 2013, or later, must complete one online credit to graduate.”


Memphis City Schools

Again, unable to find any information about this graduation requirement on their website, but I was able to find this statement using Google.  “Beginning with the ninth grade class entering high school during the 2009-2010 school year, all Memphis City School students shall be required to take at least one online course during high school.


Putnam County School Board

For all students entering 9th grade in 2009-2010 and thereafter, the required one-half (.5) credit of Personal Finance necessary to meet the Tennessee Ready Core requirements must be earned by successfully completing the course online.


Note that the blog entries that I have listed at the beginning of this e-mail also includes an entry about New York. This entry is incorrectly titled (I used the title that was used by the source I took the information from). The actual regulation simply make K-12 online learning more accessible and easier for students to take advantage of regardless of their school or school districts desires/efforts – it does not require K-12 online learning of any student.

If anyone has additional jurisdictions to add to this list or have better links to reference some of the existing requirements, I’d welcome them.

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