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E-Learning in K-12 Schools: The Prospects for Disruptive Innovation (AIMS, May 2016)



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E-Learning in K-12 Schools
The Prospects for Disruptive Innovation
Paul W. Bennett
Director, Schoolhouse Consulting, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Halifax, Nova Scotia
May 2016
Policy Paper
The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS)
AIMS is a Canadian non-profit, non-partisan think tank that provides a distinctive Atlantic Canadian
perspective on economic, political, and social issues. The Institute sets the benchmark on public policy
by drawing together the most innovative thinking available from some of the world’s foremost experts
and applying that thinking to the challenges facing Canadians.
AIMS was incorporated as a non-profit corporation under Part II of the Canada Corporations Act and
was granted charitable registration by Revenue Canada as of 3 October 1994. It received US charitable
recognition under 501(c)(3), effective the same date.
287 Lacewood Drive, Suite 204,
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3M 3Y7
Telephone: (902) 429-1143 /AtlanticInstituteforMarketStudies @aims_ca /company/atlantic-institute-for-market-studies
Board of Directors
Chairman: John Risley
Former Chairman: John F. Irving
President and CEO: Marco Navarro-Génie
Vice-Chair: Laura Araneda (New Brunswick)
Vice-Chair: Leo Power (Newfoundland and Labrador)
Secretary: Fae Shaw
Treasurer: Doug Hall
Directors: Paul Antle, Lee Bragg, Robert Campbell, Stephen Emmerson, Richard Florizone,
Nelson Hagerman, Mary Keith, Dennice Leahey, Scott McCain, Todd McDonald,
Jonathan Meretsky, Don Mills, Andrew Oland, Bob Owens, Peter Woodward.
Advisory Council
George Bishop, Angus Bruneau, George Cooper, Ivan Duvar, Peter Godsoe, James Gogan,
Frederick Hyndman, Bernard Imbeault, Phillip Knoll, Colin Latham, Norman Miller, James Moir, Jr.,
Gerald L. Pond, Cedric E. Ritchie, Allan C. Shaw, Joseph Shannon.
Board of Research Advisors
Advisors: Charles Colgan, J. Colin Dodds, Morley Gunderson, Doug May,
Jim McNiven, Robert Mundell.
The author of this document worked independently, and is solely responsible for the views presented here. The opinions are not
necessarily those of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, its directors or supporters or of other organizations with which
the authors may be affiliated. Any errors or omissions remain the responsibility of the author.
Table of Contents
Overview: Disruptive innovation from the schools-up 4
Flirting with learning innovation 7
The big picture: The state of online learning in Canada 12
The regional situation: The state of e-learning in Atlantic Canada 19
Overall assessment: The present state and future of digital learning 24
Summary and recommendations 28
References 31
E-Learning in K-12 Schools
The Prospects for Disruptive Innovation
By Paul W. Bennett
Director, Schoolhouse Consulting, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Halifax, Nova Scotia
May 2016
About the Author
Paul W. Bennett, Ed.D., (OISE/Toronto) is Founding Director of Schoolhouse
Consulting and Adjunct Professor of Education at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova
Scotia. Over a career spanning four decades and three provinces, Dr. Bennett has served as a
secondary school history teacher, academic head, public school trustee, and the headmaster
of two of Canada’s leading independent coeducational day schools, Lower Canada College
and Halifax Grammar School. He has written or co-authored many academic articles, policy
papers, and eight books, including The Grammar School: Striving for Excellence in a Public
School World (2009), and Vanishing Schools, Threatened Communities: The Contested
Schoolhouse in Maritime Canada, 1850 -2010 (2011), and The Last Stand: Schools,
Communities and the Future of Rural Nova Scotia (2013).
Today Paul is primarily an education policy analyst and commentator, producing regular columns and book reviews for
The Chronicle Herald and articles for Progress Magazine and a variety of publications. His most recent academic articles
have appeared in Acadiensis, Historical Studies in Education, and the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society Journal. Over
the past five years, he has produced major policy papers for the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, the Society for
Quality Education, and the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools Association. He specializes in K-12 educational
policy, education history, educational standards, school governance, teacher education, and special education services.
Disruptive innovation from the schools-up
In April 2014, an upbeat discussion paper entitled “Shaping a New Vision for Public
Education in Nova Scotia” came down from the highest echelons of the Nova Scotia
school system. Prepared by the Nova Scotia School Boards Association (NSSBA), in
consultation with some twenty-six education leaders, it embraced the Canadian
version of what is widely known across North America as “21st Century Learning”
(NSSBA 2014). The paper issued an urgent call for “a new discussion” about how to
prepare young people for the shift to a “more globally robust economy” based upon
“new knowledge and technology.” Yet the Nova Scotia paper created barely a ripple.
Six months later, the Nova Scotia Minister’s Panel on Education ignored the call to
action in its report, Disrupting the Status Quo: Nova Scotians Demand a Better Future
for Every Student (Nova Scotia 2014). Nor did the NSSBA paper register in the eventual
Three Rs Education Reform Plan, released in January 2015 (Nova Scotia 2015). Like
most top-down education initiatives, the 21st Century Learning paper merely floated
above the schools. Without support from frontline teachers, the venture went into
hiatus, with an uncertain future.
While provincial educational leaders were toying with 21st Century Learning visions,
the “Flipping the Classroom” movement was gaining ground among North American
teachers committed to e-learning in the schools. Inspired largely by U.S. technology-in-
education advocate Salman Kahn, founder of Khan Academy, Flipping the Classroom
effectively turns the normal classroom routine on its head. Students are instructed to
watch short videos or study recorded material outside class time as homework, and
come to class prepared to discuss what they have learned and apply their knowledge
to relevant problems in the regular classroom (Bergmann and Sams 2012).
Over the past three years, the spread of the Flipped Classroom model has turned
Khan’s massive series of free, online instructional videos into the best-known and
most widely used of such resources among students and parents. It has spawned a
whole series of Flipped Classroom edTech resource books, webcasts, and modules
used by increasing numbers of teachers everywhere except in the Maritime provinces
(Bergmann 2014; Bretzman 2013).
The failure of Nova Scotia’s Flipped Classroom pilot project was not an isolated instance
of resistance to e-learning and disruptive innovation in the region’s schools. Atlantic
Canada’s leading educators are leery of the pan-Canadian movement promoting 21st
Century Learning and technology-driven education. In neighbouring New Brunswick,
a bold, top-down initiative to introduce 21st Century Learning also capsized five years
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador
have been slow off the mark to seize e-learning’s potential to promote higher levels
of student engagement. How Atlantic Canadian school systems lost the e-learning
initiative, why they have yet to embrace e-learning, and what can be done to change
the policy trajectory are the questions this report addresses.
Skepticism about passing educational fads is healthy and perhaps understandable,
but structural barriers and resistance to technological innovation in the schools are
now holding Atlantic Canadian students and teachers back (see Bennett 2012b;
Christensen, Horn, and Staker 2013; Walsh 2012). Top-down initiatives branded with
the 21st Century Learning label rarely succeed in winning over regular teachers or
penetrating the school classroom. Yet e-learning’s potential can be unleashed only if
such initiatives win the support of teachers and mobilize them from the school level
What is needed is a strategic, longer-term plan to spark “disruptive innovation”
in our school systems in order to introduce new learning techniques that benefit
students. Such a strategy, initially built around supporting core innovation teams
in each school, would include demonstrating the effective use of blended learning
activities, introducing the “A La Carte” model of school courses, lifting provincial
restrictions on online classes, establishing reliable measures of learning competencies,
and transforming our one-size-fits-all school system into a community or “portfolio”
of schools that offer the full range of face-to-face, online, and blended programs.
Students and teachers yearning for more stimulating, engaging quality instruction
deserve better from our region’s schools. The following nine recommendations —
fully explained at the end of the report — would significantly advance the state of
e-learning in Atlantic Canada’s school systems.
Recommendation 1: Support early adopters committed to initiating blended
learning programs, combining face-to-face instruction and online digital learning.
Recommendation 2: Strengthen and expand existing self-directed online
learning programs and “seed” new ones.
Recommendation 3: Focus on building the A La Carte model of blended
learning programs in junior and senior high schools.
Recommendation 4: Clear away current structural barriers and regulatory
constraints, such as Article 49 of the Nova Scotia provincial teaching contract.
Recommendation 5: Build school leadership capacity in e-learning, change
management, and disruptive innovation.
Recommendation 6: Develop and test more reliable measures of the
effectiveness of e-learning program innovations, utilizing competency-based
assessment methods.
Recommendation 7: Broaden the range of e-learning innovation policy
initiatives, so as to embrace expanded school program choices, greater teacher
autonomy, more flexible staffing formulas, expanded student learning time, and
accredited, autonomous virtual high schools.
Recommendation 8: Foster the development of more agile, flexible, and
adaptable alternative schools, including incubator (e-learning) schools.
Recommendation 9: Transform traditional top-down school management
systems into “communities of schools” that provide face-to-face, online, and
blended learning program choices, starting with one major urban district in
each province.
Flirting with learning innovation
Halifax property developer Jim Spatz caught the “Flip the Classroom” bug after
encountering one of its initiators, Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, at a
Harvard University management seminar in the spring of 2013. Kahn’s deceptively
simple, cleverly produced and enticing online instructional videos and their potential
for igniting “self-paced learning” appealed to North American students and parents
as well as to businessmen concerned about declining student mathematics scores.
Much of the explosive growth in Khan Academy online course registrations consisted
of students and parents looking to supplement classroom instruction or to understand
mathematics and science concepts that eluded them in the regular classroom (Khan
Together with prominent seafood businessman John Risley, Spatz secured an audience
with then Nova Scotia premier Darrell Dexter, proposed introducing the Khan model
into the province’s public schools, and pledged $500,000 in seed money to kick-
start the venture. By late June 2013, Spatz was giving media interviews about the
exciting possibilities of Flipping the Classroom and the wonders of tablet technology
to engage more students in mastering mathematics and the sciences (CBC News
Nova Scotia 2013; Fairclough 2013).
Like many North American business entrepreneurs, Spatz embraces “big ideas” and
sees taking the odd risk as the gateway to what American change management guru
Clayton Christensen has termed “disruptive innovation” (Christensen, Horn, Staker
2013). He was also aware that e-learning initiatives, blending online and face-to-face
[Our grade 7 Math online math pilot project] is a huge
opportunity to leverage resources to bootstrap our whole public
education system.
— Jim Spatz, CEO, Southwest Properties,
Chronicle Herald (Halifax), June 26, 2013
It’s really awesome to know that you’re going to be getting one
of these devices to own for the school year and bring home after-
school and in the evening.
— Jacob Beaton, grade 6 student,
Oxford School, Halifax, June 25, 2013
instruction, showed the best potential for virtually revolutionizing the traditional
“teacher-talk” model practised in standard bricks-and-mortar schools.
Coming out of a phase of provincial education budget reductions, injecting much-
needed dollars into a classroom technology initiative looked appealing. So the
province announced, on June 25, 2013, that $1 million would be allocated, under a
public-private funding partnership, to provide three hundred tablet computers in a
pilot project ostensibly to improve grade 7 mathematics and science classes in four
different schools: Halifax’s Oxford Street Public School, Chester Area Middle School.
Central Kings Rural High School, and Whitney Pier Junior High School (Ruskin 2013).
In hindsight, however, it appears the premier and the Department of Education
were more interested in acquiring classroom technology than in introducing Khan
Academy-inspired Mathematics and Science lessons. The Flip the Classroom tablet
computer initiative was abandoned a year after the announcement. Without notice
or a publicly disclosed assessment, the venture disappeared. The four schools got to
keep $644,000 worth of hardware and $152,000 invested in Wi-Fi installation, while
$230,000 expended on student and staff training produced, at best, mostly residual
educational benefits. Only one of the four school districts, Annapolis Valley Regional
School Board, elected to purchase tablets for grade 7 incoming students.
For the two Atlantic Canadian businessmen, it was a powerful lesson. What started out
as a plan to introduce the Khan model ended up merely a means for a few schools to
acquire tablet computers. Openly opposed by Nova Scotia Teachers Union president
Shelley Morse as a sign of privatization, stalled by education staff consultants, and
contained by school-level regulations, practices, and behaviours, it never stood a
chance (CBC News Nova Scotia 2015; NSTU 2013; Ruskin 2013).
Today the extraordinary promise of e-learning remains largely unfulfilled in Nova
Scotia and neighbouring Atlantic Canadian provinces. Although the region was
relatively quick to embrace the Internet and an integrated e-communications
system like ednet, school authorities and teachers have been slower to accept and
embrace learning innovations that deviate from the mainstream approved curriculum
(Bennett 2012b; Mills 2009). That said, innovative educators such as Kent Avery and
Carolyn Huggan, grade 11 teachers at Charlottetown Rural High School, continue
to experiment with Flipping the Classroom after being encouraged to do so by their
education studies program at the University of Prince Edward Island (Russell 2016).
Further afield, enterprising teachers in the Toronto region and in Regina have also
reportedly tested the idea in their classrooms (CBC News Toronto 2014, CBC News
Saskatoon 2015).
Flipping the Classroom has caught on more quickly and extensively in U.S. schools.
With the active support of the Flipped Learning Network (FLN) and, the
concept is far better known and more widely in use. In October 2015, a FLN survey
reported that some 96 percent of 2,358 teachers surveyed in 2014 recognized the term
“flipped classroom,” up from 73 percent in 2012. Some 78 percent of respondents
claimed to have “flipped a lesson,” up from 48 percent two years earlier. Among those
using the new model, mostly in high schools, nine out of ten reported “improved
student engagement” and, most surprisingly, almost half of the early adopters (46
percent) had been teaching for more than 16 years (McWhirter 2015).
Online and blended learning methods — with or without the Flipped Classroom — are
not a panacea for what ails teaching and learning in today’s schools. Online courses
in universities and colleges, particularly Massive Open Online Courses, tend to suffer
from relatively lower completion rates (Haynie 2015). At the K-12 school level, U.S.
private venture “virtual school” initiatives with expanding online enrolments — most
notably K12 Inc. — have not measured up in terms of improving student performance
levels (Hensley-Clancy 2015; Saul 2011). The Flipped Classroom, on the other hand,
has been shown to be more effective when used by skilful teachers. Making effective
use of the Flipped Classroom requires a teacher skilled enough to motivate students
and ensure proper intellectual engagement inside and outside class.
Flipping the Classroom can help struggling students, those who miss classes, and
others who crave further enrichment. Students who watch the videos come to class
prepared and experience higher levels of student-teacher interaction. Teachers talk less
in class, provide more individualized instruction, and report fewer class-management
issues (Bergmann 2014; Bergmann and Sams 2012; Bretzmann 2013). Those teachers
who idealize the 21st Century Learning ideology as cutting edge soon realize that it
is far more challenging to make it work in the real world classroom (Walsh 2012).
Blended learning using the Flipped Classroom is proving far superior to online
learning programs that are self-paced with little or no teacher-mediated interactions.
Students in purely online courses or who are exposed to regular-length online lectures
have difficulty sustaining attention, and require interventions to discourage “mind
wandering” activities (Schacter and Szpunar 2015, 60-63; Szpunar, Khan, and Schacter
2013). Classes that use shorter recorded material, such as introductory statistics or
Khan Academy videos — broken up with periodic quizzes — tend to improve student
engagement and produce better learning outcomes. A study of forty-eight high
school age students suggests that video watching interspersed with short tests helps
to counter “overconfidence” induced by watching the videos and tends to improve
student memory recall and performance (Szpunar, Jing, and Schacter 2014). In the
hands of good teachers, blended learning strategies such as the Flipped Classroom
promote much higher levels of student engagement and enhance the quality of
student learning.
The world has gone digital almost everywhere except for Canada’s distinctly old-
school education system. Technology is transforming the everyday life of Canadians,
particularly the younger generation, but the implementation and growth of digital
learning remains uneven in K-12 schools, not just in the Atlantic provinces but across
Canada. Official statistics on the growth of e-learning are hard to find, but they are
indicative of patterns and trends. Leading online learning expert Michael K. Barbour
estimates that, in the 2013-14 school year, some 332,000 Canadian students were
enrolled in one or more distance education courses — 6.2 percent of the total 5.3
million K-12 student population, and double the portion reported three years earlier
(Barbour and LaBonte 2014). That number is dwarfed by the figure in the United
States, where Ambient Insights estimates that the number of students accessing
online learning doubled from 2 million to 4 million from 2010 to 2011, to some 5.3
million in 2014 (Allen and Seaman 2015).
In Canada, the e-learning leaders are British Columbia and Alberta, which together
account for 46 percent (152,900) of student online enrolments in approximately
99 “public distributed learning schools.” More than 12 percent of these students
take one or more online courses, compared with 2.6 percent in New Brunswick, 2.2
percent in Nova Scotia, 1.3 percent in Newfoundland and Labrador, and a paltry
0.5 percent in Prince Edward Island (Barbour and LaBonte 2014). From the data one
can surmise that the relative growth of online learning in both countries is broadly
uniform, but that Atlantic Canada has fallen behind other parts of Canada and the
United States.
Nova Scotia is flirting with e-learning and only beginning to engage with the pan-
Canadian movement promoting 21st Century Learning and technology-driven
education. In early July 2015, the acting executive director of innovation in the
province’s Education Department, Sue Taylor-Foley, hosted a Canadian e-Learning
Network (CANeLearn) symposium titled “Toward Flexible Learning Solutions in
Canada.” The program focused mostly on British Columbia’s and Alberta’s bolder
ventures into blended learning integrating online and classroom-based instruction.
The province used the session to promote its own Nova Scotia Virtual School (NSVS)
(CANeLearn 2015). A follow-up CANeLearn online session in January 2016 offered
by Nova Scotia technology consultant Sarah Hainsworth simply showcased NSVS, a
province-wide portal staffed by 16 teachers and reaching about 500 of the province’s
118,000 public school students. Much of the session also focused on Article 49 of
the Nova Scotia teachers’ contract, which limits online classes to between twenty-
two and twenty-five students and confines instruction to regularly scheduled school
Together with the aborted Khan Academy initiative, the pattern is clear: the province’s
approach to e-learning remains firmly committed to minimizing the potential for
“disruptive innovation” in the public schools (Hainsworth 2016). Flexible learning
experiences for Nova Scotia students and teachers do not appear to be coming soon.
Student and teachers yearning for greater access to the latest technology for learning
deserve better.
The big picture:
The state of online learning in Canada
Distance or online learning is growing modestly in Canada, although it continues
to represent a tiny proportion of total Canadian school enrolment. Over the past
decade, however, online resources such as e-learning courses and programs as well
as virtual schools have either spread or popped up in Canada’s remarkably diverse
provinces and territories (Barbour 2010, 2014). At the elementary and secondary
school levels, regular brick-and-mortar schools have acquired computer hardware and
software, connected them to the Internet, installed wireless networks, and offered in-
service training in information and communication technologies (ICT) to novice and
experienced teachers. Across Canada, the infrastructure in most schools now enables
Internet access, student portals, digital libraries, and networks that support laptops
and handheld and other portable devices (Mills 2009). Among Canadian educational
authorities and teachers, there is a growing realization that “digital literacies” are
becoming essential in preparing students to participate fully in the emerging post-
industrial knowledge society of the 21st century (Chen, Gallagher-Mackay, and Kidder
The first generation of ICT for the classroom was, as Larry Cuban aptly noted, “oversold
and underused” in North American schools (Cuban 2003; see also Jensen, Taylor,
Surface changes in education will not equip students for the 21st
century. Change is needed at the core of educational practice …
Insights from complexity theory can help leaders think outside
the box of the traditional system to inspire and spread positive
changes. Change is inevitable, transformation is possible.
– Penny Milton, “Shifting Minds 3.0 (C21 Canada 2015)”
Technology is the new normal in Ontario schools and the
life of students. … While the potential for technology to
improve learning is real, particular trends or products still run
considerable risks of being oversold and “underused.”
– Bodong Chen, Kelly Gallagher-Mackay, and Annie Kidder,
“Digital Learning in Ontario Schools” (People for Education 2014)
and Fisher 2010). Today’s students are far more cyber-savvy, and hunger for more
sanctioned opportunities to use technology inside the schools. Popular books such as
Don Tapscott’s Growing Up Digital (1997) and Howe and Strauss’s Millennials Rising
(2000) have gone so far as to suggest that the net generation (born to baby boomers)
and the millennials (most of today’s students) have turned the “generation gap” into
a “generation lap,” so far ahead of us are they when it comes to the mastery of
technology. Such broad generalizations about generational differences might well be
exaggerated and, as the University of Georgia’s Tom Reeves has shown, the technical
fluency and knowledge of today’s students run far broader than deep (Reeves 2008).
The new generation of learners might inhabit a “digital world,” but they are also
hobbled by a strain of selfie-ism and dogged by the legacy of “parental perfectionism.”
Introducing technology alone in schools has not proven enough without active teacher
support and engaged, motivated students (Barbour 2009).
Mobile learning technology has been adopted almost en masse by the net generation
and by today’s so-called screenagers. Although the innovative use of online technologies
has gradually penetrated into the publicly funded school system over the past ten
years, the availability of, and access to, these technologies has not kept pace with
student demand or expectations. Some schools across Canada still prohibit the free
use of mobile devices outside designated rooms or access points (Hutchison, Tin, and
Chao 2008). An Ontario study identifies the “ongoing but under-reported disconnect
between the massive spending devoted to digital technologies in schools, and their
persistent under-use in classrooms, despite claims that the ‘next gen’ of tech-savvy
educators are more inclined to integrate technology into their teaching” (Jensen,
Taylor, and Fisher 2010, 5). Some of the underuse of ICT is related to a continuing
gap in the systematic implementation of technology integration, both in faculty
of education training and in ongoing professional development. Even if classroom
teachers are sufficiently prepared, a 2014 Ontario People for Education report finds
that they face “significant barriers to integrate ICT,” including curricular shortcomings,
constraints around access, lack of technical support, and limited preparation time
(Chen, Gallagher-Mackay, and Kidder 2014; see also Hixon and Buckenmeyer 2009).
Annual reports on K-12 Online Learning from 2008 to 2015, mostly researched and
written by Canadian information technology expert Michael K. Barbour, demonstrate
steady and incremental growth in the practice of distance, online, and blended learning.
With public education governed by the provinces and territories, accurately assessing
the growth of such teaching practices in a country with 5.3 million K-12 students and
15,000 schools remains challenging for researchers. Based upon increasingly reliable
annual surveys, however, the number of tracked “distance education students” has
risen from some 140,000 (2.7 percent) in the 2008-09 school year to 332,000 (6.2
percent) in 2013-14 (Barbour and LaBonte 2014). The use of blended learning is on
the rise, even if the reported data are rather patchy. With the 2012 formation of the
Canadian e-Learning Network, a national pan-Canadian consortium focused on K-12
online and blended learning, better data might be generated, making tracking much
more accurate and reliable for policy analysis and decision making (Barbour 2013
CANeLearn 2015).
Compared with the recent dramatic expansion of digital learning in the United States,
online and blended learning in Canada’s K-12 public schools have followed a decidedly
different pattern of evolution (Barbour 2012; Finn and Fairchild 2012). Much of the
online learning in parts of Canada remains an outgrowth of correspondence school
education, involving e-format programmed units, audio distance learning, and video
conferencing. The primary drivers in provincial and territorial education systems are
government authorities, while learning corporations serve as contractors that provide
content, learning technologies, and support services to the government-run operations.
Despite the tremendous potential for expansion in online learning programs, the
free market remains regulated, and private providers are largely absent. Provincial
or school district authorities promote a cautious, contained, growth-management
strategy in which online and blended learning are considered within the bricks-and-
mortar framework as the next evolution of effective technology integration (Barbour
Among the provinces, New Brunswick was first out of the gate to embrace 21st Century
Learning with a proposal on May 14, 2010, by Deputy Minister of Education John D.
Kershaw to shift the province’s entire public school system to a 21st Century Learning
model (ITBusiness 2010). Armed with provincially mandated netbook computers, all
anglophone teachers were sent an online communiqué promoting the brand new
province-wide e-learning strategy. That visionary three-year plan, entitled 21st Century
Learning (NB3-21C), was launched with a fast-paced and futuristic five-minute video
highlighting the rapidity of change bombarding today’s younger generation (New
Brunswick 2010). In jarring top-down fashion, the department publicly endorsed the
so-called CRT2 formula (creativity, relevance, time, technology).
The whole 21st Century Learning agenda, and a related August 2010 election promise
to follow the State of Maine in equipping all students with laptop computers (CTV
News Atlantic 2010), effectively perished with the defeat of the Shawn Graham Liberal
government and Kershaw’s departure from the scene. Although that initial flirtation
with 21st Century Learning proved short-lived, it was eventually revived by Kershaw
and transformed into a pan-Canadian movement largely driven by the Council of
Ministers of Education and
Kershaw’s former deputy
minister colleagues.
“Twenty-first century skills,
technology, and learning”
became the official mantra
of Canadian education
policymakers, signalling,
first and foremost, change
— defined in terms of
meeting the needs of the
next generation of learners.
A national organization, C21
Canada, emerged in 2011
to promote “new models of
public education” in response
to “the advent of the
knowledge and digital era”
(C21 Canada 2015). In May
2012, C21 Canada released a
futuristic blueprint, Shifting
Minds, that proposed “a go-
Source: C21 Canada 2012.
The 21st Century Learning Framework
forward 21st Century learning framework for Canada’s public education systems,”
founded upon a set of seven declaratory principles, endorsing freer access for
students, more personalized learning, and support for educational leaders committed
to digital learning initiatives (C21 Canada 2012); see Figure 1. Although the policy
paper purported to be Canadian in origin, it mirrored the approach of the American
Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and was buttressed with mostly U.S. technology-
in-education research studies (C21 Canada 2012, appendix).
Working with the Council of Ministers of Education Canada and Canadian branches
of international learning corporations, C21 Canada holds regional conferences and
attempts to seed 21st Century learning, mainly through provincial and territorial
departments of education (C21 Canada 2015). In British Columbia, the BC Learns
initiative, first proposed in late 2010 and known as “Personalized Learning,” won
the support of C21 Canada, and in the 2015-16 school year was piloted in sixteen
different elementary schools (British Columbia 2015). Ontario’s e-learning initiative
from 2011 to 2014 drew, in part, on C21 Canada’s work. In other provinces, such as
Nova Scotia, the 21st Century learning promoters have secured some regional school
board support, but have gained little traction with provincial education departments
(Nova Scotia 2015).
More recently, Google Apps for Education (GAFE) has begun to make inroads in
Canada’s K-12 school systems. When it comes to digital learning, Google has enjoyed
much more success than Microsoft and smaller players in the growing market for
software in elementary and secondary schools. First introduced in 2006, GAFE made
its first big breakthroughs in 2012. Public concerns that Google was mining student
e-mail accounts for ad-targeting purposes represented a setback, but that problem
was addressed in April 2014 with a change in corporate policy. In Nova Scotia, GAFE
was piloted during the 2014-15 school year, then approved for a rollout to all four
hundred public schools in the province (Julian 2015). By the end of 2015, it was
spreading quickly, and teacher training summits had been held or were scheduled to
be held in Ontario, Alberta, Quebec, and British Columbia, as well as in Nova Scotia.
In schools across the country, it is becoming increasingly essential for students to
have access to the Internet in order to be successful — homework, projects, and even
information and advice from teachers is now transmitted online (Frost 2015a).
Education is a provincial government responsibility as the country has no national
department of education or policy standards. Some coordination is provided by
the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), supported by comparative
research conducted until 2010 by the Canadian Council on Learning, based in
Ottawa. All ten provinces and three territories have established and maintain distance
education programs within their K-12 publicly funded school systems, see Figure 2
(page 17). British Columbia and Alberta have the most extensive online presence, in
terms of percentage of student participation. The most populous province, Ontario,
has experienced the most recent spurt of growth in student enrolments in distance
education and blended learning. The smallest province, Prince Edward Island, has the
least participation. Three provinces (Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and
New Brunswick) have a single, provincially managed online program, while three others
(Ontario, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia) have a primarily school district-based
program. In Quebec, Manitoba, and Alberta, online programs are a combination of
provincial and district based. The three territories (Northwest Territories, Yukon, and
Nunavut) along with Prince Edward Island use online programs from other provinces.
Provincial regulations for online learning exist in British Columbia and Nova Scotia,
but Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Alberta continue to operate with less regulation
of distance learning. Flexibility and openness to innovation are bigger factors than
regulatory restrictions in explaining the extent of K-12 distance, online, and blended
learning activity (Barbour and LaBonte 2014).
The shift to online and digital learning has attracted the attention of Canadian teachers’
unions, evoking trepidation that varies in degree from one province to another. The
Canadian Teachers’ Federation (2000) was the first educational organization to begin
tracking K-12 distance education participation levels, focusing on the implications for
teachers’ class loads and working conditions. In British Columbia, distance learning
gained earlier and wider acceptance, and the BC Teachers’ Federation funded some
of the research (Kuehn 2006). From 2013 to 2014, the Alberta Teachers’ Association
was instrumental in mobilizing a “Stop Distance Education Cuts” movement aimed
at sustaining funding through the public school system. “Students need choice and
flexibility in their learning opportunities,” the association stated. “By cutting funding
to schools that use Distance Education, the government is effectively cutting choice
and flexibility for students to complete their high school education” (Alberta Teachers’
Association 2014).
Provincial regulations governing online learning in Nova Scotia are a response to
initial concerns raised by the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU). When presented
Single Provincial
Combination of
Provincial and
Use Online Learning Programs
From Other Provinces
FIGURE 2 Online Learning Programs by Province
and Territory, 2015
Source: Canadian e-Learning Network.
with innovative online programs, the union’s instinctive response was to defend
existing teacher contract provisions that limit workload and hours of instruction to
those established for classroom-based teachers (Barbour and LaBonte 2014; Bennett
2012b). Another line of defence was and remains to resist online programs, unless
and until they can be offered equally to all students. Education school research
conducted by Dianne Looker and the Equity and Technology Research Alliance argues
that resources should focus on “the inclusion of marginal youth” using information
and communication technologies to build upon their “distinctive cultural knowledge”
and serve their “economic interests” (Looker and Naylor 2010).
Distance education serves as a supplementary curricular program in most provinces and
territories. Until 2014, some provinces continued to deliver distance education in the
static form of e-links to web postings of print-based learning materials, but growing
numbers of schools are making use of synchronous tools such as traditional video
conferencing or virtual classroom software. Across Canada, however, K-12 distance
education is often used interchangeably with online learning, even though most such
learning does not actually take place online. A survey of the various provincial and
territorial programs reveals that distance education provides an attractive alternative
when face-to-face learning is not feasible or affordable, or for students who require
alternative delivery methods for remediation or course credit recovery (Barbour 2010,
14–16). Without public charter schools pushing at the boundaries of virtual schooling
and blended instruction, as in the United States, online learning in Canada primarily
exists to provide K-12 courses for students that are not available in the brick-and-
mortar school system (Barbour 2015).
The regional situation:
The state of e-learning in Atlantic Canada
Canada’s public education system can be understood only through the lens of its
discrete regions. Following the example of reports by the International Association
for Online Learning and CANeLearn, this comparative analysis highlights regional and
provincial variations in the current provision of online and digital education (see Table
1, next page).
Nine of the ten provinces have their own K-12 distance education programs (the
exception is Prince Edward Island); two provinces (New Brunswick and Newfoundland
and Labrador) maintain single, centralized, province-wide systems; Nova Scotia has
its own system, built in collaboration with a small number of regional school boards;
in Ontario and Saskatchewan, online learning is remarkably decentralized, much of it
While New Brunswick was an early champion of “21st Century
Learning,” provincial budget restraints from 2010 to 2014 limited
the proliferation of ICT across the province … Recent growth
in student enrolment in online courses, according to the NB
Education Department, is attributable to expanded First Nations
language course offerings and meeting Special Education course
demands to serve severely learning-challenged students.
The … NSTU is heavily involved with distance education. The
NSTU contract is by far the most detailed of all the Canadian
provinces. Eleven different provisions under Article 49: Distance
Education give guidance on how online education should be
administered … ensuring that distance education teachers
have comparable workloads to their face-to-face counterparts,
adequate and regular training … and input on further
development of K-12 distance education in the province.
– Michael K. Barbour and David Adelstein,
“Voracious Appetite of Online Teaching” (BCTF, 2013)
– Paul W. Bennett,
“Digital Learning in Canadian K-12 Schools” (Springer Handbook, 2016)
delegated to consortia or remote school districts; and in Prince Edward Island and the
three territories, online learning might be described as limited in its reach (Barbour
and LaBonte 2014). Only British Columbia, Ontario, and Alberta have proved to be
fertile ground for private school ventures in the form of virtual or online schools
(Barbour 2010, 41; Kuehn 2013). In Alberta, the rise of virtual schooling delivered by
“cyber charter schools” has surfaced as a controversial public policy issue. In October
2013, Parkland Institute, a University of Alberta research unit, released an openly
hostile report warning of the dangers of “pedagogical innovation” in the form of
privatization presented as a way of easing “budgetary constraints” (Clements and
Gibson 2013).
The four Atlantic provinces cooperate on joint curriculum projects, given their relative
close proximity to one another. Province-wide distance learning programs also exist
(again, except in Prince Edward Island) managed by their respective departments of
education, but only Nova Scotia has developed a regulatory regime to govern the
provision of online education. All online programs are sponsored by the provinces,
some in collaboration with district boards serving rural areas.
Newfoundland and Labrador
In Newfoundland and Labrador, distance education began in the 1988-89 school year
Registered Distance Education Students, by Province and Territory (2013-14)
Province/Territory Number of Number Enrolled Percent
K-12 Students In Distance Involvement
NL 67,436 884 1.3%
NS 122,643 ~2,720 2.2%
PE 20,131 108 0.5%
NB 101,079 2,615 2.6%
QC 1,307,026 ~70,500 5.4%
ON 2,015,411 78,095 3.9%
MB 200,807 ~12,000 6.0%
SK 172,205 ~10,000 5.8%
AB 616,375 ~75,000 12.2%
BC 635,057 77,912 12.3%
YT 5,122 182 3.5%
NT 8,204 228 2.8%
NU 9,728 33 <0.1%
Federal 106,500 ~1,800 0.1%
TOTAL 5,387,724 332,077 6.2%
Source: Canadian e-Learning Network.
with the advent of a single advanced mathematics course involving thirteen schools
and using a telematics or audio graphics delivery system. A Centre for Distance
Learning and Innovation (CDLI) was established in 2001-02, with ten different
courses enrolling two hundred students in seventy-six rural schools (Barbour 2005).
In its first decade, the CDLI expanded to offer thirty-eight courses with some sixteen
hundred course registrations each year. In 2013-14, 884 students were enrolled in 39
different courses, for a total of 1,576 registrations (Barbour and LaBonte 2014). The
province’s high school program offers synchronous instruction that matches regular
school time, and uses Elluminate software and asynchronous instruction supported
by the Desire2Learn course-management system. Some online instructional support
is also offered in the lower grades. That province is also home to the Killick Centre
for E-Learning Research, a leading online education research centre, at Memorial
University of Newfoundland. The Ministry of Education tracks online education
delivery and maintains a “K-12 School Profile System”; as of October 2015, however,
there were no policies or regulations for distance education beyond those used by
the CDLI. Although e-learning was recognized as one of eight “lines of business” of
the education ministry, provincial regulations were reportedly only under discussion
(Barbour and Mulcahy 2009; Barbour and LaBonte 2014; Crocker 2007).
Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia has developed its own province-wide online learning program, the Nova
Scotia Virtual School (NSVS). It provides a central course-management platform and
delegates to the eight school boards the responsibility for providing course content
written by practising classroom teachers (Bennett 2012b). The province’s French school
board, the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial, has a longer history of offering online
courses, shared jointly with New Brunswick. Since the Nova Scotia market has tended
to lag in providing province-wide high-speed Internet access, concerns about the
urban-rural “digital divide” exert considerable influence on educational policymaking
in the province (Looker and Naylor 2010, 117–36); for example, in the 2013-14
school year, the province’s correspondence studies program was being transitioned
to an online delivery format. Although Nova Scotia has no K-12 distance education
legislation, provisions in the contract with the NSTU set out the parameters for current
and future activity. Combined student enrolment in the NSVS and correspondence
courses totalled 2,720 in 2013-14, composed of 970 in the former and 1,750 taking
correspondence courses (Barbour and LaBonte 2014, 13).
Nova Scotia’s regulatory regime for education is buttressed by the provincial teachers’
contract. The eleven specific clauses in the agreement set out the rules of engagement
and, in effect, limit the provincial government’s freedom of action in providing online
learning. All online instructors must be certified by teachers, be employed by one of the
eight boards, and are covered by provisions limiting their number of instructional days
and working hours and guaranteeing personal days as well as dedicated preparation
and marking time. Distance education is treated as a regular in-school program,
with supervisors, dedicated facilities space, and class groups limited to twenty to
twenty-five students. A provincial Distance Education Committee, with teacher union
representation (four of eight positions), exists to address “issues surrounding distance
education” (Nova Scotia 2011).
The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is starting to embrace
digital learning in close partnership with Google and tethered to Google Apps for
Education (GAFE). After piloting the program in a number of schools in the 2014-
15 school year, the department decided to make GAFE available to every child and
teacher in the province’s schools. Twenty thousand of Nova Scotia’s 118,000 students
are now using free computer software from Google as part of their classroom
activities. Provincial education officials expect the use of GAFE to be nearly universal
by the end of 2016-17. The cloud-based suite of programs can be accessed on any
electronic device with an Internet connection and a web browser. It includes email,
word processing, and assignment-management software. Some school boards have
chosen to issue students $200 devices called Chromebooks to let them access Google
products at school and at home (Julian 2015).
Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island makes minimal provision for distance or online education. Two
ministerial directives, issued in 2001 and in August 2008, set out provincial guidelines
and authorize, for PEI credit purposes, distance education courses offered by New
Brunswick and other provincial jurisdictions. A provincial video conferencing system
exists, but it is little used by the Education Department or students in local schools.
In the 2013-14 school year, only 108 out of 20,131 students were enrolled in online
courses (Barbour 2011; Barber and LaBonte 2014, 14).
New Brunswick
Two online learning programs are offered in New Brunswick, one in each official
language to serve the two linguistic school systems. Although the programs reflect
the province’s bilingual reality, it is delivered by the Department of Education and
Early Childhood Development’s learning management system. Enrolment in these
programs consists mostly of students who are supplementing their regular in-school
studies, and was relatively static or declined slightly from 2007 to 2012 in both the
anglophone and francophone school systems. New Brunswick was an early champion
of 21st Century Learning, but budget restraints have limited its proliferation across
the province (New Brunswick 2010; Barbour and LaBonte 2014). From 2008 to 2014,
between 2,200 and 2,650 students were enrolled annually in distance education
courses. Steadily increasing numbers of students were enrolled in face-to-face courses
registered in the learning management system, with teachers using online material
to teach the course. In the 2013-14 school year, some 943 anglophone students and
1,511 francophone students were registered in these “blended” learning activities.
Recent growth in student enrolment in online courses, according to the Department
of Education and Early Childhood Development, is attributable to expanded First
Nations language course offerings and special education courses for severely learning
challenged students, offered as self-paced programs outside of class. (Barbour and
LaBonte 2014, 15). Indeed, students’ mental health and anxiety issues are cited as
critical issues in New Brunswick and might well be related to that province’s whole
approach to special education.
Since 2006, the department has pursued the goal of serving growing numbers of
students with complex and severe needs in regular classrooms through “inclusive
education.” Despite grave concerns raised by the New Brunswick Learning Disabilities
Association and a vocal autism group, the provincial government reaffirmed its
commitment to “inclusive education” for all in June 2012. The report, “Building a
Bigger Tent,” published by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies in 2012 raised
a red flag about the incidence of severely learning challenged children, unable to
cope in regular classes, “falling out” of the system (Bennett 2012a). Recent reports
suggest that more and more struggling students are either being home schooled or
served by online learning courses. Teaching assistants employed to support “inclusive
education” are now being trained through a wider array of online training offerings
(Barbour and LaBonte 2014, 15).
Overall assessment:
The present state and future of digital learning
Digital learning is on a growth curve in Canada’s school systems, but without the
radical variations, free market experimentation, and “disruptive” innovation found in
the United States (Christensen, Horn, and Staker 2013; Chubb 2012; Moe and Chubb
2009). Significant gaps still exist in service levels, and barriers stand in the way of
expansion into underserviced frontiers, particularly in Atlantic Canada, the North, and
First Nations communities. Throughout Canada, including in Alberta, school choice
is rationed or limited, learning conditions are carefully state regulated, and “brick-
and-mortar” schooling circumscribes the delivery of education. Virtually all Canadian
educational systems remain designed around seat time, defined as providing in-school
classes of regulated size with a minimum number of instructional hours (Jenson, Taylor,
and Fisher 2010; Powell et al. 2015). Some private sector virtual schools have recently
been established, and are thriving outside the mainstream system. No full-time online
public charter schools exist, even in Alberta, the only province with charter school
legislation (Bennett 2012b). Distance education and online learning student enrolment
Over time, as the disruptive models of Blended Learning improve,
the new value propositions will be powerful enough to prevail
over those of the traditional classroom.
– Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn, and Heather Staker,
“Is K-12 Blended Learning Disruptive?” (2013)
Seat time [in the brick-and-mortar classroom] does not assure
that students will develop the requisite knowledge and skills for
success in college and careers. Thus, we need to redesign the
foundations of our educational system to learner-centred and
competency-based, so students graduate prepared … Proficiency-
based diplomas provide an important policy lever [to ensure]
meaningful recognition of demonstrated knowledge, skills,
dispositions, and abilities.
– Dale Frost,
“Nine Ways States Can Create
Competency-Based Education Systems” (2015)
continues to grow only incrementally, particularly in “have-not” jurisdictions where
expansion is limited by budgetary spending limitations (Barbour and LaBonte 2015).
However, the growth of online learning in Canada might be more significant than
reported by provincial and territorial authorities. Although Quebec and New Brunswick
reported modest enrolment in distance education in the 2013-14 school year, estimates
of the number of teachers who use the curriculum in blended format are much higher.
From 2011 to 2014, to cite one example, the Ontario Ministry of Education coordinated
an initiative to expand access to blended learning for all K-12 students, which generated
almost 240,000 blended learning enrolments in the provincial learning management
system during 2013-14. If and when provincial authorities begin tracking the extent
of blended learning, the actual rate of growth of online learning will prove higher
than in the official statistics (Barbour and LaBonte 2014).
Digital learning has entered the education policy discourse in most provinces and
territories. The promotion of skills, technology, and learning for the twenty-first
century falls to provincial and territorial education authorities with varying degrees
of commitment to technology education reform. The national advocacy group 21C
Canada holds some sway over provincial ministers of education (see Milton 2015),
but so far the implementation of 21st Century Learning and the explicit teaching of
“digital literacies” is very uneven, particularly outside the recognized leaders among
the provinces: Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta (Chen, Gallagher-Mackay, and
Kidder 2014).
Blended learning is on the rise, as an outgrowth of the natural evolution of online
and face-to-face education from 2008 until 2015. Newer blended learning models,
promoted by the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation (Powell
et al. 2015, Horn 2016), are beginning to emerge in the so-called hybrid zone in
what might be termed exemplary, or “lighthouse,” schools, see Figure 3 (next
page). Although British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario actively promote e-learning,
innovation is limited by current structural boundaries, and the education authorities
are only beginning to track blended learning enrolment. In 2012-13, British Columbia
enacted legislation enabling “flexible learning choices,” and, with the support of the
BC Distributed Learning Administrators’ Association, blended learning and Flipped
Classroom practices are becoming more mainstream (Barbour 2013, 61–2). Google
Apps for Education has now surfaced as an affordable software option for cost-
conscious school jurisdictions. National online education survey reports produced
by CANeLearn (Barbour and LaBonte 2015) testify to the steady growth of distance
education and online programs, but they also identify the need for better data and
more evidence of the transition to “competency-based learning” in Canada.
Disruptive innovation is rather bold and messy in the eyes of most Canadian education
authorities, particularly in Atlantic Canada. The Disruptive Innovational model touted
by Clayton Christensen and his Harvard University team of researchers is not unknown
among provincial education policymakers, but remains a mystery to the vast majority
of frontline classroom teachers in the region. Provincial technology consultants are
familiar with recent trends in e-learning and the gradual transition occurring from
strictly online, self-paced learning to blended learning that combines online and face-
to-face classroom instruction.
The Theory of Hybrids, applied to K-12 education in a 2012 Christensen Institute
white paper, is proving to be an extremely useful taxonomy for explaining the various
models of technology integration and Internet connectivity (Staker and Horn 2012).
Identifying clearly the four primary models of information technology integration
helps to clarify the distinction between traditional (brick-and-mortar) learning and
Rotation Model
Rotation 4
Virtual Model
A La Carte
Flex Model
The Hybrid Model of Blended Learning
Source: Clayton Christensen Institute.
online learning and to spell out the alternative models of teaching/learning. The
Rotation Model with its four variations — Station Rotation, Lab Rotation, Flipped
Classroom, and Individual Rotation — captures well the variety of approaches now
available to in-school teachers embracing the potential of learning technologies. New
technology has also yielded online learning models. These include the Flex Model
(where students move on a customized, fluid schedule across learning modes), the A
La Carte Model (where students take one or more online courses along with regular
classroom courses), and the Enriched Virtual Model (where students take a full
program of fully integrated online and brick-and-mortar courses). Indeed, the whole
concept of a hybrid zone in which blended learning is facilitated and embraced to
enhance student learning is quite a revelation, especially for teachers frustrated by
current school-level constraints, limited or rationed resources, and structural barriers
to classroom innovation (Christensen, Horn, and Staker 2013).
Summary and recommendations
Fostering disruptive innovation is a formidable challenge in rigidified school systems
such as those in Atlantic Canada. The region’s school systems remain wedded to
traditional brick-and-mortar school operations, most comfortable with established
command-and-control management practices, inclined toward strict management
of technology integration, and committed to training children and youth for a
disappearing workplace. National schemes to introduce the “learning shift” promoted
by C21 Canada, learning corporations, and high-level education officials still smack
of top-down initiatives with vague and somewhat fuzzy projected outcomes in terms
of raising student performance standards. Leading online learning experts, including
Canadians Michael K. Barbour and Larry Kuehn favour advancing online teaching, but
remain skeptical about outsized claims that testify to the improved learning outcomes
of students in an online learning environment (Barbour and Adelstein 2013).
Initial phases of introducing e-learning in schools do cause turbulence and discomfort
for teachers and principals, and, as Christensen openly acknowledges, produce mixed
initial results and even setbacks. Without vocal support and demand from middle
and high school students and parents, such ventures can be ignored, shed, or
extinguished by threatened educators. Having recognized the institutional barriers,
introducing disruptive learning is still possible, under the optimal conditions with the
proper balance of pressure and support to effect the change in teaching and learning
modalities (Horn 2016). Once classroom teachers see the enormous learning potential
and taste what the Rotation Model enables for their students, they become more
interested in, and hungry for, new teaching approaches that enable richer, deeper,
enhanced learning more attuned to the personal needs and passions of students
(Christensen, Horn, and Staker 2013, 37–8).
Teachers and education leaders have much to gain from the remaking of the twenty-
first-century classroom, bringing real life experience and a healthy skepticism to bear
with regard to ephemeral fads and hair-brained schemes. Top-down educational
initiatives, especially in information and communication technologies, die a quick
death or simply languish without the active support and engagement of regular
classroom educators. That is why innovative and disruptive ideas such as the Flipped
Classroom and a Virtual Enriched learning environment dreamed up by corporate
change management experts and delivered from on high rarely succeed in changing the
trajectory or improving the quality and variety of student learning in K-12 education.
Top-down initiatives branded with 21st Century Learning labels and high-sounding
philosophical principles tend to falter, and rarely succeed in winning over regular teachers
or in penetrating classrooms. Curricular reform that taps into the enormous potential of
e-learning will succeed only if it enlists the support of regular classroom teachers and
mobilizes them from the school level up. The following nine policy recommendations
are more likely to spark needed “disruptive innovation” in Atlantic Canada’s school
systems and to produce deeper learning of much greater benefit to students.
Recommendation 1: Support early adopters committed to initiating
blended learning programs. Identify a core team of regular working teachers
at the school level committed to demonstrating the exciting possibilities of
blended learning, and give them the freedom and resources to innovate outside
artificially imposed limitations and the framework of the traditional classroom.
Recommendation 2: Strengthen and expand existing self-directed online
learning programs and “seed” new ones. Focus initial blended learning
projects on strengthening and enhancing existing or proposed self-directed
learning programs, such as elementary literacy and mathematics, remedial
tutoring, high school credit recovery, advanced placement coursework, and co-
curricular gaming activities.
Recommendation 3: Focus on building the A La Carte model of blended
learning programs in junior and senior high schools. Expand the number and
variety of junior high and senior high school courses using the A La Carte model,
which would offer engaging, substantive, and meaningful courses otherwise
unavailable to students.
Recommendation 4: Clear away current structural barriers and regulatory
constraints. Gradually remove current constraints imposed by provincial
regulations, such as Article 49 of the Nova Scotia teachers’ contract — which
limits online classes to between twenty-two and twenty-five students and
confines instruction to regularly scheduled school times — to encourage more
flexible, responsive online learning program initiatives outside the normal
boundaries of brick-and-mortar schooling; look to British Columbia for guidance
in facilitating successful new initiatives.
Recommendation 5: Build school leadership capacity in e-learning, change
management, and disruptive innovation. Start to train the trainers by
providing principals and instructional leaders with the competencies and skills
required to nurture, support, and protect disruptive innovation projects in
blended learning in Atlantic Canada’s K-12 school systems.
Recommendation 6: Develop and test more reliable measures of the
effectiveness of e-learning program innovations. Follow the lead of the
Canadian e-Learning Network in developing more reliable measures of learning
competencies and in assessing the impact of online and blended learning
initiatives on the acquisition of core knowledge and solid improvement in
student performance.
Recommendation 7: Broaden the range of e-learning innovation policy
initiatives. Embrace and gradually implement learning-innovation-friendly
educational policies in a far wider range of policy areas, including expanded
school program choices, greater teacher autonomy, more flexible staffing
formulas, expanded student learning time, and accredited, autonomous virtual
high schools.
Recommendation 8: Foster the development of more agile, flexible, and
adaptable alternative schools. Reinvent the traditional structure of a regional
school district, transforming at least some of it into a more flexible and
adaptable community of schools that offer a wider range of choice in terms of
elementary and secondary school programs, including incubator (e-learning)
Recommendation 9: Transform traditional top-down school management
systems into “communities of schools” that provide face-to-face, online,
and blended learning program choices. Transform identified candidate
school districts — such as Halifax Regional School Board, Anglophone East in
New Brunswick, and the City of St. John’s school district — from management
structures that administer a system of relatively homogeneous, consistent school
programs into more of a portfolio of different types of traditional, alternative,
and blended schools. Build upon the practical experiences of the Edmonton
public schools and other school districts offering a wider range of school choice
options, including innovative and autonomous school-based management.
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Full-text available
Lectures have long been a staple of various kinds of instruction, and constitute a component of most online learning platforms. Systematic research has begun to examine how to enhance lecture learning in traditional classroom settings and in online education. This article provides a conceptual framework for thinking about attention and memory during video-recorded lectures, particularly as related to online learning, that builds on 3 key claims: (a) online learning can be conceived as a type of self-regulated learning, (b) mind wandering reflects a failure of executive control that can impair learning from lectures, and (c) providing intermittent tests or quizzes can benefit attention and learning. We then summarize recent studies based on this framework that examine the effects of interpolating brief quizzes in a video-recorded lecture. These studies reveal that interpolated quizzing during a video-recorded lecture reduces mind wandering, increases task-relevant behaviors such as note taking, boosts learning, and also improves calibration between predicted and actual performance. We conclude by discussing recommendations , open questions, and future research directions.
Full-text available
The recent emergence and popularity of online educational resources brings with it challenges for educators to optimize the dissemination of online content. Here we provide evidence that points toward a solution for the difficulty that students frequently report in sustaining attention to online lectures over extended periods. In two experiments, we demonstrate that the simple act of interpolating online lectures with memory tests can help students sustain attention to lecture content in a manner that discourages task-irrelevant mind wandering activities, encourages task-relevant note-taking activities, and improves learning. Importantly, frequent testing was associated with reduced anxiety toward a final cumulative test and also with reductions in subjective estimates of cognitive demand. Our findings suggest a potentially key role for interpolated testing in the development and dissemination of online educational content.
"Moe and Chubb have delivered a truly stunning book, rich with the prospect of how technology is already revolutionizing learning in communities from Midland, Pennsylvania to Gurgaon, India. At the same time, this is a sobering telling of the realpolitik of education, a battle in which the status quo is well defended. But most of all, this book is a call to action, a call to unleash the power of technological innovation to create an education system worthy of our aspirations and our childrens' dreams." -Ted Mitchell, CEO of the New Schools Venture Fund. "As long as we continue to educate students without regard for the way the real world works, we will continue to limit their choices. In Liberating Learning, Terry Moe and John Chubb push us to ask the questions we should be asking, to have the hard conversations about how far technology can go to advance student achievement in this country." -Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of Education for the Washington, D.C. schools. "A brilliant analysis of how technology is destined to transform America's schools for the better: not simply by generating new ways of learning, but also-and surprisingly-by unleashing forces that weaken its political opponents and open up the political process to educational change. A provocative, entirely novel vision of the future of American education." -Rick Hanushek, the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. "Terry Moe and John Chubb, two long-time, astute observers of educational reform, see technology as the way to reverse decades of failed efforts. Technology will facilitate significantly more individualized student learning-and perhaps most importantly, technology will make it harder and harder for the entrenched adult interests to block the reforms that are right for our kids. This is a provocative, informative and, ultimately, optimistic read, something we badly need in public education." -Joel Klein, Chancellor of the New York City schools.
The video-recorded lecture represents a central feature of most online learning platforms. Nonetheless, little is known about how to best structure video-recorded lectures in order to optimize learning. Here, we focused on the tendency for high school and college students to be overconfident in their learning from video-recorded modules, and demonstrated that testing could be used to effectively improve the calibration between predicted and actual performance. Notably, interpolating a lecture with repeated tests helped to boost actual performance to the level of predicted performance, whereas a single test following the lecture served to lower unrealistic judgments of learning. The value of improving performance to match predictions of learning and other avenues for future research regarding meta-comprehension of video-recorded lectures are discussed.
The digital revolution accompaning the new generation is discussed. This revolution is powered by a fundamental preference for interactive media rather than broadcast media. A case study of a class is elaborated which is given the task of preparing a project on salt water fishes. The class make extensive use of Internet to prepare the project and share the project with other students with the help of Internet. The role of the teacher is limited to providing guidelines and the learning process is done by students themselves.
As the technology infrastructure of schools expands, a common concern has been the underutilization of computers and other technologies in the classroom. Teachers are often blamed for failing to integrate technology into their teaching, giving such reasons as lack of time, training, equipment, and support. However, it has been suggested that these are not the “real” reasons technology is underutilized; instead, it is argued that teachers’ core values about teaching and learning are the primary obstacles to successful technology integration (e.g., Cuban, 20018. Cuban , L. 2001 . Oversold and underused: Computers in the classroom , Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press . View all references). Implications for professional development are addressed in relation to these barriers to classroom technology use and the developmental pattern of teachers’ technology integration.