In March 2019, the Government of Ontario unveiled its vision for education through a policy entitled Education that Works for You – Modernizing Classrooms. From an e-learning perspective, the proposed policy called for a centralization of e-learning courses and a graduation requirement that students take a minimum of four e-learning courses beginning with the 2020-21 school year. Either as a part of, in conjunction with, or simply at the same time, the Government also engaged in a public consultation around class sizes that would increase the class size limit for face-to-face courses to 28 students and increase the limit for e-learning courses to 35 students. The goal of this report is to examine the literature related to e-learning class size in Canada and internationally.
However, before any examination of the literature related to class size, it is important to understand the different roles that educators play – and the different types of educators involved – in the e-learning environment. While in the traditional classroom environment a single teacher may select or design the materials used, deliver the actual instruction in a variety of ways, and support the student as they engage the lesson; in the e-learning environment the research clearly indicates that these roles are performed by multiple educators in different settings. Based on the model of e-learning utilized in Ontario, the two most defined roles are those of the e-learning teacher and the local school based facilitator or mentor. The e-learning teacher being responsible for determining the best pedagogical strategies, methods of assessment, and way to meaningful communicate with their students; while the local facilitator or mentor is responsible for supervisory and administrative duties, technical troubleshooting, and – in some cases – content-based assistance.
The available literature related to e-learning class size demonstrates there has been a historical expectation in Ontario that the class size limit for e-learning courses was the same as the class size limit for face-to-face courses. The literature further demonstrates that across several provinces the class size limit for e-learning courses has ranged from a low of 22 students to a high of 30 students per course. In both Canadian and American jurisdictions where there has been a significant increase in the e-learning class size, student outcomes have also decreased significantly – particularly in full-time e-learning environments. Finally, the literature demonstrates the local facilitator/mentor role must be included in any conversation around class size because that teacher has a significant impact on class size and, more importantly, student success.
The present e-learning model in Ontario clearly describes the importance of the supporting roles of teachers in school settings where students are taking e-learning courses. If teachers at the school level provide substantial levels of support in a wide range of areas, an e-learning class size could be higher than a traditional brick-and-mortar class in that context because there would be two educators that have instructional responsibility for those students. The larger question looming for the implementation of a drastic increase in e-learning in secondary schools in Ontario is how the present supports, which the research indicates are essential for e-learning success, will be scaled for the unprecedented increase of e-learning courses in the province.
To read the full report, click here.