E-learning has been growing in popularity in recent years with more education providers offering online options and more people opting to study online. It  offers a new way to engage learners in traditional education settings such as learning through online games in a primary classroom or training staff via more cost-effective webinars.

In the more advanced educational setting, the option to take an online course offers new opportunities to many people in Canada, including those living in remote areas who would not otherwise have access to certain courses locally.

In this article, we look at the statistics of distance and e-learning in Canada. We also explore the benefits of e-learning and how it can be used to enhance the learning of different age learners. Finally, we look at the challenges of distance and e-learning.

Distance and E-Learning Statistics for Canadians

  • The revenue from e-learning in Canada is predicted to be around 6.925 billion CAD in 2023.
  • Before the pandemic, 93% of Canadian universities offered online courses and programmes.
  • 29% of students in Canadian universities were taking an online course or programme before the pandemic.
  • ¾ of Canadian universities offer online learning modules to widen their catchment area.
  • 91% of Canadian universities use learning management programmes to facilitate online learning.
  • The global e-learning market has grown by 900% since the early 2000s.

Definition of E-Learning

Electronic learning, or e-learning for short, is a term used to describe training materials being delivered through either electronic or digital resources. It refers to a structured learning programme or course delivered either electronically or online.

The idea that the internet and electronic devices could be used for learning purposes has grown rapidly since the early 2000s. Today, e-learning can be delivered through different methods and technologies and can be live or prerecorded. The formats used to deliver e-learning content range widely and include slideshows, podcasts, videos, webinars, games, quizzes, and simulations.

E-learning can be used in both formal and informal settings, both in and outside the classroom. Content and delivery methods can be easily adapted for various audiences and purposes and learning is often administered and tracked through online learning management systems.

Definition of Distance Learning

While e-learning is a reasonably recent idea, the roots of distance learning date back to the 1880s. In those days, the student would complete lessons from a workbook and then mail the finished work to the teacher for marking and feedback.

Over the years, the understanding and delivery of distance learning have changed along with technology. However, the key aspect of distance education is still the distance between the learner and the instructor.

Despite some critics of distance learning claiming that it is not as beneficial as in-person learning, the popularity of distance learning continues to grow. On average, one in five higher education students take at least one distance (online) learning course per year.

Difference Between E-Learning and Distance Learning

People often use the terms distance learning and e-learning interchangeably- However, there are some differences between the two according to industry experts. The main difference is location.

Learners participating in e-learning activities can be in the same space, for example, employees attending a webinar at their workplace. Another example is the learners and their instructor using digital tools together to enhance the learning experience, such as students improving their math skills using online math games.

On the other hand, distance learning is about bridging the distance between instructors and students with the aid of technology. Distance learning was used during the pandemic to facilitate learning at home. Another example of distance learning is students in further education attending a course offered by an educational institution in another city or country via distance learning.

Distance and E-Learning in Canada

Already before the pandemic, a large majority of Canadian universities were offering online options for their students. E-learning was also utilised in many schools where teachers would use it to enhance their students’ learning experiences. With the pandemic, many workplaces have also adopted distance and e-learning methods, for example, delivering staff training digitally rather than in person.

Revenue from E-Learning in Canada

E-learning doesn’t just provide a more flexible way of studying, it is also a valuable source of revenue. The average revenue in Canada from online education is projected to be 1,077,68 CAD per person in 2023, while the total revenue is expected to reach around 6.925 billion CAD in 2023.

Between 2023 and 2027, the annual growth rate of revenue from online learning in Canada is predicted to be 12.52%. This would mean the market volume will be in the region of 11.102 billion CAD by 2027. The largest single source of revenue in the online learning field is from Online University Education. Its market volume is in the region of 6.251 billion CAD in 2023.

Higher Education Institutes in Canada with Online Courses

There is no current exact data on the number of Canadian higher education institutes offering online learning options. The latest research data available is from before the pandemic and it is likely that many more places now offer online options for students.

The data from before the pandemic showed that 93% of higher education institutes in Canada had online and distance learning courses. However, there were big differences between institutions with some offering hundreds of courses, while others might only have offered one.

At the time of the survey, there were 12,728 distance-learning courses offered in total by educational institutes in Canada and 68% of those courses were undergraduate courses offered by Canadian universities. The online courses represented 8% of all courses offered by universities in Canada. In addition, there were 809 online programmes available 72% of which were undergraduate programmes.

Students Taking Online Courses

Similarly to the data on the number of online courses offered by Canadian educational institutions, the latest actual data on students taking online courses in Canada is from before the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, 360,000 Canadian university students were taking online courses. This represents 29% of all students attending a university in Canada. However, the figure only shows the total number of students taking part in online learning options, not how many online courses they may have attended.  Around 10% of students taking online courses were international students.

Reasons Canadian Universities Offer Online Options

There is a wide range of reasons why universities choose to offer courses and programmes online. While the main reason, at 75%, is to widen their catchment area, only 5% said they did it to attract international students. 68% of institutions also chose to offer online options to increase their registration without adding further infrastructure costs.

How E-Learning is Delivered and Developed

To improve the students’ experience and facilitate the delivery and development of online learning modules, 91% of Canadian universities use learning management systems. 21% of the education institutes also use external contracts to deliver and develop online programmes for them. Interestingly, 67% change the same fee for online and in-person courses, while 22% charge more.

Expansion of Distance and E-Learning in Canada

The expansion of distance and e-learning options offered by Canadian universities is in line with international development. Before the pandemic, the growth rate was around 8.75% per year. However, it has been slower than some countries including Vietnam, India, and China, where the growth rate was 30% or over.

Difficulties in Assessing the E-Learning Data

As the article by Online Learning and Distance Education Resources points out, there have been very few studies on e-learning in Canada. This makes it difficult to access accurate, current data, and makes it challenging to verify and compare data. While some other studies exist, they are often more localised rather than providing a picture of the e-learning situation in the country as a whole.

Global Revenue and Growth Rate of E-Learning

The annual growth rate of the e-learning market between 2018 and 2026 is estimated to reach around 9.1% and the revenue from the industry has grown by more than 900% since 2000. However, it is still growing and some experts predict it will triple in the next two years, and by 2026, the global e-learning market is expected to be worth around 454 billion CAD.

Benefits of E-Learning

While there are many critics of e-learning and it is certainly a learning style that does not suit all learners, there are many benefits to e-learning, too. For example, 40% of students who have dropped out of college have gone to complete their studies using e-learning methods. It can also be a great option for people studying alongside a full-time job or while bringing up a family, as learning online can reduce the time required to learn material by 25-60%.

95% of students are happy with the online courses provided by their educational institute and would recommend them to their friends. 70% of teachers also agree that e-learning tools can help students to study on their own. It can also make learning more engaging and fun with 96% of students saying most e-learning tools are fun to use. Children are especially likely to rate them highly for enjoyment and fun.

E-Learning in Schools

Many schools have been using forms of e-learning since the late 1990s to supplement learning. From the use of videos and CDs in the early days, it has developed into students using, for example, laptops to enhance their learning. E-learning in the school classroom is still mostly centered on the interaction between students and teachers.

On average, outside the pandemic, 57% of school children use digital learning tools daily in their education, and 52% use learning games to develop specific skills or understanding of concepts. A quarter of teachers have used an improvement in learning outcomes after children have had access to e-learning tools.

E-Learning in Higher Education Settings

Compared to schools, where e-learning often still happens with the teacher present, in higher education it is done more independently. It can be in the form of complete online courses or programmes or it can be used to supplement in-person learning.

Online college students are mainly millennials, with this age group representing about half of all online students. 56% of students use a smartphone or tablet to complete course-related activities while 17% use VR platforms. 65% of faculty staff support open educational resources.

Challenges of E-Learning

There are some challenges to e-learning, which include the access to devices and facilities required to complete the learning. For example, during the pandemic, around 1.2% of Canadian families did not have access to the Internet and struggled to keep up with educational activities.

Learning online also requires more independence and is therefore often better suited for older students. 24% of online students also worry about the quality of learning delivered through online modules compared to in-person education, while 27% say they do not have the computer skills required to make e-learning work for them.


The terms distance and e-learning are both used to describe learning completed using electronic and digital devices. Their adoption was already high in Canada before the pandemic. It is likely that educational institutes at all levels as well as workplaces are utilising it even more now since the pandemic. However, there is a lack of recent data in this area in Canada.

There are many benefits to distance and e-learning. Teachers have noticed improvements in the adoption of skills and information while many students find incorporating e-learning makes learning more engaging and fun. Despite some criticism of online learning, it is an established way of learning and is only predicted to continue to grow in recent years.

Frequently Asked Questions

E-learning is widely used in Canada from facilitating children’s learning in schools to delivering further education courses and programmes. It is also used outside the education setting to deliver staff training.

The key word here is “distance”. While e-learning often happens with both the teacher and students in the same space, distance learning refers to a situation where there is a distance between the teacher and the learners.

E-learning is also a relatively new model of studying, while distance learning has actually existed since the 1880 when learning would be completed through correspondence between teacher and pupil.

Despite the difference between the two forms of learning, most people use them interchangeably.

The latest data available is from before the pandemic when 93% of Canadian universities were offering at least one online course or programme. It is likely that the number of universities has increased since then and may even be 100% now.