The Rise of the Digital Degree

Although Ontario does not yet have an online university, institutes across the country are popping up to support online learning. They include the Canadian Virtual University, which brings together 12 accredited universities – of which Carleton University is one – where its current 100,000 students can choose from more than 2,000 degrees.

There’s also OntarioLearn, a partnership of 24 community colleges that pools resources to increase online learning options. Algonquin College is one of its founding members. In 2012, 66,000 students enrolled in an online program through OntarioLearn. Online education is a trend that will no doubt continue to increase, but what will that mean for resumes of the future?

Shift in Schooling

Some recruitment agencies say they are seeing a large shift towards online learning and are making changes to their business model to stay on top of it. That includes David Aplin Group, which has an office in Ottawa.

President Jeff Aplin says he’s beginning to see what he calls the democratization of education – flexible, affordable options for those who can’t or don’t want to go the traditional route. He says his company has implemented changes to better assess employees who used alternative education methods. They include skill tests, psychometric assessments and behavioural interviewing.

Such techniques can include personality questionnaires, aptitude tests and a focus on evaluating a candidate’s behaviours in their personal and professional lives by asking open-ended questions and crafting multiple follow-up questions. This differs from a traditional interview where questions are narrow and focus primarily on work and educational experience. “We’ve really enhanced our business to respond to the change of the landscape of education and the shift to moving education online,” Mr. Aplin says.

Resumes will become just one data point among many in the future of hiring, he adds, with increased focus on track record and merit over education – and it’s something for which he wants his company prepared. “The idea that you have to be in a particular classroom listening to a Socratic approach where someone is presenting to you for an hour, that’s a pretty old approach and I’m not sure it’s the best approach in today’s world,” Mr. Aplin says.

In the future, the importance of bricks-and-mortar educational institutions will likely be diminished, he says.

Local Know-How

Steve Stanley is a managing partner at NewFound Recruiting, a local recruitment agency. He says many degrees obtained online today aren’t mentioned as such on resumes, as they come from recognized schools that offer online courses as well. “People aren’t really putting on their resume, ‘Hey, I did this online,’” he says.

The firms for which Mr. Stanley recruits often specify the skill sets and qualities they do or don’t want in an employee, but he says online degrees don’t yet seem to be a factor. “No one has ever said to me, ‘I don’t want somebody from an online university.’”

What the World Needs Now

Some believe that online education is increasing in popularity not because of our digital addiction, but because academic professionals are seeking to support students’ varied learning styles.

Options for students are expanding, including hybrid courses both in class and online. It means education can incorporate emerging technology such as podcasts, digital archives and video conferencing. And in the future, a digital degree will be perceived as being just as prestigious as a paper one, says Patricia Lychak, the academic manager of online learning at Algonquin College.

Communications technology and social media have changed the way we think about education,” she says. “It’s changed the way we work and the way we meet the needs of our students.”

Ontario Online Institute

An Ontario online learning institute was first proposed by former premier Dalton McGuinty during his throne speech in 2010. He outlined a system that would help students mix and match web-based courses. A 150-page feasibility study was conducted in 2011 by Maxim Jean-Louis, CEO of the Contact North distance learning network.

Mr. Jean-Louis noted that in 2008-09, there were more than 20,843 courses and 787 programs offered online in Ontario. Those registrations accounted for 11 per cent of all post-secondary course registrations in colleges and universities in 2010; a total of 495,716 registrations.

He went on to note that 40 per cent of enrollees to online institute Athabasca University were from Ontario. No movement has been made on the project recently.


In its 2012 annual report, OntarioLearn said that its 66,000 applicants made it one of the largest providers of online course development and delivery in North America.

Founded in 1995, the consortium has grown to include 24 community colleges offering 1,200 online courses, with more than 85 per cent of students achieving a passing grade after factoring in attrition.

Algonquin College had 9,155 students enrolled through OntarioLearn in 2011-12; the fourth highest behind Durham, Loyalist and Seneca colleges.


As originally published in the Ottawa Business Journal