Transition Study: In-person to online learning

Carley McDougallBlogs

Have you ever taken an online university or college course? According to the 2018 National Survey of Online and Digital Learning, one in five students have taken at least one online course, and online learning currently makes up between 12-16 per cent of all credit-based teaching in Canada. The number of students completing their entire education online is growing as well, with a 12-15 per cent annual increase over the last five years.

Although online education in Canada isn’t new (many Canadian institutions have been offering online learning for more than 15 years), some students may still be hesitant to try out online courses. If you’re considering taking your first online course this year, read on for the latest post in our “Transition Study” series, this time focusing on transitioning from traditional, in-person classroom learning to online learning.

(If you missed it, be sure to also read the first article in our “Transition Study” series on the transition from working professional to a full-time student.)

Person taking an online course
“1 in 5 students have taken at least one online course” – 2018 National Survey of Online and Digital Learning

Why choose to take an online course?

Most Canadian post-secondary institutions consider online learning very or extremely important for their future. That makes now a great time to take your first online course. There are many reasons why online courses may be the right choice for you, including if you are:

  • Working full-time or part-time and want to upgrade your skills, which would allow you to either advance in your current industry or change fields entirely;
  • Currently unemployed and want to upgrade your skills to help you return to the workforce;
  • Living in one of our province’s more remote communities, where accessing a campus can be tricky;
  • Caring for children or loved ones who need you at home;
  • Already enrolled in classroom courses and want to lighten your on-campus load; or
  • Interested in the benefits of a flexible schedule and learning environment.

Top 3 challenges when switching from a traditional classroom format to online learning

If your only learning experiences have been inside a classroom, you’ll need to adapt to a virtual environment. Here are some of the biggest challenges you might face:

  1. Learning new online course management systems: You ’ll need to get comfortable with your school’s online systems in order to access all the elements of your course. That could include listening to lectures, participating in discussion forums, downloading resources and submitting assignments.
  2. Being self-disciplined and managing your time: Taking online courses requires self-motivation and strong time-management skills because you don’t have designated class time for listening to lectures. You also won’t have a teacher verbally reminding you about upcoming deadlines.
  3. Adapting to virtual engagement, rather than in-person engagement: If you usually find it helpful to chat face-to-face with your instructors and fellow students, you may find it challenging to lose this personal element.

Tips for a successful transition

Despite these challenges, any student can thrive in an online education experience. Here are a few tips to help guarantee a smooth transition:

  • Stay organized: Find a calendar or to-do list system that works best for you. Make sure you meet all of your deadlines and have adequate time for completing your coursework.
  • Determine the best schedule for you: Some students love the flexibility of online courses, while other students find it beneficial to set designated times each week to complete their coursework and stay on track. Create your strategy and stick to it.
  • Take advantage of the entire virtual classroom experience: Your course may include discussion forums and live chat sessions. Try everything to discover what improves your personal online learning experience.
  • Communicate frequently with the instructor: Remember that your professor is only a message or email away – communicate with them as frequently as you need to be successful.

Ready to register for your first online course? Check out eCourses Manitoba, where the province’s seven post-secondary institutions have come together to allow easy access to all of their online education offerings.


Campus Manitoba is a consortium of Manitoba’s public post-secondary institutions. Through collaborative projects and shared services, we facilitate student mobility and expand access to post-secondary programs for students in Manitoba. In addition to campusmanitoba.ca, our websites include ecoursesmb.casetyourcourse.ca, and openedmb.ca.