05/04/2017 01:05 EDT | Updated 05/04/2017 01:06 EDT

Prepare For Future Learning

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Kiev, Ukraine - May 21, 2014: Woman holding a brand new Apple iPad Air and looking on YouTube music playlist on a screen. YouTube is the world's most popular online video-sharing website that founded in February 14, 2005

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." In our current political climate, it is critical that we keep these wise words from Nelson Mandela at the front of our minds. We need to be prepared for what is coming next. Just like the sociopolitical landscape, education is constantly changing. With the advent of new technologies and an evolving workforce, the ways in which we learn are adapting. A recent example: LinkedIn Learning just announced a partnership with Thrive Global, the newest venture from Arianna Huffington (yes--co-founder of The Huffington Post), to offer online courses which help learners align their professional development goals with their wellbeing. This initiative is a fairly novel approach for thinking about personal and professional enrichment. We are going to start seeing a lot more of these types of innovative models in education moving forward.

Last month, I attended the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario's (HEQCO) annual conference entitled Rethinking Access: When Non-traditional is the New Normal. The range of panel topics included designing education for older adults (where I contributed as a panelist), approaches to making education more equitable, and how to best leverage technology to improve access to learning. The overarching goal of the conference was to ensure that Ontario's post-secondary schools are offering superior programming for an increasingly non-traditional student body. My personal observation was that this was a gathering of leaders in higher education assembled to consider innovative ways in which we can make education more personalized.

In today's information-based economy, we must constantly be gathering new material and experiences to add to our "repertoire of knowledge". Fortunately, we live in an age where technology has made this an easier feat than ever before. We have seen rapid growth in the field of online learning for over a decade now. Canadian University Dubai and Ryerson University will soon be partnering to offer a wide range of courses online that can be accessed from anywhere in the world. Another exciting development: the Province of Ontario just pledged $190 million over three years in Budget 2017 to support their Career Kick-Start Strategy program. A large component of the Strategy includes granting free access for all Ontario college and university to (yet another LinkedIn initiative), enabling them to develop new skills online.

Technological innovation has made it so that not only are we able to glean large amounts of information through a computer interface, we are also now able to have lifelike experiences through gamification and virtual reality. Humber College and Ryerson are two examples of schools currently using virtual learning environments in their educational programming. Humber's School of Social and Community Services was the first in Canada to use FAAC simulators in their Conflict Resolution Sim Lab, giving their students a 180-degree simulated driving experience. And as an alternative to traditional articling, Ryerson's Law Practise Program (LPP) uses Virtual Law Firms (VLFs) to give their candidates interactive, hands-on experience practicing law before being called to the bar. This is the future of learning.

Curtis Bonk, Professor at Indiana University teaching psychology and technology courses, is a widely known authority in open and online learning. Dr. Bonk uses his background in educational psychology to inform his research on strategies for best engaging and motivating students in online environments. He believes that there are three megatrends that influence the way learning is changing: 1) engagement, 2) access, and 3) customization. Dr. Bonk asserts that as education and learning evolve, they will become more personalized and collaborative. In the near future, we will be able to access everything at the touch of our mobile devices. An example of this evolution in action is the recently launched Apple Teacher--a free program available on Apple devices that helps teachers build and develop their skills in a collaborative online learning environment.

When I imagine the future, the optimist in me sees a world in which there is harmony and opportunities for learning are boundless. A glimpse at some of the educational products currently available to us are proof that realization of the second part of this vision is really not so far off. So let us unite and leverage these technological advancements to make education our weapon of choice.