When Claude Brulé was appointed Algonquin College’s ninth president in mid-2019 he quickly embarked on an innovation agenda to establish experiential, personalized learning as the institution’s guiding educational principle for the future.
“We know the people who walk through our doors, both physically and digitally, will not accept a one-size-fits-all agenda,” he says. “In this new era of education, the proverbial cookie-cutter has been left in the past. Now learners are masters of their own educational domains and we serve them.”
The statement reflects President Brulé’s thinking on the future direction not only of Algonquin College but also of Canada’s college system. He argues that as society changes in our digital, high-mobility era so, too, must educational institutions. Indeed, he thinks the word “students” no longer accurately describes the college population and the work they do. “Those who study with us are learners – full stop,” he says. “To us, a learner is a person who is not just studying, but who is actively ‘doing’ to acquire knowledge.”
For President Brulé, it is the changing nature of educational needs that underscores the necessity of personalized learning. This pedagogical shift is evident in an innovative undertaking close to his heart – Algonquin’s soon-to-be realized Online Campus.
Among the first of its kind in Canada, the Online Campus will allow learners to take hundreds of courses by remote access – from forensic accounting and early childhood education to fitness and health promotion. The intent is to deliver College programs to learners when and where they wish.
For example, people unable to physically attend Algonquin’s campuses in Ottawa, Perth, or Pembroke because of work or financial constraints will be able to take online courses regardless of where they live or the time of day.
President Brulé’s interest in personalized learning can be traced back a long way. He came to Algonquin after two decades in the Canadian Armed Forces where, among other duties, he was chief of staff at the Canadian Forces School of Communications and Electronics.
He joined the College in 1999 and through the years held various senior positions, including Academic Chair of the Information and Communications Technology Department, Dean of the Faculty of Technology and Trades, and, most recently, Senior Vice-President, Academic.
In that latter capacity, he oversaw the College’s adoption of 14-week terms in an academic calendar that spans the entire year and replaces the traditional Fall/Winter semester system. Again, the emphasis was on a system that delivers personalized learning. As he puts it: “Our new 14-week term will offer multiple entry points for many programs, so learners can start their course at the time that is most convenient for them – in fall, winter, spring, or summer.”
This personalized approach to education is necessary not only for the sake of learners but also for the country, says President Brulé. “We need to find ways – and quickly – to attract and retain prospective learners. It is no secret that there is a looming shortage of skilled workers across Canada. If colleges cannot tap the workers needed to fill those jobs, who will build our country’s infrastructure?”