Designing Transformative Learning – A Spring of Opportunities

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Just like spring is a time of transformation, so too is time spent at the McGill University School of Continuing Studies, where the core mission is to offer learners a path of lifelong professional and personal transformation. But what exactly happens during a transformation? How we interact with our environment as learners and educators is part of the building blocks for successful continuing education and lifelong learning. Whether online or in person, the spaces where interaction between instructor and learner occurs, define a set of boundaries – physical and mental – that shape our learning experiences.

Unfortunately, we cannot always choose how we wish to define our physical space. Buildings age; they may not have been intended for a learning purpose, and they often are not as accessible as we would like. Similarly, technology has its limitations. But we can, and do, structure our learning experiences to transcend physical constraints all the time. In that sense, every teacher, learner, and colleague, becomes an architect of their own learning spaces.

Increasingly, educators draw on principles of universal design to make knowledge more accessible to all, regardless of background and capabilities. And, just like the best architects today, we consider the long-term sustainability of learning, i.e., an approach to learning that is organic in that it derives from and connects with the community of learners but also becomes timeless in that the knowledge transfer occurs both within and across generations. We grow and nourish knowledge, help it propagate, and adapt over time and as new information and data points arise.

Like the most memorable designed objects, such learning can transcend the basic physical boundaries of space. At the same time, like architecture, the act of teaching and learning is one of providing a human scale, meaning, and purpose to the vastness, and infinite amounts of knowledge we cannot fully know or tame.

At the School of Continuing Studies, we have embarked on several transformations to help our learners and partners forge ahead successfully in a rapidly changing environment. For example, this spring we celebrate the first anniversary of our new learning architecture, structured around multi-disciplinary academic domains that seek to break down silos of knowledge. By the next academic year, SCS graduate students will be able to take a more modular approach to learning with shorter but comprehensive stackable certificates in the latest theories and practices such as the new Graduate Certificate in Public Relations and Communication Management Practice and Graduate Certificate in Strategic Public Relations and Communication Management.

Such changes do not happen overnight or easily, but they emerge just like the tulip leaves that push their way through winter-hardened soil, or light green buds popping through tree bark on branches damaged by ice storms as recently occurred in Montreal. I am reminded of the force of nature that transforms winter into spring – it is messy, and unpredictable at times, but also full of possibilities.


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