Editorial Team
Empowering Learners through Flexible Online Education

Laurentian University’s Centre for Continuing Education and Part-time Studies (CCE) has a rich history, dating back to its establishment as the Extension Division in 1960. Its mission has always been to provide high-quality lifelong learning opportunities to residents of Northeastern Ontario and beyond. Dr. Bettina Brockerhoff-Macdonald, the Director of Continuing Learning, highlights the university’s commitment to accessible education and the online program’s role in fulfilling this commitment. She states, “Our online program builds upon our long-standing commitment to providing lifelong learning opportunities, making education accessible to individuals from all walks of life.”

In response to the growing demand for flexible education, the Centre for Continuing Education launched its Distance Education program in September 1972. The program aimed to cater to the needs of off-campus students seeking autonomy and self-directed study. It utilized various media such as television broadcasts, audio cassettes, videocassettes, and conferencing methods to deliver course materials. Recognizing the potential of online education, Laurentian University underwent a significant transformation in 2000, transitioning to fully asynchronous online courses. This shift marked a pivotal moment in the university’s pursuit of accessible education. In 2016, to reflect its modernized approach and expanded offerings, the unit was rebranded as Laurentian Online, now offering 26 diverse degree program options as part of the Centre for Continuing Learning.

A Wide-Range of Options

“Over the past 50+ years, our distance education program has experienced remarkable growth,” shares Dr. Brockerhoff-Macdonald. From its humble beginnings as a single course, the program has expanded to include an impressive inventory of nearly 400 courses. Today, Laurentian Online offers a wide range of options, including complete degree programs and various certificates. What sets Laurentian Online apart is its commitment to bilingualism and Indigenous focus. “As a bilingual and tri-cultural institution, we offer courses and programs in both English and French, with an Indigenous perspective,” adds Dr. Brockerhoff-Macdonald.

Students enrolled in the distance education program have the opportunity to explore a diverse array of subject areas. The program covers a comprehensive range of disciplines, from Accounting, Anthropology, and Archeology to Biology, Chemistry, and Computer Science. Additionally, students can delve into fields such as Environmental Sciences, Economics, Education, English, Finance, Forensic Identification, Forensic Science, Geology, Gerontology, History, Human Kinetics, Human Resources, Indigenous Studies, Social Work, Integrated Studies, Law and Justice, Management, Marketing, Mathematics, Nursing, Operations, Philosophy, Physics, Psychology, Sociology, and Statistics. The breadth of options ensures that learners can pursue their academic interests and career aspirations through Laurentian Online.

“We believe in providing a tailored and engaging learning experience for our students,” says Dr. Brockerhoff-Macdonald. Each course development follows a team approach, ensuring students are fully immersed in the course content. At Laurentian University, students can expect a variety of activities designed to enhance their learning journey, ranging from participating in discussion forums and online quizzes to exploring audio-visual components and completing interactive exercises like H5P. Collaborative group projects, such as creating newspaper articles or producing audio-visual presentations, further enrich the learning experience.

Laurentian University’s broad range of programs, including BA, BBA, and MBA degrees, along with its English and French offerings, attract both international students and domestic students working abroad. This diverse student body represents numerous countries worldwide, with over 600 international students from nearly 70 different countries joining Laurentian University in the 2022-23 academic year.

“At Laurentian Online, our enrollment continues to increase annually. We prioritize understanding not only what learners want to know but also how they prefer to learn,” emphasizes Dr. Brockerhoff-Macdonald. The lasting impact of the pandemic has led students to seek flexible educational options that seamlessly integrate into their lives. Laurentian University recognizes this need and strives to offer learning opportunities that accommodate diverse schedules and commitments.

Embracing Technology and Pursuing Excellence

“Technology has played a pivotal role in revolutionizing education delivery, particularly with the widespread adoption of online learning principles,” says Dr. Brockerhoff-Macdonald, Director of Continuing Learning at Laurentian University. The university has been at the forefront of embracing technology in education, quickly transitioning from on-campus to remote learning within 24 hours when the pandemic hit, making it the first Canadian university to do so. Zoom became instrumental in delivering lectures, while Learning Management Systems (LMS) facilitated course content distribution and online assessments.

The faculty at Laurentian University demonstrated remarkable adaptability and resilience in implementing technology-enabled course delivery. The university provided comprehensive support through workshops, personalized appointments, and the development of resources to guide faculty in effective teaching using educational technology. Dr. Brockerhoff-Macdonald emphasizes the university’s rigorous course development process, with each course undergoing peer review by two internal and external reviewers, ensuring high standards of quality and excellence.

All online courses at Laurentian University are designed to align with the same course learning outcomes as their on-campus counterparts. These courses are developed by faculty members who bring extensive expertise in their respective academic fields, professions, or industries. Some course authors may include distinguished individuals, such as Canada Research Chairs or recipients of prestigious research awards. The meticulous approach to course development reflects Laurentian University’s commitment to delivering an exceptional online learning experience. By upholding stringent quality standards, Laurentian ensures that students receive an education of the same academic excellence, whether they study online or on campus.

The Laurentian Online development and delivery team possesses significant expertise and experience, contributing to numerous research and special projects at local, national, and international levels. Their outstanding work has earned several prestigious awards and national recognitions. Furthermore, the professional programs offered through Laurentian Online, including Indigenous Social Work, Service Social, and the Bachelor of Business Administration, hold full accreditation, equivalent to their on-campus counterparts. This accreditation guarantees that students receive a high-quality education and recognition for their achievements, regardless of their chosen mode of study. All courses and programs offered by Laurentian Online have received official approval from the Senate of Laurentian University.

Supporting Diverse Students

“At Laurentian University, we take pride in our diverse student population, which encompasses individuals of all ages, educational backgrounds, and geographical locations,” emphasizes Dr. Brockerhoff-Macdonald. Whether students are recent high school graduates, university graduates, or retirees, we are committed to ensuring their success. To support online learners, we provide comprehensive student support services that mirror the assistance and resources available to on-campus students.

Laurentian Online actively collaborates with industry stakeholders and employers to develop credit micro-credential offerings. These partnerships are vital in shaping the curriculum and identifying the essential skills required for effective workforce participation. Dr. Brockerhoff-Macdonald elaborates, “Through close collaboration with our industry partners, we determine the curriculum content and pinpoint the specific skills learners need to thrive in the workplace. This collaborative approach allows us to design micro-credentials that are practical, relevant, and directly applicable to real-world employment opportunities.” By staying connected to industry trends and requirements, Laurentian Online ensures the delivery of high-quality, job-ready education.

Laurentian University is dedicated to ensuring that online students have access to financial support. Online learners are eligible to apply for scholarships that are both generous and renewable, contingent upon maintaining the required academic average. Dr. Brockerhoff-Macdonald highlights the significance of these scholarships in attracting high-achieving international students to Laurentian University. The availability of financial support creates opportunities for talented individuals from around the world to pursue their education with us.

The success of Laurentian Online’s alumni is a testament to the program’s impact. Graduates have pursued diverse educational paths, including medical school, law school, teacher’s college, and Master’s degree programs. This demonstrates the wide range of opportunities available to them. Dr. Brockerhoff-Macdonald shares a notable achievement where an Indigenous Social Work student completed her degree part-time while raising three children in her home community. Throughout her educational journey, she developed strong connections with faculty members, exemplifying the supportive and engaging environment at Laurentian University.

Meeting Learning Needs with University Support

Dr. Brockerhoff-Macdonald highlights the importance of selecting appropriate educational technologies for online education that align with the learning and teaching needs of academic programs. She emphasizes the need for universities to ensure that the chosen technologies receive adequate support from their IT departments. At Laurentian University, there is a strong focus on recruiting international students for both on-campus and online studies. While opportunities for online studies exist, the university still encourages a preference for face-to-face, on-campus learning experiences whenever possible.

The ideal educational technology solution, according to Dr. Brockerhoff-Macdonald, should be scalable, adaptable, and customizable to meet the specific needs of faculty and students. Accessibility is a key consideration to ensure inclusivity for all learners. Dr. Brockerhoff-Macdonald acknowledges the varying availability of educational technologies across countries and emphasizes the importance of considering cost implications for students. She also recognizes that access to reliable internet is not universally guaranteed as a fundamental human right, making offline functionality a crucial aspect of ensuring uninterrupted learning experiences.

By adopting appropriate educational technologies supported by robust IT infrastructure, universities such as Laurentian can significantly enhance the quality and accessibility of online education. This advancement empowers both faculty and students to excel in a digital learning environment while promoting global engagement and the pursuit of knowledge. Dr. Brockerhoff-Macdonald emphasizes the close collaboration with academic units at Laurentian University and excitingly announces the expansion of program offerings by Laurentian Online. This expansion includes the introduction of BA4 options, providing students with a broader selection of courses. Furthermore, Laurentian Online is actively working towards incorporating more graduate-level courses and programs into its offerings.

Laurentian Online’s commitment to accessible education has positively impacted numerous individuals, enabling them to realize their aspirations and unlock new possibilities. Looking ahead, the program remains dedicated to empowering learners, embracing change, and shaping the future of online education for generations to come.

For More Info: https://laurentian.ca/

Dr. Bettina Brockerhoff-Macdonald, Director of Continuing Learning at Laurentian University

Bettina Brockerhoff-Macdonald, PhD, is the Director of Continuing Learning at Laurentian University. She oversees the development and delivery of online programs and courses, supporting faculty in online teaching. With an Honours B.A. in Comparative Literature, French, and German, an M.A. in German, and a PhD in Human Studies, Bettina brings a strong academic background to her role. Her research interests include reading and resilience strategies, narrative research methods, adult and online education, and second-language acquisition. Bettina has contributed to the field through publications on online course assessment strategies and faculty development initiatives.

She has served in various roles in provincial and national organizations related to distance education. She was a member of the advisory committee to the Board of the Canadian Virtual University (CVU) and later served on the CVU Board of Directors. Bettina has also been involved in executive committees of organizations such as CADE-ACÉD, CNIE-RCIÉ, and CAUCE. She served as the president of OCULL and contributed to the stewardship committee of OUCEL.

Content Disclaimer

Related Articles