Thursday, June 16, 2011

Douglas College will become a learner pathway institution

I'd like to talk about the concept of learner pathways, and what we mean when we say that Douglas College will become a learner pathway institution.

In many ways, the idea of learner pathways builds on the College’s foundation as an access-based institution.

In two of my recent posts, I talked about how well Canada’s post-secondary system has adapted to social changes over the last 50 years. As Canadians, we can be proud that we’ve created a system that provides good access to post-secondary education and training for those who are qualified.

But we must continue to adapt in order to provide quality education for a diverse population with diverse needs. Many people need a general foundation to pursue academic degrees. Others want job-ready career programs. Some need academic upgrading. And increasing numbers need help with mid-career transitions.

We’re still all about access. But the question has become: Access to what?

Which brings us to the concept of learner pathways, and our Vision 2015 goal to become a learner pathway institution.

To me, learner pathways means that a person can start their post-secondary education somewhere, and go wherever they wish, by following a pathway of their choosing. Further, students need to be able to return to school, to move between programs as much as possible, and to continue their studies after graduation.

For example, an individual should be able to start with academic upgrading, while perhaps also taking some regular university or college course for which they have the prerequisites. They should be able to start out in a certificate or diploma program, and ladder smoothly into a degree program, if they choose.

There should be multiple points of access, like onramps to a highway, and multiple offramps too, which allow people to get off one road and connect smoothly to a network of other roads.

That vision represents a significant change from the reality today, where too many post-secondary programs are limiting and rigid. They are prescribed sets of courses. Once you start, you’re committed to a single track. You get on at one place, and eventually get off at a destination. If you change your mind, there’s no easy way to transition to something else without starting over, and you lose credit for the work you did up to that point. And even if you reach the destination, it may not connect easily to further opportunities.

The encouraging news is that BC’s (and Alberta’s) post-secondary system is structurally poised for excellence in learner pathways. This is because our model, from the beginning, has included provisions for transfer between institutions.

In addition, Ontario just announced a major college-university transfer initiative.

This is all about student mobility and choice within a post-secondary educational system.

Students in British Columbia already take advantage of a high degree of mobility. Every year, large numbers of students move between institutions. And not just from colleges to universities, as you might expect. But also from college to college, university to university and yes: from universities to colleges.

At Douglas College, we want to give students even more mobility and flexibility. We want to become a leader in building a learner pathway institution. This means we will restructure ourselves to better facilitate transitions and laddering between programs – our own programs as well as programs at other institutions.

As a learner pathway institution, we support the pathways that learners wish to take. We welcome learners wherever they're at, and help them get to wherever they want to get to. It's their pathway, not ours.

And we make that journey as efficient as possible for them, not for us.

I’ll talk more about learner pathways in my next post.

--Scott

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