Resourceful Performance: A Distinguished Alumnus proves e-learning goes the distance
His successful career began with a balancing act.
Hanny Alshazly had to learn the art of juggling his Athabasca University education alongside his fast-moving work and family life. Since graduating from AU in 2012, he’s finessed that flexibility further – having now added time zones to the performance.
He says AU gifted him that skill.
“I have switched jobs three times in the last decade. Each had one thing in common: travel. So being able to work at my own pace, in whatever time zone I was in, has been a tremendous help,” says Hanny.
As regional director for Middle East and Africa for D2L (Desire2Learn), his job places him smack dab in the centre of everything he studied at AU. In fact it hits the bull’s eye of everything he ever wanted to do career-wise.
As Hanny puts it:
“I’m not just an advocate of online learning; I’ve done a full degree in it, and I’ve succeeded.”
His work involves expanding educational technologies into new markets across the globe, primarily setting up D2L’s Middle East and Africa entities, while enhancing the quality of education and experiences for students—especially those who have less fortunate means to obtain it – and working with faculty and executives of educational institutions.
A strong work ethic
When creating the vision for how he wanted to work, live and learn through life, Hanny credits his father Samir for his strong and wise ethic—something he really reflected on during his last years finishing up his Master of Education in Distance Education.
That sage advice undoubtedly contributes to the Distinguished Alumnus title the latter recently awarded him with.
“I am so honoured and proud to be recognized for my work,” says Hanny. “But to be recognized not just by any entity—but by my alma mater Athabasca University—the model for online post-secondary education—is truly humbling.”
The work ethic Samir provided him as a teenager in Halifax also proved humbling and necessary.
“I was fortunate enough to have a father who ran three different businesses worldwide and my summer job was always working for him. His lesson to me was always, ‘you’re not the son of the CEO or president; you’re here for a summer job only.’
He had very high standards for everything in life and that included one’s career path—I owe it to my dad for helping instill that in me,” says Hanny, who says those fatherly tenets have also come in handy with respect to his own learning and career decisions.
A passion for e-learning
For years, using his passion for e-learning as the teaching tool, Hanny has volunteered and worked countless hours imparting his wisdom to groups of adolescents and late-teens or, as he describes, “the ones who start university and still can’t decide if they’re in the right program or not.”
Hanny, 41, who still lives in Halifax (when he’s not in London or Dubai ) and is father to a 19-month-old son Omar, tries to give young people perspective on education and, using his own life story as a model, helps them create unique pathways i.e. not always the ‘tried-and-true’ ones.
“I grew up in an Egyptian family in Canada. When I first started [my education path] I wanted to fulfill my parents’ dream of me being an engineer,” he says.
“Back in the day, my parents fell into that group of families who wanted to see their children succeed in those ‘standard’ or ‘top’ kinds of jobs – you know, in engineering, law, accounting, medicine, and the like.”
“But I remember very well into my second or third year at Dalhousie University that I wanted something different. So I started looking at the e-learning field. Very soon into it, I knew this was the way to go.”
Hanny concedes that most people at that time never even knew what an e-learning consultant was. Or, at best, they looked at it as a trend that would eventually disappear.
That prevailing attitude actually motivated him to choose AU for his graduate degree.
Forging his own path
“His rationale was visionary—think ahead of the curve; find a career trajectory that would be in demand down the road—irrespective of someone else’s vision.”
That’s the message that now resonates when he counsels students in the Middle East, Canada and the U.S. He tells them: “Look ahead of where you’re at today because 10 years down the road you’ll likely be doing something you never even knew existed.”
“Even if you’re planning on getting a bachelor of arts in sociology, the chances of you actually working in that field are minimal.” In fact, he asserts “the actual career path the majority of you will likely wind up in basically doesn’t exist today.”
When Hanny began his post-graduate studies at Athabasca University in 2003, he’d already been an e-Learning consultant for more than a decade. But he wanted the credentials to match the years of experience.
Says Hanny: “I felt this would give me greater confidence and credibility and I was in search of a good program that focused on education and technology to support me. Not only did I find that at AU, but as an added perk, I was able to complete the full degree online!”
Staying the course
A dozen years later, one of his goals is to get high school and first-year university students to see education from different perspectives, especially those which incorporate the concept of life-long learning.
“It’s not just about walking into a university, finishing your undergrad degree and you’re done; it’s about selecting the topics you want to focus on, with the right approach, in order to start building toward a career that could actually change by the fourth year of your program,” Hanny explains.
Promoting the stay-in-school message has also been top of mind in his work with graduate-level students.
“A lot of those students tend to walk away from that graduation. My aim is to help them to see it through. There are mindsets where students might think they are done with education—but I’m always trying to bring them to the next step—to show them ‘here’s how you can do it with online learning,’ ” he says.
He understands the education-apprehension mindset all-too well. It took him nine years to finish his AU degree. But it wasn’t because he wanted to throw in the towel; the growing success in the e-learning field was making the juggle more of a struggle.
To be sure, at times it could be tempting to just focus on the adventurous and exemplary inroads his career was taking and to forego seeing his degree through. He even left the program for a year before returning.
“Entering into a post-graduate program is more difficult to commit to and actually to complete. Not only do you have to pay for it on your own (presumably without your parents’ support), but you might also have other people depending on you—both personally, financially and professionally, as well as other commitments on your shoulder,” he says.
Despite his maturity, and the fact he’d already started his career and for the most part had a firm understanding of what his goals were, Hanny admits his studies at AU were intensive. But he remarks Athabasca University helped him keep his eye on the prize. His professors, including Dr. Mohamed Ally in AU’s Centre for Distance Education, were a tremendous support.
“AU is always helping students,” says Hanny.
“My teachers tried to make sure I stuck with the program and with my goal of achieving my master’s degree. It was a real blessing for me; I was very fortunate,” he adds, noting today he considers Ally a mentor. Their fields of work align and the pair often cross paths on the global conference and e-learning speaking routes.
“We’ll end up meeting in places that we never thought we’d travel—in China, for example, which has been very interesting,” says Hanny, who’s now exploring his PhD options and has sought Ally’s advice on that.
This past November, both Hanny and Dr. Ally were featured in a Globe and Mail article on mobile learning and its upsurge as an indispensable learning modality for post-secondary education across all types of institutions and e-learning gadgets.
“We have a very similar philosophy about learning anywhere, anytime. When you talk to Mohamed, he’s a big supporter of mobile learning in general, and about flexibility in education. I am also a big believer that education should be accessible at all levels. AU does just that. It’s a model for universities and it enabled me to get the same quality education as a top, face-to-face university—if not, even better,” he affirms.
Being awarded Athabasca University’s Distinguished Alumni award is fitting.
Hanny has witnessed the growing popularity of e-learning – from its heyday to now promoting the numerous educational tools for which he’s become a leader at bringing to Canadian and U.S. educators, while exploring new models for emerging virtual-classrooms.
Whether it’s the concept of technology discussion groups or simply using Skype as a means to communicate, Hanny says he’s “always been keen on inspiring students with what technology can do for them to enhance the learning experience.”
“I show them how to look at ideas from different perspectives,” he explains—something AU did for him—“Even when I was working on my papers and research—AU always helped me to look at the program from different perspectives and to connect the dots.”
He aims to show students that by putting different pieces of technology together they’ll not only have better access to their courses and online content, but new ideas will generate, as a result.
Hanny describes today’s virtual classroom as “history doing something different.”
“Back in the day I was connecting dots between educational and pedagogical kinds of theories and technology. Now people are starting to connect different kinds of dots about the quality and the experience of education itself—which Athabasca has been tremendous at doing,” he posits.
The bookend to his father’s wisdom was the home life toward which he praises his mother, Laila Alshazly, for creating. That’s where Hanny says he witnessed his first real “juggling act.”
“I learned how to multitask by watching her raise four very different, demanding and successful kids,” he says, adding that his sister, Faten Alshazly, is further proof of that same talent. Last month, she was named the first Nova Scotian to be named in WXN’s annual “100 Most Powerful Women in Canada” award.
But Hanny’s wife Imrana Ghani is the true brains behind him receiving the Distinguished Alumni award. She nominated him, after all, and along with those family members who primed him, he’s equally grateful for her support.
“She saw what I had gone through during my Master’s—she was the one kicking me to finish work assignments when I had fallen asleep,” he says. (For the record, Imrana says “it was more than just ‘kicking.’)
These days, when he’s not traveling the globe and educating people on the important business of e-learning, he fancies himself an amateur photographer, complete with a home-studio.
Once in a while, he takes part in charity photo shoots using a pay-what-you-can model, with the proceeds going to the client’s charity of choice depending on the region he’s in.
His advice to current and prospective AU students is candid: “It takes more effort than you might think to get into the right frame of mind to study. Learn how to manage your time efficiently before starting an online program.”
“Also, it’s key to maintain open communication with your instructors,” says Hanny.
“I felt like all the professors at AU were there to help and wanted to see me succeed. Talk to them and get their support.”