The Hub Learning in the cloud: Canada’s first university to move operations into one secure cloud infrastructure sets the stage for the future of learning

Learning in the cloud: Canada’s first university to move operations into one secure cloud infrastructure sets the stage for the future of learning

Athabasca University (AU) lays the groundwork to build a more accessible and personalized future for post-secondary learners.

Edmonton, Alberta, Sept. 23, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — At a time when you can personalize everything from your online shopping experience to your dating prospects, it seems only reasonable to ask: why can’t students “swipe right” on their course load? Why can’t a degree be structured around what someone wants to learn or how they learn, instead of what’s traditionally part of the program? In other words, why isn’t it possible to choose your own adventure in a university environment?    

Athabasca University (AU), Canada’s Online University, recently completed a six-month rapid cloud migration project with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to construct a secure, flexible, and global infrastructure required to make personalized learning an infinitely scalable reality. With the completion of its cloud migration project, AU became the first post-secondary institution in Canada to move its entire digital operations infrastructure into its own secure AU cloud environment powered by AWS.  

“The completion of this project is a foundational cornerstone in our digital transformation strategy and sets the stage for AU to fulfill its Imagine: Transforming Lives, Transforming Communities strategy and provide even greater access to advanced learning around the world. This cloud computing environment empowers AU to deliver new digital innovations in post-secondary research and online curriculum design,” said Jennifer Schaeffer, Vice President Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at AU. “Bringing all our data together in our own cloud environment will make artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning at scale possible. It also makes IT systems’ downtime a thing of the past with disaster recovery in place that takes seconds, not hours. Learners around the globe rely on our accessible learning around the clock.”   

As AU celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, a survey was commissioned by the university entitled, “The Future of Learning,” conducted by Angus Reid, which uncovered Canadians’ predictions of what the future of university learning will look like within our lifetime. Interestingly, close to six in 10 (57 per cent) Canadians believe robots with AI will one day teach students alongside professors. And more than half of all Canadians (56 per cent) say university degrees will become much more individualized in the next 50 years. Things that seemed completely improbable just a few years ago are now becoming realities.   

This new era of radical personalization is only possible to scale with the supporting technical infrastructure. And remarkably, because traditional place-based universities aren’t designed to provide 24/7 remote access for learners, most don’t have the technical infrastructure that will be required to deliver the kind of innovations Canadians predicted in the study.      

“AU has been progressive in reimagining what education delivery is and finding new ways to enable learners to have more choice,” said Jeff Kratz, Director, Worldwide Public Sector at AWS for Latin American, Canada, and the Caribbean. “This migration marks a first in Canada, with AU being the first post-secondary institution to migrate all-in to the cloud. It paves the way for other institutions to have confidence to accelerate their own digital transformations.”  

AU has been deeply committed to making learning more accessible and obtainable over its 50-year history. It has consistently strived to remove barriers that previously locked people out of higher learning due to finances, learning disabilities, family circumstances, and other obstacles.    

Technology has been, and will continue to be an important factor in removing barriers to access and driving innovation in the post-secondary sector. More than 25 years ago, AU became the first university in the world to introduce an online MBA program. It’s now the largest online MBA program with more than 4,000 alumni.  

“At AU, we believe that when learners have agency over their education, they can advance their individual goals without sacrificing other important parts of their life, like raising their family or building their career,” said Dr. Neil Fassina, President of AU. “We are excited about the opportunities this technology infrastructure will create to help AU move forward and realize the future of learning. We believe we’ll be able to reach more people in more customized ways in more parts of the world to support everyone’s lifelong learning aspirations.”   

Some of the unique features of AU compared to traditional institutions include:  

  • Monthly class starts and fees paid on a course-by-course basis at AU, rather than by semester or year. Sixty-four per cent of Canadians said they’d love to go back to university but felt they couldn’t balance it with a family at home and full-time work. These are the types of barriers AU is committed to removing.   
  • AU learners come from diverse ages, backgrounds, and locations, and they can collaborate digitally, at their own pace, from wherever they are. Fifty-three per cent of Canadians say virtual connections among students can actually help remove assumptions or first-impressions labelling that can sometimes occur more easily in person.   
  • Half (49 per cent) of all AU learners balance family and learning, with at least one dependent at home. Moreover, 67 per cent of its undergraduate learners and 73 per cent of graduate learners are the first in their family to earn a degree. Fifty-one per cent of undergraduate learners and 64 per cent of graduate learners also work full-time.

About Athabasca University (AU)

Athabasca University (AU), Canada’s Online University is one of the world’s foremost and fastest-growing online and open education institutions, serving more than 43,000 students across 87 countries. AU is the fifth largest university in Canada and one of four Comprehensive Academic and Research Universities in Alberta. AU offers online bachelor, master, and doctorate programs alongside online courses for personal and professional development. It is uniquely founded on the principles of flexibility and openness, giving learners control over their studies so they can obtain higher education where ever and whenever it is right for them. For more information, please visit: 

About the “Future of Learning” Study

These are the findings of a study commissioned by Athabasca University from June 8-9, 2020 with a nationally representative sample of adult Canadians who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. The sample was balanced by age, gender, and region. The survey was conducted in English and French. For comparison purposes only, this sample plan would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.52 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

To view the release go to

Filed Under:
  • September 23, 2020