Education grad finds creative spark in e-learning
Colin Byers combines teaching experience and imagination to excel in online learning
Colin Byers (Graduate Diploma in Distance Education Technology ’23) has always been something of a Renaissance man.
In junior high and high school, he was a theatre kid who loved to perform. But he also liked to explore his creativity through other means, such as photography.
“I’ve always had an interest in many things, wanted to learn about all sorts of stuff,” he says.
When Byers got to university, he pursued drama initially but switched gears and earned a bachelor’s degree in education. In doing so, he found a way to combine his creative interests by teaching media arts, which touches everything from photography and video production to animation to graphic design.
“I’ve always had an interest in many things, wanted to learn about all sorts of stuff.”– Colin Byers (Graduate Diploma in Distance Education Technology ’23)
Combining creativity with learning
Through his teaching career, he also got interested in instructional design and e-learning, and in fact, switched careers to make that his focus.
In doing so, he has combined a bit of everything—teaching, creativity, plus what he’s learned during 2 programs at Athabasca University (AU)—into a thriving remote consultancy. This week, Byers joins the Class of 2023 with a Graduate Diploma in Distance Education Technology.
“I’m one of those creative visual types who really likes to experiment, to see what we can do to make learning as engaging and accessible as possible.”
As a full-time consultant in the online learning space, he’s had no shortage of opportunities to experiment. Between the digital revolution that’s made high-powered creative apps accessible to everyone, and the pandemic, when much of the country had its first taste of learning online, there have been few dull moments.
“The pandemic really opened up people’s eyes as to what you can do with e-learning,” he says. “I never had any downtime. I was turning down contracts.”
With artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality also starting to influence learning, the future looks just as busy—and exciting—for the AU grad.
Teaching and e-learning in rural Alberta
Byers’s diploma is his second credential from AU after he earned a Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design in 2014, and he’s just 5 courses shy of a master’s degree.
The Athabasca resident grew up in rural Alberta, first west of Red Deer, and later, on a farm halfway between Athabasca and Westlock.
He moved to Edmonton for his undergrad at the University of Alberta, and moved again several more times for teaching opportunities, including in Athabasca at the high school in 2009. He was always the “ed-tech guru”—every school has 1 or 2 people like that, he says—and enjoyed incorporating technology and creativity to make learning fun.
When he was teaching in Airdrie, he led classes that would compete in Skills Canada provincial and national competitions in areas such as graphic design, video production, animation, and photography.
Building a career in instructional design, e-learning
In 2011, he decided to pursue that interest further and enrolled in AU’s graduate certificate program. It sparked such an interest that he left teaching behind to pursue instructional design and e-learning full time.
In the decade since, he’s designed programs and courses for clients in just about every sector: government, health care, K-12 education, post-secondary, business, and even large corporations in natural resources.
His work involves creating custom learning for clients, starting with identifying gaps in learning and data analysis, before getting into the technical and creative side, which often includes multimedia.
“That’s what really lights my fire.”
Learning in Athabasca, at Athabasca
Byers’ expertise as a teacher and instructional designer means he’s “got a critical eye” for online learning. He also does his research before committing to a graduate program, which of course, led him to AU. (Interestingly, he is among just a handful of grads from this year’s graduating class who live in the university’s hometown.)
AU’s flexibility has allowed him to continue working while studying, but it’s also allowed him to stack credentials.
He was able to build on that initial graduate certificate to earn his post-graduate diploma, and hopefully soon, a master’s. He’s also not ruling out a doctorate in education.
Online learning requires community
Perhaps what he’s enjoyed most through his studies is the community he’s found in fellow classmates.
Students in his courses aren’t just instructional designers or teachers; they work in a lot of fields, including health care. Since they often use technology Byers relies on daily, he’s only too happy to share his experience and perspective.
Online learning, after all, isn’t just about watching a course video or submitting assignments remotely. That’s a lesson Byers not only learned in university, but also through his contract work. During the pandemic, he worked with school divisions to help teachers shift to online environments and also understand that online learning isn’t just about being good with technology.
“If you don’t have a school culture, or a sense of community, you’re not going to have success with your students.”
Future of e-learning
Though the pandemic was traumatic for many teachers, students, and parents alike, it also opened a lot of eyes about e-learning, Byers adds. The demand for his services hasn’t slowed, and now he’s looking forward to the next advancements in the e-learning space, including AI and virtual and augmented reality.
“I don’t think there’s ever going to be a replacement for human creativity. But as far as expediting your work process … it’s amazing.”
The future is never far off, and that’s exciting. And perhaps not surprisingly, Byers is having fun experimenting with just about everything, from AI-powered photo apps to 360-degree AR learning spaces to ChatGPT.
“It’s really cool, what you can do with it,” he says. “I don’t think there’s ever going to be a replacement for human creativity. But as far as expediting your work process … it’s amazing.”
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