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Reimagining learning communities at post-secondary institutions

May 17-19: Concordia hosts the biennial Learning Specialists Association of Canada conference
May 14, 2021
By Christian Durand

Photograph from the side of a laptop with a person's hands on the keyboard. The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed learning predominantly online.

If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that higher education needs to be flexible, personalized and inclusive. Learning specialists play an important role in achieving this by offering students strategies to help them succeed no matter what barriers they face.

Such themes are at the heart of the Learning Specialists Association of Canada’s biennial conference taking place at Concordia from May 17-19. Connect, Include, Engage, Empower will delve into the key role that learning specialists play in reinventing learning communities. Registration for the conference is now open.

Intersecting phenomena

The need to reinvent how students learn is at a critical juncture due to several intersecting societal phenomena. The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world on its ear over the last year pushing learning predominantly online.

At the same time, movements such as Black Lives Matter, Decolonization, Me Too and Stop Asian Hate have underlined the need to address systemic barriers across society, including the foundations of post-secondary institutions.

Learning how to learn

For Deena Kara Shaffer, LSAC president and coordinator of learning transitions at Ryerson University, it’s about casting a wide net to understand the complex learning journeys that students face and address blind spots that exist in the learning specialist community.

“The key role of the learning specialist is to teach students to learn how to learn, she says.

“To be able to successfully do so we need to understand and holistically address everything from socio-economic situations, systemic racism, ableism and social determinants of health and wellbeing. These are just some of the topics we will continue to tackle at the conference.”

A need for intimacy and connection in learning

A key underlying theme that learning specialists have seen emerge since the switch to online learning has been the deep need for connection among students.

For Juliet Dunphy, Concordia’s manager of Student Learning Services at the Student Success Centre, the switch to delivering online access to learning specialists and programing in March of 2020 was eye opening.

“In less than a month we were able to offer all our learning services online and the uptake was immediate and sustained,” she says.

“Students were isolated, and we acted as a lifeline. More than ever, we saw the importance that learning communities bring to our student body and the importance of connection.”

Post pandemic, Dunphy sees a future in which the lessons from the last year will shape how learning services will deliver programing in the future.

“Now we have an even more acute awareness of the importance of the individual context of the learner, and the particular challenges they face. We need to partner with content creators like professors, curriculum designers and TAs to ensure that we reach all students and help them find their place.”

Register for the Learning Specialists Association of Canada’s conference, Connect, Include, Engage, Empower, taking place at Concordia from May 17-19.

Find out more about Learning Services at the Student Success Centre.



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