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SMU president believes virtual learning could be a long lasting legacy of COVID-19

Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray believes the future of post-secondary schools will be a hybrid-model with both in-class and online components
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Saint Mary's University (Meghan Groff/

Around a year ago, the world started changing in ways many of us couldn't have imagined possible at the time.

As the pandemic ramped up, governments, businesses and schools turned to the internet to implement increased online shopping, working and learning.

And according to the president of Saint Mary's University, the digital component of education will be long lasting legacy of COVID-19.

"We've been in a virtual operation for almost a year," Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray told NEWS 95.7 fill-in host Jordi Morgan. "The result of that learning has been more investment into the digital environment and a better understanding of what virtual learning looks like."

"Let me be clear, there are definitely challenges and those are ones that include the isolation and distance for students as they study, but we're also seeing tremendous gains and opportunities."

That includes greater flexibility for students, like when and where they learn.

Summerby-Murray believes the future of post-secondary schools will be a hybrid-model with both in-class and online components.

Earlier this week, SMU announced a $9.3 million investment over five years in its integrated learning environment.

"It will bring together all aspects of virtual and in-person learning into a seamless whole, including the management of learning, data records, academic and financial services, credentialing, and learner support," said a news release from the school.

The university is pairing up with industry-leading experts D2L and Ellucian with the aim of improving the learner experience.

"Bringing these partners together with us is a game changer," Summerby-Murray stated. "It means the remote learning piece will have a higher quality and the on-campus learning is benefitting from this as well."

He hopes retaining online learning will allow the school to become a truly global institution.

"I would say 20 to 25 per cent of our students at the moment are studying with us online from around the world," Summerby-Murray explained. "The other 75 per cent are studying online right here."

"Online learning opens up new markets globally and it opens up markets locally," he added. "It offers opportunities for those who may not have physical access to campus to be able to take courses."

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