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He Helped Launch the World’s First Online Masters Program Built on Digital Badging and He’s Still Pushing the Limits of the Future of Education

Students using mobile devices

“Are you using technology to consume? Or are you using technology to create?”

Online Learning Pioneer

When Bernard Bull faced a thesis defense committee in the late 90s, he received a tough question:

What makes you think online learning is not just another fad?

Bernard had written about what he considered to be the exciting future of online learning and the promise of technology in learning.

His response?

“I gave him a couple of reasons but then I told him, ‘Well, let’s meet up in 10 years to see what happens,'” Bernard recalls.

Years later, the two men ran into each other again.

“I reminded him what he’d asked me those many years before,” he says, “and, to his credit, he acknowledged online learning didn’t turn out to be a trend.”

Widely Respected

Today, Bernard is Assistant Vice President of Academics at Concordia University and his work focuses on higher education innovation.

(He’s also a consultant, founder of Birdhouse Learning Labs, a blogger at www.etale.org, and author of several books with several more on the way.)

The former online learning pioneer is now a leader in the field, offering his perspective and expertise to audiences around the world on topics related to futures in education, educational entrepreneurship, and the intersection of education and digital culture.

“Two of my students were aspiring Olympians, one an ice skater and the other a gymnast,” he says. These two students were often on the road—away from school—working out with elite coaches and competing.

Two Aspiring Olympians and an Experiment to Teach Them

“I got started with all this when I was a teaching theology and social studies at a private Lutheran high school in Illinois,” Bernard says.

That was more than 20 years ago.

“Two of my students were aspiring Olympians, one an ice skater and the other a gymnast,” he says.

These two students were often on the road—away from school—working out with elite coaches and competing.

“I started experimenting with some early technologies to accommodate their schedule,” he says, “and it was, for me, the beginning of exploring the possibilities of blended learning and education in a digital age.”

Bernard went on to help launch the world’s first online masters program built upon competency-based digital badges at Concordia University.

A First

Bernard went on to help launch the world’s first online masters program built upon competency-based digital badges at Concordia University.

The Masters of Educational Design and Technology was—and still is—a pioneering, competency-based badging program.

Implementing the program, Bernard says, involves near continuous tweaks.

“We’re still making it better,” he says. “For sure, we don’t have it all figured out.”

Bernard found that his colleagues were eager to discuss the impact of technology on society and in education. He soon found a niche studying the social, philosophical, psychological, and even spiritual implications of technology in our lives.

A Pioneer Who Proceeds With Caution

A colleague once called Bernard a “Lud-vocate.”

“As a ‘luddite,’ I’m cautious about technology when it hampers growth,” he says. “But, as an ‘advocate,’ I still see immense possibilities in technology-enhanced learning.”

It’s an approach he continues to apply to his work.

“That first online competency-based masters program built upon digital badges taught students with an excellent curriculum via 21st tools,” he says. “But it also was organized to help these students navigate life as teachers, parents, and individuals as the world continues to evolve around us.”

Bernard found that his colleagues were eager to discuss the impact of technology on society and in education.

He soon found a niche studying the social, philosophical, psychological, and even spiritual implications of technology in our lives.

“I don’t feel like my wife and I always make the best decisions about technology,” he says, “but we do have conversations as a family about how technology has become so integral in our lives.”

Consumption or Creation?

Bernard has two children of his own—a 9-year-old and a 12-year-old.

His family has a Chromebook computer, an Android phone, two iPads, and a few other devices.

“I don’t feel like my wife and I always make the best decisions about technology,” he says, “but we do have conversations as a family about how technology has become so integral in our lives.”

Bernard says they discuss how they can shape technology instead of the other way around.

“When my son has been online for a time,” he says, “we talk about consumption versus creation.”

That is: Are you using technology to consume? Or are you using technology to create?

“Sometimes I suggest he spend more time on creation,” Bernard says.

Sharing His Expertise

Bernard has just published a book: “What Really Matters? Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education.” “This is a book that challenges us to think more deeply about life and education in a connected age.”

“So many teachers and parents and students are trying to think through the use of technology,” he says. “It’s hard to figure out, but it is worth the time and effort.”

“We want to use technology to amplify our beliefs, not muffle them,” he says.