How to Be an Olympic Athlete (And Get an Education) | D2L Asia Pacific
IE Not suppported

Sorry, but Internet Explorer is no longer supported.

For the best D2L.com experience, it's important to use a modern browser.

To view the D2L.com website, please download another browser such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.

How to Be an Olympic Athlete (And Get an Education)

  • 4 Min Read

Even Olympic athletes and aspiring artists need to find time for education. Check out how online learning helped Olympic athlete Melanie McCann finish high school, so she could focus on achieving her dreams.

The Olympic Games of 2016 wrapped up last month and while many of the competing athletes are taking a much deserved break, some are returning back to their studies. One of these impressive athletes is 26-year-old Melanie McCann, who represented Canada in Rio de Janeiro this year in the modern pentathlon.

How did McCann get into the modern pentathlon?

When we spoke with McCann, she joked how you don’t choose the pentathlon, it chooses you. She was already on her high school’s cross-country and track teams, as well as a competitive swimmer, when a teacher from a neighbouring school noticed her.

“He called me up one day and asked, ‘Would you like to learn how to stab someone and shoot a gun?’ Of course he was referring to the sports of fencing and pistol shooting,” she says. “But it was definitely a good icebreaker.”

By the end of that summer she had competed in her first pentathlon, and in 2004 she took home the gold medal in her first national level pentathlon.

Getting a degree while winning medals

Having to train for five separate sports is quite an endeavor, one that doesn’t leave time for much else. Because of her demanding training schedule, McCann had to move around quite a bit and that included having to switch high schools for grades 11 and 12. At the end of her high school career, she realized she needed to upgrade some of her courses, before moving on to post-secondary education.

That’s when she was referred to Virtual High School (VHS). “VHS was a great fit for me,” explains McCann. “not only when I was switching high schools, but more importantly when I moved on to university and realized that I hadn’t taken all of the courses I needed for the post-secondary program I wanted to pursue.”

Virtual High School is a private and fully online high school that serves approximately 6,000 students around the world. “Because we’re asynchronous, the courses are completely self-paced, the due dates are flexible, and students can spend as much or as little time on a lesson as they need,” explains Jessica Bickell, Vice Principal. “We find that this truly allows for mastery and understanding of concepts.”

Melanie McCann competing in pistol shooting competition in Rio for the 2016 Olympic World Games

Conquering calculus

McCann now has a degree in Civil Engineering Technologies from Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Before applying to the program, however, McCann first needed to conquer the subject of calculus.

Calculus is a difficult subject, but taking it online is an entirely different kind of challenge. “It was tough,” recalls McCann. “but it was manageable because with Virtual High School I could do as much or as little as I wanted, depending on my schedule. I was able to chat with the teachers online or even call them. They would give me supplementary work if I was having trouble. It worked out really well for me and my schedule, whether I was in or out of the province, or even out of the country, I was still able to keep up with coursework.”

“Even with only one course, it’s really that extra flexibility that makes such a big difference. It’s that one piece of rigidness that’s taken out of their schedules,” says Bickell.

“Training for five different sports, while managing a very hefty travel schedule, I had to plug in the time to do homework and get assignments done,” explains McCann. “I actually wish I had taken more courses that were as flexible as the ones through VHS. This way I would’ve been able to do more work on the road, instead of front-loading before you leave and then having to catch up when you get back.”

Going for the win with online learning

Back when McCann was in high school, it wasn’t completely clear that a school like VHS was an option for students. In fact, she wishes she would have known about it earlier, so she could have done more with online learning. “It would have certainly helped manage some of those stressful nights better,” says McCann. “It’s definitely a great resource for students with all kinds of goals, athletically or otherwise.”

From aspiring artists, competitive dancers and OHL players, to those on a sports scholarship – the range of students VHS serves is very broad, to say the least. “It’s really an excellent tool for students that don’t fit into the regular curriculum,” says McCann.

 
Looking for more inspirational stories? Check out We Love The Way You Teach to see some fun visuals examples of how teaching and learning can make a significant impact in the lives of both teachers and students.

Share this:

Subscribe today!

Please complete this required field.
Phone number must be a valid number.

Thank you for subscribing!

Subscribe to our blog

Get the latest news and expert tips to help you get the most out of your learning environment.

Subscribe Now!

Fueling up:

Upskilling to grow careers

Name: Zaria
Age: 27

Policy prescriptions: Invest in a Learning-Integrated Life; Transform the learning of today with new partnerships; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

Zaria has five years of work experience and is ready to change jobs and enter a field that has high growth potential in her region. The national government has been investing in collecting better skills-based labour market information for years and has developed a public platform to offer individuals specialized tools to assess their skills against current market needs, and to locate employers that are currently hiring.

On the employer side, the human resources team is closely examining a recent internal skills audit done at their organization and determines that the organization needs additional digital marketing specialists. They initiate a search for individuals with the skills they will soon need and spot a strong candidate in Zaria who requires only light training on regulatory issues regarding the sale of electric vehicles, along with some formal skills development courses on social media marketing strategy. After a successful interview, Zaria is offered the job.

Upon joining, Zaria will receive an educational benefits stipend from the company, and access to a company-provided platform of curated programs for skills building from approved providers. Upon completion of a set of courses, Zaria will receive a credential from a company approved program verifying her technical knowledge and marking the end of her probationary period at the company. To ensure she continues to build her skills, she will move into a formal mentor program with one of her colleagues to receive continual peer-to-peer feedback on her demonstration of skills and knowledge. information

This affordable and accessible learning through employer-funded training has enabled Zaria to begin working while also upskilling to ensure her long-term success in the company and growing industry. The employer is investing in its employees, and company leaders are thinking further into the future about the skills the company needs, and the types of job candidates who will succeed. This match, based on skills potential, was made possible because of government investment in high-quality labour market information and a national platform that matches job candidates with career opportunities based on the candidates’ skills and the identified skill needs of a given job.

Taking the road less travelled:

A networked postsecondary education

Name: Sam
Age: 18

Policy prescriptions: Transform the learning of today with new partnerships

Sam is a prospective postsecondary student who has always been interested in pursuing a global and interdisciplinary education. Sam’s siblings have all instilled in her the importance of studying abroad, having spoken fondly of their academic exchange semesters, field research trips, and intensive language immersion programs. She is inspired, but unsure whether this pathway will be available if she chooses not to complete a four-year degree at one institution.

Sam is interested in understanding how emerging technologies can be used to modernize and improve government services—an area in need of talent not only in her home country of Canada but also abroad. She could take on a general political science, public administration, engineering, or computer science degree at the university close to her home, but none of those degrees feels like the right fit to build the skills she needs to pursue this career interest.

While researching options, Sam learns of a new degree completion pathway that allows students to take courses from a network of universities, colleges, and polytechnic institutions throughout Canada and stack them for skills-based  credentials that are recognized by major Canadian employers. A set of four of these credentials grants an individual a degree-equivalent endorsed by each institution. Sam identifies the skills and knowledge she wants to work towards and charts out four credential pathways:

  1. Service delivery design
  2. Change management
  3. Applications of emerging technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence)
  4. Machinery of government

With this customized learning pathway, Sam has full flexibility to decide how she wants to structure her courses, the institutions within the network she will study at, and the format and model of courses she prefers—whether live in-class instruction or online courses.

Cost flexibility is built in as well—students pay a standard fee based on the number of competencies they intend to learn rather than the normal standard of ‘credit hours’. The province in which Sam lives has endorsed this networked model of  postsecondary education and adjusted its financial assistance program to better support students. Grants and other non-repayable assistance take into consideration the number of courses the student is taking across all institutions when assessing financial need. Previously, Sam would have been required to be a full-time student at every institution to receive support.

Sam also has the option of starting with foundational courses or applying for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) information so her existing knowledge and skills can be tested and she can move on to more advanced topics.

Sam completes her first three credentials in three years and uses her certifications to apply for a one-year work-integrated learning experience with the federal government in Germany where she can learn first-hand about the applications of artificial intelligence in government. When she returns home, she applies for PLAR to certify her learning on the machinery of government and is granted a degree acknowledging her four-part customized education.

The collaboration between universities, polytechnics, and colleges to create a networked approach to degree completion, and its endorsement by the provincial government, allowed Sam to graduate as an alumnus of multiple postsecondary education institutions. Her exposure to different thought spaces and networks was highly valuable for ensuring she was engaged throughout her education and set up for post-graduation success. In the rapidly evolving field she has chosen, she understands how important it is to continuously upskill, and is prepared to return to formal education for more stackable credentials as she continues throughout her career.

Route guidance:

Personalized professional development

Name: ZheYuan
Age: 33

Policy prescriptions: Prepare teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

ZheYuan is about to join Marama’s school as a new secondary school teacher. He completed his professional teacher education a decade ago, and teaching looks a bit different today than it did when he was studying. With the incorporation of learning technologies in the classroom, and expectations of teachers delivering competency-based education information, he needs personalized professional development to feel comfortable and supported in this new opportunity.

The school district has been on its own learning journey since shifting to a competency-based education model, and has had some growing pains. Over time, the district has come to recognize that success depends on school administrators working closely with teachers to co-create systems of instruction, and pathways to professional development. The district has its own online learning management system (LMS) for teacher professional development, with a catalogue of content covering a range of subjects including:

  • Strategies for student-centred instruction
  • Design thinking—how to prototype and iterate on solutions to test new approaches
  • Online content—using learning management systems to advance competency-based education
  • Data analysis—interpreting student progress

ZheYuan is excited that he can take on professional learning to suit his needs on his own schedule. He recalls an earlier time when he had to spend nine hours a month in-person taking the same professional development courses as his peers who were teaching very different subjects and had varied skill levels and pedagogical needs than him, which was less than effective.

ZheYuan can also take advantage of his teacher community in the LMS, connecting both in asynchronous chats and in live discussions with other teachers and experts from across his region to ask questions and share his experiences. He sees some upcoming dialogues hosted by his school district to share learnings and signs up for those sessions, knowing he will get a valuable peer perspective from other teachers. ZheYuan is thankful that his school leaders recognize and value professional learning and provide the supports and the time needed for improvement.

D2L Whitepaper Contributors

Lead Authors:
Malika Asthana, Manager, Strategy and Public Affairs
Joe Pickerill, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, International

Contributors:
Jeremy Auger, Chief Strategy Officer
Mark Schneiderman, Senior Director, Future of Teaching and Learning
Brendan Desetti, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, United States
Mike Semansky, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, Canada
Nia Brown, Senior Manager, Strategy and Public Affairs

In the driver’s seat:

Owning the personalized learning journey

Name: Marama
Age: 14

Policy prescriptions: Prepare teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

Marama is enrolled in a school with a competency-based education model information. Students are responsible for owning the personalization of their learning pathways, making choices alongside their teachers in how and when they learn.iii Teachers play a central role in guiding and validating all learning, regardless of where it takes place—offering formative assessments to evaluate a student’s mastery of skills and knowledge. Teachers use data from these assessments, gathered through an online learning management system (LMS), to differentiate instruction and provide targeted supports so that all students progress toward graduation. As a student diagnosed with a learning disability, Marama is supported in her education by this personalized learning pathway.

All students complete an assessment in ninth grade to identify their natural strengths as a learner. Their teachers use the results as inputs to design tailormade educational pathways with learning materials and activities that suit the individual students’ learning needs. In Marama’s case, this includes:

  1. Supplementing lecture-based teaching with structured but independent reading
  2. Shadowing professionals who work on the concepts she is learning about
  3. Taking the stories and lessons she’s learned and sharing it back with classmates by designing a creative and interactive presentation

Over the course of the school year, Marama spends a third of her time in live lectures (sometimes online) with her teacher alongside other classmates—but the rest of her time is spent learning in the ways that suit her best. She can log into her online LMS from her mobile device to access her school resources and complete on her own schedule before the assigned deadline. When Marama finds a concept that interests her, she can ask her teachers and counsellor for support in finding a working professional to speak to, or work alongside for a couple weeks, from the network her school has curated over time. And when she has learned something, she is encouraged to reinforce her learning by applying her skills and developing content to share back with her classmates.

Marama’s personalized learning journey empowers her to own her education by learning in ways that are effective for her, with the support that allows her to be successful. Her teachers have high-quality data about student strengths and performance they can share with her parents to show them how she is mastering specific skills, and where she may need extra support. Her school experience empowers her to embrace her subject interests very early on, and she advances to deeper topics quickly as she submits evidence of learning that demonstrates her proficiency. She graduates having cultivated a mindset for self-directed learning early in her education.