Innovation takes many forms. Often it means stepping outside an organization’s comfort zone to bring the best of two worlds together to capture the ideal solution. Such is the case with a new partnership between Ottawa University and education technology leader Blackboard Inc.

The partnership pairs up the Washington D.C.-based educational platform provider with a nimble university intent on capitalizing on the future of education — namely flexible learning. What is so flexible about this planned program? Soon, a student — whether a traditional or adult student — will be able to learn in an environment that suits them best on a given day and time, rather than abiding by a set schedule in a classroom. That matters because life can send students in a variety of directions with little to no warning. A chameleon-like environment that ebbs and flows with a student’s life demonstrates a desire to better meet students’ needs. So if a student is on vacation, participating in an out-of-town sporting event, at work or even at home with a sick child, the student still can participate in the classroom setting using advanced technology. While students might not want to use this method every day, it certainly works better for students with unpredictable work schedules and lives.

It isn’t difficult to imagine the challenge a nurse working erratic hours and long shifts in the medical profession faces when trying to balance a class schedule to earn the next step in his or her education — moving up from a registered nurse (RN) to  someone with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). People in the medical field, however, aren’t alone in needing flexibility. Adult learners are more serious about learning than their less mature traditional student counterparts and are desirous to get their money’s worth from a class so they truly are bettering themselves through advanced education.

Blackboard, a worldwide provider of educational technology, software and services, is expected to bring its entire collection of next-generation learning tools, which focuses on social learning, Web-conferencing solutions, native mobile applications and other tools to forge greater access to courses, content and learning analytics to support stronger data-driven decision making. With data analysis skills at a premium demand, and offering the best future for job seekers, this couldn’t be happening at a better time or place. Though the bulk of the efforts are at the college in Ottawa, the educational tools will be deployed at all the university’s campuses. The response undoubtedly will be a tremendous influx of students that rivals all other universities — because while the tools are cool, what students really want is strong academic quality education with a clear and reasonable path to completion. Meanwhile, the tools can help enhance the sense of community among students via a study group on social media and their instructors while also deepening the sense of engagement and understanding of curriculum.

OU is to be commended for seeking this partnership and for being a leader among other educational institutions of higher learning to tackle the challenge of attracting adult learners head-on with amenities that enable students to keep their personal and professional lives better synchronized whether students are doing it via a mobile phone, tablet, video or whatever the newest technology might be. This initiative will accelerate student growth exponentially without initially requiring more buildings, instructors and other traditional accruements — though expanded enrollment that requires other expansion would be a coveted goal too. Students, of course, aren’t the only ones to benefit from the new endeavor.

A new educational support center will be built within the planned Gangwish Gibson Library and Student Center. The new facility, which is expected to break ground in May, will house the “Blackboard Center for Academic Innovation.” This cutting-edge technology is the bonus to complement the dynamic learner-centric initiative. Once executed, it will be an achievement of unheralded proportions for OU and for its students.

 — Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher