The COVID-19 pandemic has been “a wake-up call,” accelerating timelines across the entire educational-technology sphere, says D2L’s John Baker in the latest episode of True North TV. Things that hardly seemed possible where technology and education goes, he says, are suddenly the new norm.

“I think what we’ve seen with COVID-19 is it’s really taken what we envisioned education would look like in 2030 and pulled it forward about 10 years,” Baker told True North TV host and Communitech CEO Iain Klugman.

True North TV is a series of conversations with technology and civic leaders and delivered on YouTube.

Shaping the future of education, or responding to changes in ed-tech, is hardly a new experience for Baker. When the founder, President and CEO of D2L started the company more than 20 years ago, internet access in classrooms didn’t exist. The smartphone wasn’t yet a thing.

Today the company has more than 750 employees, has offices around the world, and works behind the scenes “for almost half of the students across [Canada] today.”

D2L has, in many respects, driven educational change. It was among the pioneers of education technology – it was once the only tech company based in downtown Kitchener – and has blazed a trail that helped turn Waterloo Region into an ed-tech cluster. Other ed-tech companies in Waterloo Region now include: MapleSoft, DigitalEd, Chalk, Knowledgehook, LumenEd, Yourika, Axonify and ApplyBoard, to name a few.

“There was no bigger problem to solve than to transform the way the world learns,” says Baker, “because it’s that foundational element that solves all the other problems. If you can produce graduates who can perform at a higher level, they’re going to go off and have a real, big impact in their communities, in their companies, and in the world.”

Amid a sudden, and largely pandemic-driven, interest in online education, Baker says “online learning is not just simply taking what you did in the classroom and going online.

“Once you go digital you can optimize experience. You can do all kinds of things that you couldn’t do in [a] traditional environment. And you can actually transform the experience to make it better to help chip away at what are the real, underlying goals, whether it’s improving engagement with students or helping inspire the next generation to achieve better outcomes  [by] improving retention.”

True North TV continues next Tuesday with an interview with Alex Benay, Partner at KPMG Canada and the former Chief Information Officer of Canada.