Once a Biologist Now a Leader in E-Learning Technologies

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Sydney, Australia

Australia is the sixth largest country in the world. It has a total surface of more than 4,753,490 square miles and is surrounded by the Indian, Pacific, and Southern Oceans. Additionally, it has six climate types: equatorial, tropical, subtropical, arid, semi-arid and tepid. Due to the great variety of extremely variable climates and its isolation from other continents, Australia’s flora and fauna is as diverse as a peacock’s plumage, and almost endemic in its totality.

These figures and data could perhaps be sound arguments for an Australian student to strongly consider becoming a natural science professional. In fact, these and other reasons where why the then youngster Ryan Tracey, who had just finished high school, chose environmental biology as his university career, graduating in 1996.

But life takes unexpected turns. Twenty years later, Ryan laughs amused when I ask him what happened in his life in order to leave his profession as an environmental biologist aside and become one of the most important referents in learning technologies in Australia. “It’s a funny story, let me share it with you,” he says.

Born and raised in Sydney, Ryan Tracey is almost as Australian as the five times gold-medalist Ian Thorpe, yet in contrast with the Olympic swimmer, Ryan does not get along with water too well. “I have very delicate skin. I love to go to the beach, but the beach doesn’t love me very much because I get sun burnt very easily.” And it is no wonder. Due to the huge hole there is in the ozone layer over Australia, the rays of the sun are more dangerous for people’s epidermis. “Besides, I’m really scared of sharks,” he concludes.

Towards the late nineties, Ryan felt there was not much room to grow professionally if he definitively dedicated himself to biology. Due to being fond of reading and writing, he felt attracted to the world of publishing. With the help of a good friend of his, he managed to enter the industry, into a publishing company specializing in educational publications for schools and universities, awakening a couple of hidden passions within: technology and learning. “It was right at the moment when the Internet began to become popular, and the possibilities it offered began to be used for learning purposes,” he tells.

And so it was. This unexpected but apparently necessary change in the life of Ryan, lead him to become more interested in learning technologies. With a master’s degree in learning sciences and technology at the University of Sydney, his career took a turn leading him to fully devote himself to this field for the last 16 years.

The ex-biologist has accompanied his ‘new’ profession with endless coverage on his blog. “I understood that, in this industry, you have to be constantly up-to-date with trends in order to remain on top of current thinking. Blogs are the perfect way to achieve that, not only writing by them, but by reading other authors’,” claims Ryan. Such has been his contribution to e-learning that his blog was nominated by the AWC (Australian Writers Centre) for the ‘Bests Blogs in 2014’ category; and one year earlier, he was chosen at 17th place as ‘the most shared e-learning blog of Australia’; among other mentions.

Ryan’s experience has served him well to understand that to make an educational experience more interactive, several aspects must be reevaluated. “I don’t see any point in people going to classrooms to watch a presentation and listen to someone talk all the time.”

As current E-learning Manager at AMP, a financial and insurance services company in Australia, he believes that it would be more beneficial to use this time for more valuable activities such as role play or roundtables in which experiences are shared. Or even go a step further: “one of the most exciting trends in this field is augmented reality and virtual reality.” Currently, in recent conferences by developers such as Google or Microsoft, these technology giants have showcased their products as a tool to be used in blended learning of the future, or to “go for a stroll” on Mars’ surface, in a few years, according to NASA.

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