He began his career in ancient universities, with an undergraduate degree from Oxford and a doctorate from the University of Paris, both in Metallurgy. During his first academic appointment at the Ecole Polytechnique of the University of Montreal he began part-time study for a Master's in Educational Technology. The programme required an internship and he spent the summer of 1972 at the brand new UK Open University where he had a conversion experience. Inspired by the idealism, the scale, the technology and the focus on students that he found at the Open University, he decided to join the distance learning revolution.
He spent four years helping to establish Quebec's TÚlÚ-universitÚ, moved west to Alberta as Vice-President of Athabasca University, and then returned to Montreal as Vice-Rector of Concordia University. In 1984 he became President of Laurentian University, Ontario and also served during this period as President of the International Council for Distance Education. He moved to the UK as Vice-Chancellor of the Open University in 1990 and added the duties of President of the United States Open University in 1998.
Sir John has been active as a scholar and student throughout his career. The success of his book, Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education (Kogan Page, 1996), established his reputation in international university circles as a leading thinker about the role of technology in academic communities. In 1999 he registered as a student at the Open University in order to explore the world of web-based learning for himself.
Sir John is a citizen of Canada and the UK and holds honorary degrees from universities in ten countries.
His hobbies are walking and boating. As a Reader in the Anglican Church he became the first person to preach in Westminster Abbey from a laptop computer.
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