Stephen Downes

Stephen Downes works for the National Research Council of Canada where he has served as a Senior Researcher, based in Moncton, New Brunswick, since 2001. Affiliated with the Learning and Collaborative Technologies Group, Institute for Information Technology, Downes specializes in the fields of online learning, new media, pedagogy and philosophy.

Downes is perhaps best known for his daily newsletter, OLDaily, which is distributed by web, email and RSS to thousands of subscribers around the world, and as the originator of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). He is a popular speaker, appearing at hundreds of events around the world over the last fifteen years. He has published hundreds of articles both online and in print through two decades of research and development into learning networks and related technologies.

Prior to joining the NRC, Downes worked for the University of Alberta as an information architect, and prior to that, as a distance education and new media design specialist for Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, Manitoba. This followed a decade of teaching experience both in person and by distance with Athabasca University, the University of Alberta, and Grande Prairie regional college. 

At the University of Alberta he built a learning and research portal for the municipal sector in that province, Munimall, and another for the Engineering and Geology sector, PEGGAsus. He also pioneered the development of learning objects and was one of the first adopters and developers of RSS content syndication in education. Downes introduced the concept of e-learning 2.0 and with George Siemens developed and defined the concept of Connectivism, using the social network approach to deliver open online courses to three thousand participants over two years. 

Downes obtained a BA and MA in philosophy from the University of Calgary, specializing in epistemology and the philosophy of science. He also studied at the PhD level at the University of Alberta, completing all but his dissertation. Among numerous volunteer and committee positions while a student, Downes served as editor of the Calgary student newspaper, the Gauntlet, for two terms, and as president of the Graduate Students' Association at the University of Alberta, also for two terms. He served as a member of the Board of Governors, University of Alberta, and with the Athabasca University Governing Council.

After completing high school at Ottawa's School of Continuing Education while working as a concession stand worker and dishwasher, Downes studied computing science for one year at Algonquin College while working as a telephone equipment installer and (later) as a security guard. He worked for a year as a computer operator for Texas Instruments in Calgary, then as a pot washer, 7-Eleven clerk, and development education programmer for the Arusha International Development Centre. Downes has also been a newspaper carrier, waiter at a race track, hot dog vendor, building cleaner and camp counsellor. He was a candidate for mayor in the city of Brandon in 1995.

Downes was born in Montreal, Quebec, in 1959 and has four brothers (all younger). He lives in Moncton, New Brunswick, with his wife Andrea (b. Colorado Springs, Colorado; married 1998) and four cats (Bart, Polly, Lexi and Alex).

Stephen reads a lot of science fiction and books in general. He enjoys movies, television and sports, especially hockey. He enjoys playing darts and NTN Trivia (though since Moncton has no NTN locations, it's a lot harder to play). He is an avid Civilization III player and an enthusiastic photographer.

Read more about Stephen Downes' views on the next era of learning.