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Online Learning is Here to Stay

This week we have a special blog for you. Mark Mrozinski, our long-time Assistant Vice President of Workforce Development and Executive Dean of Community Education, shares his insight into the future of community education in the post-pandemic world. This post, however, is more than simply his rumination on the future as Mark has decided to retire from Harper College at the end of this month.

Mark has brought his talent to Harper College for the last 31 years. He began as the Coordinator of The Music Academy (now the Community Music and Arts Center) from 1989-2001. During that time, Mark co-authored “Celebrate Piano” with Cathy Albergo. His next chapter was as Director of Programming for Continuing Education, followed by Dean of Continuing Education and Assistant Vice President for Workforce Development. His dedication to education and to student success for these past three decades has been illustrated through the many committees and Strategic Goal Teams he has led at Harper as well the time he served as President of the Illinois State Music Teachers Association, President of The Board of Directors of the Learning Resources Network (LERN), and the Illinois Council of Continuing Education and Training (ICCET).

We cannot replace the experience, wisdom and dedication that Mark has brought to our operation, but he has imprinted this on all of us who work in Community Education, making us the successful organization that we are. I’ll leave you with one final thought, during the 31 years Mark spent at Harper College he has touched the academic pursuits of hundreds of thousands of students throughout our district. That is a legacy that he can be proud of!

Scott Cashman, Community Education Manager for Personal and Cultural Enrichment

Guest post By Mark Mrozinski, Ed.D.

I read a recent article in The Atlantic that posited teleworking is here to stay, and it will have a dramatic effect on the whole of our society: commercial real estate, urban living, the geography of politics, and more. I recommend the article as an interesting exploration into the lasting impact the pandemic will have on our society.

More to my point, online learning suddenly has been propelled into the spotlight. It has suffered over the decades from lack of resources, lack of focus from higher education, and cautious consideration from researchers. As a result, most post-secondary learning is still delivered in the classroom. Yes, the most liberal of American sectors, higher education, can be frustratingly slow in adopting pedagogical innovations. Without reflection and intention, we teach the way we were taught, and so the brick-and-mortar classroom persists.

That all changed on March 16, when the pandemic thrust an entire sector into an online environment. That painful if sudden migration showed us many shortcomings in our understanding of the online learning and our level of preparedness, or lack of, for such a shift. The positive side of the shift is the increased focus and resources online learning has received and will receive in the coming years.

Online learning will never replace face-to-face learning. Let me be clear about that. But we have yet to optimize the online classroom as a learning environment. We have not taught students the skills necessary for success in that environment. Yes, there is a set of skills necessary for successful online learning, discrete from those needed for face-to-face learning. Just as there was a new set of learning skills needed when students moved 400 years ago from the blacksmith shop into the classroom, there is a new set needed now. Civilization took centuries to understand how students learn within the boundaries of a classroom. Perhaps most importantly, we learned how to help students learn in that environment by giving them the tools they need. We optimized and customized various aspects to specialized disciplines and to help students with special learning needs. The same must now happen in the online environment: only this focus will allow online learning to be the game changer it we sense it can be.

I hope you are as excited as I am to see where this will go. When my innovation curmudgeon rears his head, as he is wont to do when faced with discomfort and change, I remind myself that along with the Model T came a group that held on to their horse and buggy, talking about how reliable their horse was, that she didn’t stink like the exhaust from those blame engines. We must move beyond our faithful mare and embrace a courageous future: learning in new ways. If we all welcome this exciting mode of learning as a marvelous experiment, students learning, faculty learning, institutions learning, improving with each iteration, then we will be energized by it, not overwhelmed or intimidated. Moreover, the system will learn and improve, something it is infinitely good at, and the result will benefit society for generations to come.

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