Creating an accessible model for collaborative workforce learning
HACC, the largest and oldest of Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges, offers a broad spectrum of education pathways to residents in its 11-county service region. Many of HACC’s 17,400 students are working toward a two-year career or transfer associate degree in one of the College’s 100 programs. HACC also has over 8,300 students enrolled in the College’s certificate and diploma workforce development programs that equip students with the skills needed by local communities and businesses.
Doreen Fisher-Bammer, HACC’s associate provost of virtual learning, said, “The key question is, how do we get our students into the workforce as soon as possible? And then, how do we continue to provide learning opportunities that help them grow and continue to move up within their intended organizations?”
HACC’s strategy is built on extensive collaboration with the business community. The College’s workforce development team engages with employers to understand their training needs, and the instructional design team works with course experts to develop programs to meet those needs.
“Many of our content experts work full time in industry, so their time is precious. Our goal is to focus their expertise on building courses to provide a quality learning experience for many individuals in our community. If students can do most of their learning in their own time and at their own pace, it’s more flexible for them and employers.” — Doreen Fisher-Bammer, Associate Provost of Virtual Learning, HACC
A second challenge is accessibility, especially in the wake of the pandemic. In mid-March 2020, HACC moved the majority of its courses and services to remote and online delivery. However, many workforce development programs include components that require hands-on experience. Students who are learning to weld, drive a forklift, or operate precision machinery still need to spend time in the lab or on the shop floor.
Access to technology is another challenge. Although the College provides free on-campus Wi-Fi access and laptops to students who need them, many still do not have a computer or reliable internet connection at home.
“For online learning to work, we need to make sure our mobile app is as robust as possible. For many of our students, that’s the only way they have to complete their classes,” said Fisher-Bammer.
“Given all these constraints, the questions are, how much can we deliver? How much of our education and training can we provide with a flexible but low-cost technology approach? How much can we put online? And how can we take advantage of new technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR) while keeping the barriers to entry as low as possible?”