Originally published on The Free Press

Tami Moehring, now content provider liaison for the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration, previously gave virtual learning presentations for the Minnesota Historical Society. 
Courtesy Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration

NORTH MANKATO — A nonprofit that brings live virtual learning experiences to classrooms has expanded its audience during the pandemic.

For more than 25 years the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration has matched schools across the country with museums, zoos and other providers of virtual classes and field trips.

The North Mankato-based center acts as a host for virtual content creators across the country, said Executive Director Glenn Morris.

Traditionally it has been teachers logging on to the center’s website to find hundreds of offerings for their classes.

Now the center also is offering free programs to families and seniors who are spending more time at home and at care centers during the pandemic.

The nonprofit center is part of the South Central Service Cooperative, which provides a variety of services to schools and other member organizations.

It has facilitated about 100,000 virtual learning experiences for 3 million people in 100 countries.

For educators and their students, Morris said the experiences are better than a typical webinar. Each is customized, well-produced and includes opportunities for students to ask questions, and often offers other interactive elements.

“We break down the walls of the classroom, and we help people experience the world through this interactive, virtual learning,” Morris said.

Program topics range from the chance to meet endangered species at a Kansas zoo to a virtual field trip to Bali, Indonesia, to celebrate Nyepi (the Balinese new year).

The cost per experience averages $125, but some offerings provided by government-funded organizations are free.

The center last year launched two new series of free programs open to any virtual attendee.

The Community of Learning program has an online learning experience for school-age children and families at noon every weekday.

Upcoming adventures include a hunt for dinosaur eggs and a dive into the waters off the southern coast of Australia.

The Roam from Home program has monthly experiences for adults. They are popular at senior communities and also are open to individuals at home. The next class on April 6 is on Native American storytelling and artifacts.

Preregistration is required for all the center’s programs.

Upcoming goals for the center, Morris said, include expanding programs for and partnerships with senior communities and establishing a scholarship fund in which sponsors can fund online experiences for schools in lower-income areas.

They also are working to expand opportunities for schools to collaborate with other schools around the world.

Classes recently celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday by reading together and celebrated the holidays by signing carols from different cultures.

“We want kids nowadays to develop global competency,” Morris said.