Army e-Learning: promoting professional and personal transformation
By Meggan Kring/Army Distributed Learning System
FORT MONROE, Va. (TRADOC News Service, July 13, 2005) – Working eight hours a day, five days a week would be a luxury for most Department of the Army employees. For example, Fort Gordon’s Staff Sgt. Jasonica Crawford attests to the long hours Army personnel work.
“My day starts at 4 a.m., I’m at work by 4:45 a.m., and I don’t get off sometimes until 6 p.m.,” said Crawford.
The Army workforce’s workload is demanding, and the Army needs its personnel to demonstrate the dedication shown by Crawford to successfully accomplish its mission. Yet dedication alone won’t prepare the Army for the future. Training and education play a critical role in arming Army personnel with the professional and personal knowledge to succeed in the wars of today and tomorrow, as well as in their careers and personal life. Until recently, the question Army commanders and personnel faced was not whether training was important, but rather, “When can we fit it in?”
To answer the question, the Army created Army e-Learning, the latest component of the Distributed Learning System. Army e-Learning offers every active-duty Soldier, Army Reservist, ROTC cadet and DA civilian employee free access to more than 2,000 commercial Web-based information technology, business, leadership and personal-development courses from anywhere with an Internet connection. The Army wants to invest in continuing its employees’ professional development, and by providing on-line courses, Army personnel can continue their education and training from their current location within their existing schedule.
Crawford lives the Army cliché, “We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.” She serves as an instructor at the Army’s Basic Noncommissioned Officers Academy in Fort Gordon, Ga. Ironically, while she’s responsible for helping extend training to students, her demanding schedule made personal education difficult. Army e-Learning changed that.
“Army e-Learning is helping me reach my professional and personal goals. When I have time, I sit down and take a course through Army e-Learning. It’s very easy,” Crawford said. “Some courses are voice synchronous and walk you through the lessons; others you read at your own pace. I’ve learned a lot from Army e-Learning on topics as diverse as business, information technology, human resources and information assurance.”
The Army is actively promoting Army e-Learning for personal and professional use. In fact, just over a year ago, the Army’s chief information officer/G-6 sent a directive instructing all Army organizations and major commands to use Army e-Learning to satisfy workforce information-technology requirements.
“To date, more than 213,000 users have accessed Army e-Learning, and the numbers continue to rise at a rate of 300-500 new users each week,” said Stan Davis, project officer for Army e-Learning. “Army e-Learning provides one-stop shopping for IT training using the most up-to-date commercial applications industry has to offer.”
Davis added, “An Army Audit Agency report dated Feb. 25, 2005, determined that over the last three fiscal years, the Army has saved about $86 million. In FY04, Army Soldiers and civilians completed more than 159,000 courses, resulting in an estimated savings of $47.6 million. Assuming a constant rate of savings over the next three years, the Army would save an additional $142 million.”
The Army’s aggressive approach to training its workforce is unprecedented. Army e-Learning benefits include:
- Enlisted personnel earning promotion points;
- Access to training and personal mentoring for more than 40 certification preparation programs such as MCSE, A+, CISSP, Cisco, Oracle and others;
- Continuous learning points for the civilian acquisition workforce; and
- College accreditation for a number of courses.
Providing opportunities through education
Army personnel turn to Army e-Learning for different reasons. Among the many reasons, some need to satisfy an immediate training requirement, others want to increase their likelihood of advancement, and quite frequently, many find their job description fundamentally changing, thereby necessitating training.
That’s how Crawford was introduced to Army e-Learning. After hearing her service as a telecommunications operator maintainer would be ending in 2007 and she would have to reclassify to another specialty, she faced a choice.
“I could either go through a five-month course that included 17 weeks of formal schooling at Fort Gordon, five days a week in a class all day, or I could go through the lessons on Army e-Learning. Army e-Learning allows me to set my own pace while achieving the same objective. I preferred the Army e-Learning option. It’s much less disruptive,” Crawford said.
In addition to being less disruptive, Army e-Learning provides two critical benefits. First, it helps expedite getting a college degree, and second, it allows the Army workforce to diversify in their careers.
While creating Army e-Learning, the Army was careful to ensure that its courses could be accredited by the American Council on Education. People who take classes through Army e-Learning have been pleasantly surprised to find that many of their courses easily transfer into college credit, helping speed receiving a college degree.
“Before I enrolled in Franklin University, I informed my college adviser that I was enrolled in Smart Force (now Army e-Learning) and allowed him to review my transcript,” Crawford said. “He told me that many of the classes I’d taken through Army e-Learning would transfer into college credit.”
Army e-Learning also provides the opportunity to diversify within a person’s career. Before Army e-Learning, Army employees had little opportunity to pursue a different career field or attend courses that weren’t currently part of their duty position. Quotas were usually prioritized based on the individual’s current job series, and employees weren’t given the opportunity to attend training simply to learn something new or for their own personal development.
“Now, thanks to Army e-Learning, individuals can become more knowledgeable in other skill areas by completing training at home or anywhere there’s an internet connection. It’s helping Army professionals to become more competitive in the job market,” said Leslie York, IT Specialist, Army e-Learning Program.
From active duty to civilian
Army e-Learning plays a significant role in preparing active-duty Soldiers for the transition to the civilian workforce. As an example, consider Carl Herbert, a retired Air Force E-7 who is now a telecommunications specialist for the West Point Military Academy.
“Army e-Learning provided me with the background and courses I needed to prepare for and better understand the position I decided to take at West Point,” said Herbert. “Army e-Learning is a great tool. I’ve chosen courses to enhance my skills, because in today’s world, those who rely on old technology will be passed by. With access to Army e-Learning, that won’t happen to me. I’ve probably taken 25 to 30 courses thus far and have no intention of slowing down.”
Herbert’s use of Army e-Learning hasn’t been for the sole purpose of professional development. He uses the system for business and personal development, too.
“I design and build amateur radio equipment, write my own software programs using HTML and XML, and design Websites. I’m also a published writer,” said Herbert. “This is all possible because of the free classes I’m taking through Army e-Learning. It’s definitely a tremendous perk for all Army employees, and I’d encourage everyone to take advantage of it.”
Army e-Learning doesn’t stop at the boundaries of professional development. It goes a step further – offering courses that assist employees with managing personal finances, balancing life, time management and more. While most organizations prioritize their training dollars based on job-specific training, the Army is covering the full spectrum.
Davis strongly believes that Army e-Learning can play a positive role in the lives of each Army employee. In Davis’ opinion, “The Army asks its people to dedicate their heart and souls to their jobs, and they do. In return, we have a deep responsibility to them. We have the obligation to provide Army personnel with the tools they need to succeed in their personal and professional careers within the Army and beyond. Army e-Learning is helping make that possible.”
The Army is transforming the way it does business, and an important factor is educating its workforce.
For more information on how to access Army e-Learning, log onto http://www.us.army.mil; My Education; Army e-Learning portal page. You can also access Army e-Learning at http://usarmy.skillport.com. You must have an AKO account to access the system.