Virtual Classroom Is Expected to Save 1.6 Million Taxpayer Dollars
By Leslie Schwager
Training personnel on one or two new acquisition procedures is relatively easy. Communicating 125 critical acquisition messages to audiences all around the world, in a timely manner, is a challenge. So its not difficult to feel the synergism of the Lightening Bolt # 9 Virtual Classroom Integrated Product Team, a group of creative U.S. Air Force employees, who accepted this challenge, and by doing so expect to save the Federal Government 1.6 million dollars over the next year.
They met the challenge by teaming with an industry leader, Litton Tasc, and creating the "Acquisition Reform Virtual Classroom," a web-based training program. The program uses the Internet to provide training to a geographically dispersed Air Force acquisition workforce. It requires only that students have access to the Air Force intranet to complete the course, giving them the option to train from their home, office or any other location of choice. The site is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Course material is updated annually and stays more current than published material, because the printing and distribution time is eliminated. Its an innovative way of making an essential training program operate more efficiently and effectively.
Sending employees to acquisition seminars was costing the U.S. Air Force over a million dollars a year in travel expenses, a loss of productivity, and delayed access to updated acquisition news and procedures. It also made it impossible to train everyone as soon as new procedures became available. For example, to Air Force acquisition employees, on-the-job training programs used to mean juggling their mandatory workload priorities with the mandatory training programs. A difficult sometimes burdensome exercise! And for the Air Force, it meant incurring additional expenses and sometimes having to operate with inadequately trained personnel.
The virtual program eliminates the need for travel to the Systems Acquisition School at Brooks AFB, Texas, which costs approximately $800 per student. Since the program expects to train 2,000 employees electronically over the next year, the U.S. Air Force expects to save taxpayers $1.6 million in travel costs. Fittingly, the Lightning Bolt # 9 Virtual Classroom Integrated Product Team was honored with Vice President Gores Hammer Award in October. This award is the Vice Presidents answer to yesterdays government and its $400 hammer. It recognizes the significant contributions of teams of federal employees and their private sector partners who use such reinvention principles as putting customers first and cutting red tape. The award is a $6 hammer and a note from the Vice President in a aluminum frame, bedecked with a big red ribbon.
"No one thought of awards or recognition when the program began," said Lt. Col. Lee Hohmann, Director of Operations at the Systems Acquisition School. "The objective was to solve transportation and availability problems of getting personnel to training seminars for all 125 acquisition issues." So in 1995, the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) formed the Lightning Bolt # 9 Virtual Integrated Product Team to devise a system to find a way to educate and train all Air Force acquisition personnel simultaneously. Hohmann tagged this quest, "attempts for improvement" throughout the acquisition work force. With new acquisition reform issues and training rapidly mounting, the Team was anxious to start building a classroom. They were able to speed up the process by using a product Litton Tasc had developed for a commercial customer, taking advantage of their lesson learned. And so the Acquisition Reform Virtual Classroom was born.
Although the Air Forces new acquisition reform changes were instituted to save the government time and money, they also vastly increased the knowledge and skills required of its acquisition personnel. The new virtual classroom program allows employees the flexibility to, quickly and effectively, increase their acquisition knowledge and skills. Employees no longer have to submit a training form only to wait months or even years until the course is offered and a seat is available.
Over the years academic researchers have agreed that people learn at varying paces while also engaging in different styles of learning. The virtual classroom addresses these needs. In a typical classroom setting, instructors often pace their lessons to meet the needs of the average student, but in the virtual classroom participants can learn at their own pace and at varying levels. The program offers self-process diagnostics throughout the course to give each student necessary feedback.
"We wanted to make sure students were understanding the material and that we helped them stay on track as they teach themselves," said Hohmann. "There are lots of vectors to help get answers including chat rooms and email. Most questions are answered within a day or two."
"As soon as we got the initial feedback from the first group of students, we knew it was a success and we began planning development of additional courses," said Project Manager Randy Adkins. The Air Force Materiel Command added four additional courses to their training curriculum, building what they call a "Virtual Schoolhouse."
By being innovative and taking advantage of new technology, the Air Force Materiel Command has empowered employees, cut red tape and instituted new internal operational practices a powerful reinvention formula to make government work better and cost less.
For More Information
Contact Randy Adkins at (937) 257-2034 or Randy.Adkins@wpgate1.wpafb.af.mil.
About the Author
Leslie Schwager is with the National Partnership for Reinventing Government in Washington, DC. She is on loan from the Bureau of Land Management. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 694-0107.