Agencies reach for e-training interoperability and efficiency

An e-learning portal developed by the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service lets employees find and register for training with a few clicks.

The Learning Management System automates FMS' paper registration for 9,000 workers taking one of 130 week-long training courses each year on everything from basic accounting to cost management. Treasury officials said the portal could save two full-time data entry employees.

The rise of online training mirrors federal demand for skilled employees as well as skimpy agency travel budgets.

The Federal Learning eXchange, at www.flx.gov, has 170 training providers under review with almost 20,000 online course offerings targeted to 80 agencies.

Since last July, the Gov Online Learning Center, at www.golearn.gov, has reported more than 36,000 users, more than 10,000 course completions and about $20 million in savings. The center, one of the 25 e-government initiatives, is a cross-agency e-learning mall run by GeoLearning Inc. of West Des Moines, Iowa.

GeoLearning has estimated that the Defense Department spends more than $17 billion each year on 30,000 training courses, broadcast to almost 3 million military and civilian employees.

The Veterans Health Administration has turned to Web e-learning as an employee retention technique. In its fiscal 2004 performance plan, VHA said that 98 percent of its senior executives would be eligible to retire within the next three years.

Shared syllabus

The shift to online learning, spurred by a 1999 executive order, led to an effort by DOD's Joint Advanced Distributed Learning Collaborative Laboratory to make e-training programs interoperable. The lab is working on a Sharable Content Reference Model to permit cross-platform sharing and reuse of courseware.

A February General Accounting Office report said DOD has achieved some e-learning successes, but it is 'too early to fully assess each program's effectiveness. ... DOD faces cultural, technological, policy and financial challenges.'

FMS officials said they invested $147,000 to merge financial course opportunities online.
'We're able to offer lots more people training than we could have before, at a cheaper price,' said Imelda Idar, director of FMS' Professional Development Division. 'It's made us more efficient.'

Using the Thinq TrainingServer Learning Management System from Thinq Learning Solutions Inc. of Baltimore, FMS has centralized divergent methods of tracking course opportunities.

On a Web portal with a Microsoft SQL Server database hosted by Thinq, FMS trainees can fill out registration forms, check for classes in a particular skill they lack and get transcripts online at any time of day.

Managers and students merge the individual learning plans with established tracks in cost management, credit reform, federal accounting concepts or standard general ledger.

Later this year, Idar said, FMS plans to add cyberchat areas for tips and support, Pay.gov government-to-government online transactions, and links to Treasury's HR Connect individual development plans.

Eventually, the learning system will apply skill-gap analysis to score how much FMS' work force has learned.

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