Another View: Management tools for the 21st century

Roland Droitsch

Using an open-source license, the Labor Department has released Workforce Connections, a set of Web tools that let nontechnical users create, acquire, share and control content in real time.

With the tools, users can build and maintain Web sites, develop and deliver online training, operate a community of practice and develop Web-based coaching tools. Such coaching tools save time and money by letting subject matter experts or other office workers build a training course or manage information on a Web site without the help of technical personnel.

Workforce Connections has its roots in the Defense Department's Advanced Distributed Learning initiative, whose primary purpose was to develop standards to fix interoperability problems in the commercial products DOD was using for computer-based training.

DOD worked with Labor and other industry, academic and government partners to develop the widely accepted Shareable Content Object Reference Model, or SCORM, which allows instructional material to be linked and modified, reused or repurposed.

Once Version 1.2 of the SCORM was complete, Labor sought to demonstrate the interoperability of the standard. Not limiting itself to learning objects, Labor used the specification to construct a variety of tools. The department wanted them to reflect how a user actually works and be easy enough to implement without extensive training.

Users need only a half-day's training to be proficient. No specialized programming knowledge is required, and users don't have to do HTML editing to create online content with text, audio, video, photographs, animation, documents and interactive exercises.

The program separates the content object repository from the content presentation layer in the delivery environment. It uses cascading style sheets to automatically implement an agency's specific style requirements as well as comply with SCORM and Section 508 accessibility rules. Workforce Connections has been in operation at Labor for more than three years. Other agencies, such as the Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Aviation Administration, are using the tools with excellent results and cost savings. Some examples of sites using this technology can be found at www.workforceconnections.dol.gov/sites.
Each of the Workforce Connections tools can be used alone, but they share a common data repository. By building on the SCORM standard, the content objects are interchangeable and reusable.

All the tools draw on a common object repository through which users can share and repurpose objects. This reflects the interoperability standards cited in the Office of Management and Budget's Enterprise Architecture Assessment 1.0 guidelines.

Workforce Connections was developed with all open-source tools. It was programmed in Python and uses Zope as a robust back-end database. It runs under either Linux or Microsoft Windows operating systems.

Although it brings users new administrative freedoms, it still guarantees them internal control over access to their Web environments by adapting to their business processes.

Roland Droitsch is the former deputy assistant sectretary for policy at the Labor Department.

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