VBA puts class on CD-ROMs

The
program has the potential to save tens of millions of dollars, systems specialist Griffin
said.


The Veterans Benefits Administration delivered three training programs on CD-ROM to its
58 regional offices this year, the first in an ambitious five-year computer-based training
effort.


The training has the potential to save tens of millions of dollars and improve
nonmedical programs for veterans, said Steve Griffin, instructional systems specialist on
VBA’s employee development and training staff in Orlando, Fla.


The training programs, designed by Interactive Media Corp. of Orlando, deal with
compensation, pension, insurance and loan guaranty services. They are the first of 41 such
modules, Griffin said. VBA officials began testing three more learning modules last month,
he said.


VBA wants to improve, among other things, the regional offices’ understanding of
Board of Veterans Appeals processes.


Some benefits claims appeals are sent from the field to VBA prematurely, officials
said.


The benefits administration’s online training initiative is part of VBA’s
effort to fulfill Vice President Al Gore’s National Partnership for Reinventing
Government goals, said John Muenzen, director of field liaison staff.


Among the goals to be achieved by 2000 are: processing veterans’ compensation and
pension claims in an average of 45 days—30 percent faster than in 1996; processing
original compensation claims one-third faster than two years ago; and helping to
rehabilitate and find employment for twice as many veterans as VBA did in 1994. The goals
appear on VBA’s Web site at http://www.vba.va.gov/usb/vba-2000.htm.


Employees will be able to access the electronic course material through servers running
Microsoft Windows NT Server 3.51, Muenzen said. Within a few months, VBA’s minimum
client platform for its 10,500 users will be a 66-MHz Pentium processor with 16M of RAM
and 1.2G hard drive running Windows 95, he said.


Working from a sequential testing chart developed by Florida State University and used
by the Army to evaluate multimedia courseware, VBA has piloted each multimedia course to
20 employees who came to Orlando from around the country.


The sequential testing chart ensures that each test group represents other field staff
in their understanding of the subject matter, Griffin said.


Once approved, the CD-ROMs are tested at VBA’s data center in Hines, Ill., which
serves as a preproduction facility. Officials there conduct integration tests with other
VBA client-server applications to ensure that the training CD does not adversely affect
them, Muenzen said.


The CDs are produced in selected VBA field offices, and the data center in Hines
reproduces and distributes them to 58 field offices.


“Before, training was done in the field, one-on-one, pairing an experienced
employee with a less-experienced one,” Griffin said.


The primary audience is new VBA employees. Basic training could save VBA as much as
$20.4 million per 300 students, he said, although training can only be mandated by the
regional office directors.


Each CD-ROM and its companion paper-based course material covers five case studies
culled from submitted veterans claims. The veterans’ names and addresses are changed,
Griffin said.


“Most of the learning occurs during the case studies,” he said, as groups of
three employees deliberate about what they should do. The learning method was designed by
the University of Minnesota, he said.


Although the groups of three take the training together, the course tests them each
individually.


If any of the three fails, all three must take remedial training, Griffin said.


VBA officials have not decided whether they will develop CD-ROM training courses in
VBA’s other two core veterans service areas—vocational rehabilitation and
education services—or for internal finance and information systems, Griffin said. VBA
has more than 11,000 employees.


The course materials and services cost VBA $1.5 million through a Naval Undersea
Warfare Center indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract with Interactive Media,
Griffin said.


It will use additional contractors in the project, Griffin said.    

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