MEDCOM prescribes online distance learning

The Army Medical Command has during the last nine months deployed 67 computer training
courses at 30 far-flung locations to help keep its transient personnel up to date on
widely used software.


“We cannot afford to do training in person any longer,” said Maj. David
Gilbertson, chief of information management and training programs for MEDCOM at Fort Sam
Houston, Texas.


In the midst of an e-mail client migration from Lotus cc:Mail 6.0 to Microsoft Exchange
5.0 and 5.5, MEDCOM bought 42,000 licenses of an Exchange training product and 16 other
products from NetG of Naperville, Ill. It negotiated the licenses through a 12-month lease
under NetG’s schedule contract.


MEDCOM officials expect to complete the Exchange rollout at Fort Sam Houston by May and
have the entire command using Exchange by fall, said Rob Heiwinkel, the command’s
information technology distance-learning project manager.


The command bought the seat licenses for Microsoft Explorer, Office 97, Outlook 97 and
98, Windows 95 and Netscape Navigator. It also bought a site license for 4,000 users
covering 50 products for systems administrators, including Microsoft BackOffice, Exchange
and Windows NT Server 4.0, and Oracle7 and Oracle8.


The command will pay between $250,000 and $300,000 for the licenses, said Karen Hsu, an
account manager at NetG, a subsidiary of Harcourt Brace and Co. Leasing has become a
favored procurement tool of the Defense Department’s medical community during the
past two years, she said.


MEDCOM’s training initiative is part of the Army Training and Doctrine
Command’s $700 million distance-learning plan, an initiative that uses PCs and
videoconferencing to deliver courses, Gilbertson said.


Most courses are optional, but the Health Systems Functional Proposal and the Medical
Information Management courses are mandatory for certain MEDCOM personnel, Heiwinkel said.


Separately, MEDCOM bought training products for noncomputer subjects, covering
everything from first aid training to graduate-level instruction such as business process
re-engineering, Gilbertson said. “Computer training is a small part of what
we’re doing,” he said.


Loading software, finding the right plug-ins and upgrading PCs have been difficult, he
said. Getting enough bandwidth and infrastructure to run the programs around the world is
also difficult, and administering remote students online is an administrative challenge,
too.


Acknowledging that there have been some glitches, Heiwinkel said MEDCOM is distributing
a guide that highlights eight successful steps for installing applications.


For some remote users, MEDCOM has sent 3.5-inch CD-ROM disks. Other MEDCOM users access
training courses on the Internet via a browser. Still others download courses from the
Internet to their hard drives. Major medical treatment centers access courses through
their LANs, which give them more bandwidth, he said.


NetG’s products let administrators keep track of users’ scores and the
credits they earned for completing courses, Gilbertson said.


Through NetG’s SkillVantage Manager feature, administrators can also track how
long particular students spend on each course, how many courses each person accesses and
how they perform on post-course tests, Heiwinkel said.


“We’ve gotten great feedback from users, in terms of the way the courses play
and their content,” Heiwinkel said.


Some users could not wait to dig into the courses, he said. Within a week of deploying
NetG at Brook Army Medical Center in January, 31 users out of 3,000 had accessed at least
one NetG course. 


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