Air Force units innovate with e-learning software

The Air Education and Training Command's Milt Turner says online learning software highlighted a need for "sufficient networks, workstations and servers" at all bases.

The Air Force Information Warfare Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, recently began using electronic-learning software to track human resources information for military personnel.

Interestingly, the Air Education and Training Command at nearby Randolph Air Force Base had been using its own application of the same software for more than a year.

Both organizations are using Plateau 4 Learning Management System from Plateau Systems Ltd. of Arlington, Va., but in completely different ways.

The Information Warfare Center uses Plateau 4 to manage personnel training histories; the education command is migrating its training courses from desktop PCs at five military bases to be accessible on Internet-connected computers anywhere.

An online learning system that can manage military coursework should also be able to combine personnel information about everything from fields of expertise to health records, said Maj. Steve Doub of the Air Intelligence Agency.

"The learning management system provides a clear picture of training and education requirements," Doub said. "Supervisors and commanders have a more efficient way to assign and monitor employee accomplishments."

Tracking training

The system captures, for example, which software versions workers have learned, what briefings they've received and what health problems or inoculations they have. It also tracks ancillary courses that personnel must pass in antiterrorism, computer security, fire prevention, information assurance, intelligence oversight, operational risk management and safety.

The Information Warfare Center wanted to offer "a complete array of training courses that would ensure each warfighter is capable of performing in any contingency, anytime, anywhere," Doub said.

But implementation wasn't easy. Doub said the Air Force had to transfer data from three separate databases into Plateau, and each database had different names for the courses.
"The development team had to establish a new naming convention that would permit consolidation of hundreds of courses," he said.

A new course numbering system also was necessary. About 1,200 workers can access the system, but only about 45 take courses at any given time, Doub said.

When a worker completes a course or is affected by a personnel action, the update automatically goes into the person's Plateau record.

The Web system was built with the Delphi rapid application development environment and the cross-platform JBuilder environment for Java, from Borland Software Corp. of Scotts Valley, Calif.

Expanding e-learning

Online course records go from an Oracle8 database management system to the Plateau 3.4 application server, which updates a Web server running Microsoft Internet Information Server. If a course is instructor-led, the instructor starts the process by manually updating the database record.

Doub said the system has saved the Air Force money on tuition, travel and per diem costs for the same types of training.

The education command meanwhile is expanding two of its e-learning programs with Plateau. The Advanced Distributed Learning program manages 1,400 technical courses taken by about 10,000 active-duty military, Reserve and Air National Guard employees.

The command first transferred its 1,400 paper-based courses to electronic form on PCs at five bases.

Instead of traveling around the country to take technical courses, workers began going to one of the five bases. Now the command is transforming six of the PC courses for Web access.

Technical difficulties

Since 1997, the command has trained about 600,000 people, some through instructor-led courses, some using the Air Force Technical Management Training System. Among the 100,000 trainees are airplane mechanics, electronics experts, security guards and other technical workers.

Milt Turner, the education command's program manager for intelligence training and senior systems analyst for training systems, said the initial goal was to meet a Defense Department mandate for using commercial software. But in 1997 when the command adopted Plateau, Turner said, there were all sorts of unanticipated technical problems.

"Most of the Air Force bases we were supporting did not have sufficient networks, workstations and servers" to run Plateau, he said. The first requirement became ensuring that equipment purchased thereafter was compatible with the Air Force infrastructure.

Turner said the WebLogic application server from BEA Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., will soon go into operation to handle online training at remote locations and field detachments.

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