First, skill all the lawyers

Air Force online training program helps JAGs keep up with their courses

Unlike civilian lawyers who practice in a single area, Air Force judge advocates often must deal with a variety of legal areas every day.

Adding to the challenge, members of the Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps, as well as their paralegal and civilian colleagues, do not work in a law-firm environment with legal experts and law libraries.

'We have 1,300 JAGs, and they are scattered literally all over the world,' said Maj. Bruce Barnard, Air Force program manager for the Advanced Distributed Learning program. The service created the program to develop common standards, tools and coursework for the Defense Department.

The JAG Corps needed a distance-learning solution that not only quickly delivered courseware but also helped develop the courses. It got KnowledgeWorks from Techniques.org of Wheat Ridge, Colo.

Instead of developing and delivering courses that last for days, the JAG Corps is using knowledgeWorks to create short training modules lasting an average of 25 to 50 minutes. Short training modules better fit real-world needs of JAGs, Barnard said.

'When you have someone who needs real-time training on a specific topic, and that person is sitting in 'Wherever-istan,' it had been very difficult to get them the training they need in real time,' he said.

A JAG in Iraq might need a refresher course on laws and rules relating to contingency contracting. The old method was to develop training materials and publish them on paper or CD-ROM. That was slow as well as difficult to update courseware and track who had been trained. But with a Web-based e-learning solution, if the learning module already was written, the JAG could get the needed training in a matter of hours instead of weeks.

The flexibility of hosting course modules in a central location and making them available on the Air Force's Judge Advocate Distance Education portal makes the e-learning solution valuable for on-the-go JAGs, said Ryan Gilmer, founder and director of client services for Techniques.org. 'One minute they may be in Denver, the next week in Louisiana, and the week after that in Iraq,' Gilmer said. 'Now they can continue doing the training all the time. The solution is certified by the Pentagon's Advanced Distributed Learning initiative and complies with the Sharable Content Object Reference Model standard, he said.

Having the infrastructure to quickly develop a 25- to 50-minute module is one of the biggest benefits of the system, Barnard said. It takes less than a week from 'the time we define the need to the time that we've got something up on JADE,' Barnard said. 'If you contracted this out, it could take a year to get a course online.'

The courses used to last a week or two, but short modules better fit the needs of people in the field and can be developed faster. Modules on topics such as medical malpractice and rules of evidence are being developed, Barnard said. As they are completed, they are available on JADE whenever JAGs need them.

Although the JAG Corps doesn't plan to use the feature, KnowledgeWorks can let managers assign training to individuals and track whether or not they completed the training, Gilmer said.

That feature is of value to fire departments in staying abreast of new standards published by the National Fire Protection Association. The courseware is updated in a central location and can be sent to those who need it.

'You log on in the morning, and a notice comes up that you need to take this 5-minute course,' Gilmer said. 'You're graded on it, and the system automatically reports back to the human resources department that you passed the module.'

The on-demand aspect of e-learning is also valuable to agencies with staff all over the globe, Gilmer said. For JAGs stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, the time difference makes getting live support difficult. Rather than wait for someone stateside to e-mail a worksheet or checklist, the JAG can find the documents in the training module, Barnard said.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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