Meet your users' needs

Online learning can be an effective way to extend resources to a widely dispersed workforce, and users have a wide range of programs to choose from.

'E-learning is really growing,' said Master Sgt. Todd Thomas, who leads the Air Force's e-learning program. 'It's grown a lot in the last 10 years.' In addition to companies offering courses on a commercial basis, a growing number of colleges also are offering programs and individual courses online.

Choosing the proper program requires understanding who the users are and what their needs are, Thomas said.

'It's going to depend in part on the number of people you are supporting,' he said. The Air Force has more than 800,000 people who can use its online learning system. 'Also, know your needs and tailor the e-learning system to those needs.'

An important consideration for the Air Force, in addition to the number and variety of courses, is the supporting company's ability to help with technical integration. SkillSoft hosts the program in its own data center, but it is accessed through the Air Force Web portal, where users are authenticated using their Common Access Cards.

'A lot of systems are being authenticated through the portal to allow a single sign-on,' Thomas said. But after the user is authenticated, their identity is passed on to SkillSoft to allow authorization on the online learning system, and the configuration is a little more complex than with many other applications. This required the company's assistance.

SkillSoft also tracks user performance and provides monthly activity reports, offers online mentoring to students and provides access to a large library of information technology reference e-books, all of which also add value for the Air Force.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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