by 1st Lt. Alicia Wallace
5/14/2015 - PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- In
an effort to meet the challenges of growing budget constraints and
still invest in future Air Force leaders, Team Patrick-Cape innovated a
virtual way of learning that can be the benchmark for all other service
schools called "iLearning."
"The initiatives that our professional development center have been
taking are award winning," said Chief Master Sgt. Craig Neri, 45th Space
Wing command chief. "Our education programs are a force multiplier,
and we need the sharpest Airmen in our force in order to meet our
growing needs. Our operations tempo continues to increase from 17
launches last year, to 26 this year, and even more scheduled for next
The Patrick Airman Leadership School, which resides within the
Professional Development Center at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., offers a
new approach on how Airmen are able to garner leadership skills and
achieve professional development.
The Patrick ALS is the only one in the Air Force that uses iPads
exclusively for class content and communication. With no printed
documents, they have shown that students can be successful when they
"This generation knows and understands the digital world more than any
other," Neri said. "They grew up using high-tech gadgets to learn."
Following the current trend in education, ALS developed an iLearning
system where students can load content as well as share it on issued
ALS instructors can display content from their Smart board--interactive
whiteboards--on their students' iPads. However, they are unable to
content from a students' iPad onto Smart boards, but soon they will have
this capability with the pending installation of a new 80-inch touch
screen smart whiteboard.
Patrick ALS instructors continue to look for ways to innovate in their
classrooms to adapt to their student's learning, according to Neri.
"We want to replicate the interactive learning and communication system
that many modern educational institutes have today," according to Master
Sgt. Ted Byerly, 45th Force Support Squadron Airman Leadership School
commandant. "We found that the ALS students created informal
communication on their own through their personal devices. We merely
provided a standardized communication system that every student,
including the staff, would have access to. The communication system
allows for continued access to information 24/7, and establishes a
better cooperative learning environment and ultimately a more profound
Not only has ALS mastered a way students can effectively communicate
directly with their instructors and classmates, they have saved the Air
Force money during a critical time of vast budget cuts and looming
sequestration, according to Neri.
"Our budget was slashed more than half by converting to iPads," Byerly
said. "In fiscal year 2012, 88 percent of our $13,000 budget was
dedicated to printing. The following year, we returned $5,000 to the
major command. Our operating cost is now $3,000 a year, so we are saving
77 percent of our budget."
The trick to the implementation of iLearning is actually in the communications world, according to Neri.
"Establishing a way to use a commercial network is absolutely essential
if any other Airman Leadership Schools in the Air Force are working
toward converting their system to iPads," said Neri.
"Our persistence and creativity make it possible for us to progress to
where we are today. And, it's a whole team effort. Our Professional
Development Center is using what they have learned from ALS, which you
can see through the latest innovation - the virtual classroom. The PDC's
Career Assistance Advisor, in concert with the ALS staff, developed the
virtual classroom as a way for students who aren't stationed locally to
still be able to take professional development courses with the
exclusion of ALS."
The Patrick ALS's innovative changes come at the same time the Air Force
is transitioning to Enlisted Professional Military Education Next.
"Enlisted PME Next will streamline and standardize professional
development programs," said Neri. "Now, when Airmen are eligible for
certain PME courses, according to their time in service, they will
automatically be enrolled in the correspondence course."
This means students at NCO and SNCO academies will start their
professional development education online and attend shorter
in-residence portions of the courses.
With the many iLearning programs and innovative initiatives the Patrick
ALS and PDC have implemented, Neri is nothing short of thankful for all
they have done to prepare Airmen for the future of professional military
"I'm extremely impressed with what Master Sgt. Byerly and his team at
the PDC are doing. They are certainly the driving force behind our
achievements, and I am so proud to have them at Team Patrick-Cape," said
Innovations that are taking place at the base are not over; the Patrick
PDC has also developed a program to consolidate and inform base members
of the various educational classes being offered in the wing.
"Shark University is a single one-click access point where all members
can see where and what educational classes are being offered on base. We
need to continue to deliberately develop our people, and this new
program provides us with the tools we need to do that," said Neri.
"Right now, it can only be accessed on the SharePoint site, but our PDC
will soon find a platform that will make it accessible anywhere."