Military News

Friday, May 15, 2015

iLearning: Reshaping the next generation of professional development

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 year."

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 learn virtually.

"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 iPads.

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 experience."

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 education.

"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 Neri.

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."

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