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Distance Learning Technology Brings Instructors to Students

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 13, 2003 – The Air National Guard's distance-learning programs are recognized as some of the most advanced within the Department of Defense.

About a decade ago, DoD asked the services to step up research and implementation of distance-learning methods as a means of training service members, said Master Sgt. John Kayko, superintendent for the Air Guard distributed learning program.

"E-learning," "distance learning" or "distributed learning" is any method of instruction where the instructor isn't physically present," Kayko explained. Classes may be conducted via satellite broadcast, on CD-ROM, over the Internet -- even by teleconference.

For years the Air National Guard has adopted many cutting- edge training and education techniques -- especially e- learning methods, he noted.

"We follow private industry and try to get the very latest e-learning technology they're using and adapt it to our DoD-related methods," Kayko explained.

In 1995, the Air Guard put in a satellite-based learning system called the "Warrior Network" and concurrently created its distance learning policy branch, he explained. The Air National Guard and Army National Guard mutually share the Warrior Network and many other e-learning resources, he noted.

Kayko said the Air Force's version of the Warrior Network is the Air Training Network, or ATN. Many other federal agencies, he noted, share ATN's satellite system.

E-learning technology saves money "because you're not sending people from the home unit to another state to take these courses," said Maj. Dean DeJong, chief of the Air Guard advanced distributed learning section. This type of training is especially beneficial for guardsmen who may live far away from their units, he pointed out.

"We can deliver an education or training course pretty much anywhere in the world, even if service members are on deployment," noted Master Sgt. William Quarles, Air Guard advanced distributed learning program manager.

In a joint project called "Project Alert," the University of Nebraska is working with the Air Guard and Army Guard to develop common courses suitable for e-learning, Kayko said. One example is a hazardous material-handler training course that's available to service members on CD-ROM and on the Web.

"Such training is applicable, of course, to all the services, and many other federal agencies," Kayko pointed out.

He said the Air Guard's Warrior Network is mostly televised by satellite with three uplink sites and 202 downlink sites or classrooms.

The classrooms feature high-definition television monitors and open speaker systems, so the students can communicate with the instructor, Quarles explained. Students can see the instructor, ask questions and get a response back, he added.

Multiple hookups can be used to connect several classrooms of students, Quarles pointed out. One such course using this networking technique is the Satellite NCO Academy, he remarked. The program consists of 13 weeks of satellite- broadcast lessons and two weeks of resident instruction.

The active Air Force provides the majority of formal resident training to Air National Guard members and Air Force reservists, Kayko explained. The Air Force plans to convert some classroom instruction to e-learning format. In fact, Kayko added, the Air Guard will assist in converting some of the active Air Force's resident training instruction into distance-learning form.

He noted that several active Air Force courses are now being converted to e-learning format via Project Alert.

DoD's advanced distance-learning Sharable Content Object Reference Model courseware is currently being used by the services in providing standardized Internet-based instruction, Kayko pointed out.

"Multiple agencies can use the same tool, thereby saving money and sharing the courseware," he concluded.

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