The makings of a federal police e-academy

Training for federal law enforcement officers might soon incorporate many of the online technologies that universities have been using to make instruction more accessible, comprehensive and affordable.

John Besselman is leading a program at the Homeland Security Department’s Federal Law Enforcement Training Center that is exploring using virtual and digital learning capabilities to improve the education of the more than 60,000 students who receive training at the center’s campuses each year. He said he hopes the program, named Train 21, can help the center save space and time, make more efficient use of its employees, and improve the overall effectiveness of its training.

“We have an opportunity to take advantage of the Digital Age,” he said.

The new approach to training could involve offering distance learning programs to some groups of students, online continuing education courses and digital learning resources. The center published a request for information Nov. 10 in the Federal Register.

The center's students come from more than 80 federal agencies. They typically stay at one of the center's campuses while they attend training sessions for anywhere from a few days to several months. Although the center differs from traditional universities, Besselman said the benefits of electronic learning are similar for all students.

For example, he said, allowing established law enforcement officers to complete advanced training remotely could mean significant savings in time and money for employees and agencies.

Although students will still need to travel to a campus for basic training, using information technology could mean they spend less time away from their jobs. Furthermore, the roughly 500 professors who work at the center’s campuses will have more tools for delivering information and interacting with students.

“The generation is such that they are willing, ready and capable of receiving their information in different formats,” Besselman said.

Implementing all the ideas that he envisions could cost as much as $70 million. However, he said many of the initiatives cost relatively little and are easy to implement. For example, making better use of the center’s TV station for training purposes, using podcasts and digitizing materials are low-cost endeavors.

Besselman said he knows new can be scary, but since he opened the Train 21 office at the center’s Glynco, Ga., headquarters campus, he has been surprised by how many people have stopped by with good ideas.

Train 21 is still in its early planning phase and focused on developing detailed plans, prototypes, a proof of concept and a long-term implementation road map, the RFI states. Officials are seeking information about whether organizations can help the center:

• Explore e-learning best practices that have been successful elsewhere and could be applied to law enforcement training.

• Identify e-learning solutions that are successful and cost-effective.

• Design and develop pilot training, learning solutions and acquisition plans.

• Document training and technology prototypes that can serve as blueprints for larger-scale implementations.

• Develop a road map for the long-term evolution of e-learning in a major, multicampus training environment.

Responses to the RFI are due by Nov. 21.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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