FOSE

Measuring knowledge at NASA

Left Brain Right Brain (Shutterstock)

E-learning has become almost ubiquitous over the last decade, while virtual social learning is now spreading rapidly. Yet NASA's Knowledge Services team isn't paying much attention to either training fad.

Ed Hoffman, NASA's chief knowledge officer, said training is merely one aspect of what is otherwise an eclectic pursuit of a knowledgeable workforce.

"We de-emphasize training a little bit because I see organizations -- NASA's been there -- where the notion is that training is the only thing," Hoffman said during a May 15 panel discussion at FOSE.

Instead, developing a better workforce is also about mastering team building, organizational politics, negotiation techniques and what Chris Jandes of the Project Management Initiative calls soft skills. "You just can't have IT skills without having some of the management and soft skills," he stressed.

Hoffman said that during his three-decade tenure at NASA, he has seen first-hand what a void in management skills can do. He has witnessed the best and the brightest crash and burn because they can't get along with each other, while less-talented people have gotten the job done.

"From a competency capability standpoint, they were the most talented people, but they blew themselves up because they didn't like each other, they didn't communicate," Hoffman said. "We have very talented people, incredibly talented people but we've got to do things to create an environment where they can be successful."

The social skills and political savvy come from negotiation programs, mentorship and experience. Hoffman said training is indeed important, but it can't be the only means to create a knowledgeable workforce. "If that's the only thing being done in this current environment, I don't think it's going to be able to be successful at creating knowledgeable people," he said.

But there is a definitely a place for training at NASA – if you define training the way Deputy Chief Knowledge Officer Jon Boyle defines training.

"Training is developing people in order to be able to do things more effectively and efficiently," Boyle said. "If I find the information and I can give them what they need to be able to search for and find, I'm making them more effective and efficient and all I have to do is teach them the interface."

Training is less about navigating through a training program on a computer or going to a seminar than about constant access to relevant content, Boyle said. The key is making that content findable for employees and spotlighting information that can be digested on mobile devices.

Once that content is available, managers can use "return on engagement" metrics to gauge knowledge transfer. For example, rather than measuring the amount of clicks on a piece of content, an ROE would look at the duration of a visit or what was downloaded.

"An engagement metric implies that you did something when you came to our site and there was active search and findability that you were applying to it," Boyle said.

About the Author

Reid Davenport is an FCW editorial fellow. Connect with him on Twitter: @ReidDavenport.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.

Featured

  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above