DHS convenes classes online

Employees explore educational possibilities available to them through a new Web portal

Homeland Security Department officials are hoping that employees will use DHScovery, a new Web portal, to enhance their professional skills. The portal offers more than 1,900 online courses, online books and other Web-based learning tools. Employees can access the portal from any computer by using a Web browser. All they need is a user name and password.

'It is very convenient for the employees,' said George Tanner, DHS' chief learning officer.

The department launched DHScovery Aug. 7 for several headquarters organizations, including the Science and Technology Directorate and the National Protection and Programs Directorate. DHScovery eventually will replace the learning management systems now used by the 22 component agencies at DHS, he added.

Employees can take advantage of any of the training offerings, which include courses in information technology security and procurement. Some are mandatory for employees, including those related to IT security, the handling of sensitive information and general safety.

DHScovery is based on a training program created by Plateau Systems through the Office of Personnel Management's GoLearn e-training initiative.

The system monitors employee progress and reports data to another OPM e-government initiative, the Enterprise Human Resources Integration project.

EHRI tracks federal employees' development and training, from the day they are hired to the day they retire.

John Synk, Plateau Systems' account manager for Homeland Security, said having a central training system will help DHS report data to OPM.

'If you have several different [learning management systems] across 22 agencies, you have to aggregate that data somehow,' Synk said. 'If you have one system, it's much easier to pull that data off that one system and report it to OPM.'

Officials said they funded DHScovery with working capital. In fiscal 2005 and 2006, the training program had a $2.85 million budget. In 2007, the budget doubled.

Tanner said that as the program grows, its budget and expenses will increase, but DHS will receive volume discounts when it buys learning modules, which will offset those expenses.

With the addition of DHScovery, analysts say, the federal government continues to lead private industry in offering online training courses for employees.

'The federal government is as far along if not farther along than most companies are,' said James Lundy, managing vice president at Gartner.

Lundy added that DHScovery and GoLearn continue the government's efforts to make advances in online training. However, he said, the success of online training programs depends on how well courses are presented.

'If you throw together some PowerPoint slides and say, 'There's your training,' that doesn't work,' Lundy said. 'The sophistication and the expectations of a lot of people who are doing [e-training] have gone way up. The program will fail if it doesn't have good content.'

Tanner said having blended approaches that combine online and classroom components often work best.

DHS' next step will be to open up DHScovery to the rest of the department.

Although the program is intended for DHS employees, Tanner said he would not rule out the possibility of opening the portal to first responders and other state and local employees.

The Homeland Security Department launched an online training portal Aug. 7. The learning management system, named DHScovery, offers employees an array of educational opportunities.

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