VBA establishes IT-based training support

The Veterans Benefits Administration last month awarded blanket purchase agreements to Computer Sciences Corp. and Interactive Media Corp. to support its information technology-based training programs.

Under the BPAs - part of the VBA's Training and Performance Support Systems (TPSS) program and potentially worth as much as $35 million combined over five years - CSC and Interactive Media will be able to help the agency develop ways to use IT-based instructional systems.

The VBA is responsible for the administration of nonmedical benefits programs such as compensation, pension and insurance - meaning VBA workers often must be familiar with terminology used by the health care or financial-services industries.

Employees learning to process veterans' claims face layers of VBA procedures, processes and terminology. The agency sees the potential solutions to this problem coming from projects such as computer-based training for learning medical terminology and related technology for conducting long-distance training over computer networks.

Steve Griffin, the VBA's program manager for TPSS, said computer-based training should bring more efficiency, standardization and effectiveness to the VBA. A costly alternative to computer-based training involves pulling knowledgeable workers off their regular jobs to train new workers, he said. "That's very expensive [because] it takes some of the best job performers off their jobs," he said.

Computer-based training programs developed through the BPAs likely would involve groups of three workers using one or more computers to learn new skills, Griffin said.

The BPAs will not include hardware acquisition, nor will they allow vendors to provide training on how to use office automation products such as Microsoft Corp.'s Word. Rather, the BPAs will focus on training workers in how to perform VBA-specific tasks, such as processing claims for compensation, he said.

"This seems to be an extremely common-sense approach to providing training," said CSC program manager Greg Bradner. One benefit of computer-based training is that it allows workers to learn at their own pace, while the classic classroom environment forces everyone to move along at the same pace, he said.

Bradner said the agreements with the VBA should allow the companies to carry out analyses to determine if the agency has a need for training in a particular area - be it basic forms processing or learning terminology used by medical professionals such as radiologists.

If there is a need for training, the vendors then would investigate the best way to go about providing it. In many cases, computer-based training will be the answer, but Bradner said old-fashioned paper-based learning or classroom learning sometimes may be the best solution.

When the best approach has been decided, the vendor then would design, develop or procure the products needed to conduct the training. From there, the solution would be evaluated before finally being rolled out for use in the field.

Jerome Atkins, dean of technology and engineering at Regents College, Albany, N.Y., agreed that using computers in the educational process brings benefits - especially by letting users work at their own pace. But that power also can be a disadvantage, according to Atkins. "The only drawback is it is based on individual learning.... An individual has to have a lot of discipline," he said.

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