Training managers online

A new contract for Web-based training represents several firsts for NASA employees: It's the first time a single contract delivers online training agencywide, and it's NASA's first online offering that includes career development as well as technical skills.

The multiple-award training services contract is the latest in an effort to consolidate the requirements of NASA centers and minimize the number of contracts throughout the agency.

The World Wide Web-based training is in-tended to supplement instructor-led courses and reduce the space agency's training costs, said Jeff Brown, NASA contracting officer for the training contract. Individual centers can place delivery orders from any of the contract vendors they choose, much like a blanket purchase agreement.

It is the first time NASA has offered Web-based training for "soft skills" such as management and teamwork as well as information technology-related topics, Brown said. Some NASA centers may have used online training in the past, but this is the first agencywide effort, he said.

NASA awarded the training contracts in late March for Web-based training solutions to SkillSoft Corp., DigitalThink Inc., MindLeaders.com Inc. (formerly DPEC Inc.), Network Automation Technology Inc. and Knowlogy Corp. All the contractors offer platform-independent courseware that can be used with a 28.8 kilobits/sec modem.

NASA awarded the one-year pact through the Consolidated Contracting Initiative (see related story), which is designed to streamline the procurement process by preventing multiple NASA centers from competing the same or similar contracts. The total value of the contract is estimated at $600,000.

NASA decided to move to a Web-based training contract because of the success of the agency's own online training site, the Site for Online Learning and Resources, said Joe McElwee, manager of distance learning at NASA headquarters. The site, which has 90 NASA-specific training modules in six disciplines, has been operating for about five years.

"We felt this is the direction a lot of training is going in," McElwee said. The Web-based courses allow employees to train anytime, anywhere.

The agency also is experimenting with live Internet training, he said.

Some of the vendors on the contract, such as DigitalThink, will offer training to the NASA field locations that includes desktop computing, IT management, databases, programming, Web development, Microsoft certification, Lotus, Unix and other IT-related topics. Others, including SkillSoft, will offer courses aimed at financial and resource management, business management, project management, leadership, stress management, communication and general human resources training.

Following the recent Mars mission failures, NASA Administrator Dan Goldin has put the spotlight on the need for better training at the agency, particularly in the areas of management and communications. In addition, Executive Order 13111, signed by President Clinton Jan. 12, 1999, directs the government to use technology to improve training opportunities for federal employees.

The NASA contract is another example of federal agencies taking advantage of Web-based interactive training for their employees, said Chuck Moran, president and chief executive officer of SkillSoft. The Internal Revenue Service, Library of Congress and Defense Department are just a few that have committed to online or CD-based training.

"The government has so many people they need to train, and it's usually cost-prohibitive" to send employees away to attend classes, Moran said. Web-based training does not discriminate against anyone just because they are in the "wrong" place, he said.

"We host the courseware so the end user doesn't have to do any of the heavy lifting," said Sally Turner, director of the government sector for DigitalThink. The company provides interactive courseware that tracks when a student logs on, where the student is in the course and how the student performs on quizzes, which allows the training manager at the agency to analyze the return on investment.

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