Army expands e-learning options

Army Knowledge Online

In an effort to expand its online education offerings from simple content to a more complete e-learning environment, the Army today announced a major expansion of its agreement with SmartForce, an e-learning company.

Under the new agreement, SmartForce will provide all Army personnel worldwide with a Web-based, e-learning solution through its hosted MySmartForce platform, said Kevin Duffer, director of federal sales at the Redwood City, Calif.-based company.

"We want to make the platform as useful as possible by making it as relevant as possible, Duffer said. "This is the largest federal migration to our hosted platform and we think it fits well with agencies' strategies to consolidate and be hosted where possible."

The Army entered into an enterprisewide contract with SmartForce in 1998 with about 880 course offerings, which grew to more than 1,300 courses by September 2001. The Army has hosted the coursework internally since 1998, but the company will take over the hosting under the new deal, said Gary Bushover, senior federal account manager at SmartForce.

In addition to offering even more courses, the upgrade also includes online mentoring; an online help desk; additional resources, including white papers and other research; and the ability for users to personalize the site, Bushover said.

Robert Schwenk, deputy director of the Army's Chief Technology Office, said the new system would enable Army personnel to take advantage of the best technology the private sector has to offer.

"Every aspect of the work environment is, in some way, being touched by information technology," Schwenk said, adding that the online educational offerings are for personnel ranging from active-duty soldiers to reservists, regardless of their mission. "There are a variety of requests and needs depending on their work and what their organization's mission is...and SmartForce offers courses on basic word processing on Microsoft [Corp.] Word or Access — to Cisco [Systems Inc.] routers — and technical certifications for Microsoft."

Schwenk said he'd like to see more 150,000 users on the new system next year, "and with the new technology available, I think we'll be able to realize that goal."

The challenge is in advertising the new features to potential students, but there is a bullet point on the Army Knowledge Online portal that lets users know new e-learning assets are available, "and we'll get out there and talk to commanding officers about the potential to their workforce," Schwenk said.

The Army has established an interim registration process for moving current students to the new system, and by next month it should have a system in place that will link from the Army Knowledge Online portal to the Amy Training Requirements and Resources System (ATRRS) and through to the SmartForce-hosted material, Schwenk said. That process will enable students to get official credit on their record once they complete a course.

A small number of students have already begun using the new system, including the personalization features, access to online mentors and technical chat rooms, and the feedback from them has been overwhelmingly positive, Schwenk said.

SmartForce has numerous other federal customers, including the Air Force, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, NASA, and the departments of State, Transportation and Energy.

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