Air Force broadens e-learning

Service taps SkillSoft to provide online IT training courses and mentoring services to its personnel

Air Force military and civilian workers worldwide can now go online and access 1,200 information technology courses and connect with a mentor to ask specific questions at anytime.

The Air Force Communications Agency (AFCA) recently signed an agreement with SkillSoft, an e-learning courseware provider, to make the courses and mentoring available.

The IT e-learning courses, which include more than 40 industry certification programs such as Cisco Systems Inc.'s Certified Network Associate and Microsoft Corp.'s Certified System Engineer, can be accessed, tracked, and managed through SkillSoft's hosted learning management platform, said Kevin Duffer, director of government and education markets at SkillSoft.

Duffer added that the majority of courses include 24-hour online mentoring that connects students with vendor-certified experts who can assist them with any questions or concerns.

SkillSoft's tool supports the Air Force Computer-Based Training (CBT) Program, which provides service staff with interactive, multimedia, self-paced IT courseware, said Markus Rogers, chief of AFCA's training management branch.

AFCA awarded the four-year contract last month, and the 1,200 courses cover numerous technology areas, including:

* Software development.* Operating systems.* Server technologies.* Internet and network technologies.* Database systems.* Desktop computer skills.

Air Force Master Sgt. Wayne Repke, CBT program manager, said the new IT and business skills courses replace many older IT courses that the service no longer uses, such as Novell Inc. products. "We took those courses out and replaced them with business skills courses," he said.

The online mentoring not only enables students to get specific content questions answered within 24 hours, but also connects them with a specialist who can offer guidance on the best way to meet their specific IT and business training and education requirements, Repke said.

The four-year AFCA deal is worth more than $10 million, and offers 700,000 potential Air Force users more courses than were previously available, as well as the new online mentoring feature. They are accessible online at {http://usaf.smartforce.com} usaf.smartforce.com, Duffer said.

SkillSoft has customers in every branch of the Defense Department and is heavily involved in the Gov Online Learning Center, a training site designed to standardize coursework across agencies that is also one of the 24 e-government initiatives, Duffer said.

On the AFCA deal, SkillSoft selected EDS as its subcontractor to provide project management, system administration and quality assurance support.

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