Benjamin Franklin believed time is money; Theophrastus, Greek philosopher and pupil of Aristotle, said time is the most valuable thing a man can spend; and John Randolph, a U.S. representative and senator from Virginia in the 1800s, thought that time is at once the most valuable and the most perishable of all our possessions.
Air Education and Training Command has developed a financially savvy, innovative service, the Enterprise Blended Learning Service, which is capable of providing education and training opportunities to the entire Air Force, while demanding less of Airmen’s time.
At some point, every Airman will use the Advanced Distributed Learning Service (ADLS) to complete various annual training requirements. While ADLS is good at allowing users to complete courses at their own pace without having to work alongside classmates or an instructor, it does not provide a collaborative distance learning capability.
The EBLS fills these extra capabilities for distance learning, such as collaboration with fellow students and instructors, that the Air Force didn’t already have, Tim Flora, AETC Advanced Distributed Learning functional said.
“We have a lot of learning that is conducted face-to-face, in-residence,” Flora said. “Wouldn’t it be great if people didn’t have to travel from Japan or Europe to take that training?
“They can stay where they are, with their families and their units,” Flora continued. “It falls under taking care of people and respecting Airmen’s time.”
Through Blackboard, an online learning management service, Air Force organizations and agencies are able to convert in-house courses to online, giving employees and service members access to courses at home or the office via a computer, smartphone or tablet.
“We have people around the world that want to come together periodically and do learning activities,” Flora said. “We want to be able to get online, see each other through video and we want to be able to do that easily. We can’t do that well with ADLS, so we needed to fill those capability gaps.”
In September 2014, a one-year pilot program began within the technical training community to assess the effectiveness of EBLS. According to research collected by AETC during the pilot, 370 students completed training courses using Blackboard, which resulted in a total temporary duty assignment cost avoidance savings of $950,000 for the Air Force.
Due to the success of EBLS, an interim sustainment contract was led for an additional year. During that time, mission partners had an additional 681 course completions, and the service has cost avoided more than $2.7 million in TDY expenditures to date.
Since the pilot began, EBLS has grown to accommodate more than just the technical training community, and it now includes AETC special missions, Air University, Air Force Personnel Center, Air Force Services Agency, Air Mobility Command, the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine.
“Innovation is one of the most important areas in our Air Force right now,” Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, commander Air Education and Training Command, said during the 2016 AETC Wing Process Manager Workshop, July 19. “There is only one constant in our every day – change. One of my four priorities is innovation, and it has been a priority of mine since day one. As leaders, we should be thinking how we can make things better every day.”
EBLS also offers added benefits for instructors in that it provides a single location to manage the entire course, Maj. Justin Mace, AETC ADLS program manager, said.
“I can throw all of my syllabi, books and the information you need on Blackboard, instead of printing out paper,” said Mace, who was a former ROTC instructor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“I can almost go completely paperless,” he continued. “I can track your attendance and check your grades; this program allows me to see exactly when you clicked on as assignment and when it was finished.”
The most innovative aspect of EBLS, however, is not in the capabilities, but in the way it was contracted, Mace said. AETC partnered with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) USA Learning team to set up a contract that allows new customers to be added to the capability in weeks, instead of months or years.
This contracting option provides the flexibility needed to add courses for customers across the Air Force in almost real-time, and with AETC handling the contracting actions, customers need only bring funding for the capability it needs and won’t have to worry about running an IT program.
Additionally, with OPM managing EBLS from its location, AETC program managers and system administrators’ time will be freed up to sustain ADLS and pursue other work.
“We are the education and training command, why should we not offer this service to the Air Force as a whole? If you need something like Blackboard, if you need an enterprise blended learning service, we have it,” Mace said.
With the collaboration capabilities and innovative techniques EBLS brings to distance learning, Airmen can expect a real-world collaborative classroom experience and more opportunities to receive training and education that may not have been an option before due to TDY costs.
And if what Franklin, Theophrastus and Randolph said of time is true, the Air Force can expect fuller pockets and a force of the future that possesses more value.