HEAD OF THE CLASS

No more pencils, no more books -- feds embrace e-learning<@VM>Be in the know: Opportunities in e-learning

GoLearn, by the numbers

31: Agencies using the GoLearn platform

11: Components of other participating agencies

180,000: Number of regular users

240,000: Number of people with network access

$784 million: Amount GoLearn is on track to save agencies over 10 years

In little more than a year, meteorologist Bill Frederick took about 30 courses online through GoLearn, the federal portal.

Jenny Sevcik

"Under the old paradigm, you were either training or working. ? Now you can't differentiate between working and learning because you are doing both." ? Mike Fitzgerald, GoLearn project manager

J. Adam Fenster

When Bill Frederick got access to training through GoLearn, the federal government's enterprisewide learning portal, the first course he took was time management. The National Weather Service meteorologist figured it would help him make time to take other courses -- and he was right.

Since he began a little more than a year ago, Frederick has taken about 30 courses. He's applied what he has learned to everything from giving speeches to software programming to writing a paper that will soon be published in the journal, "Weather and Forecasting."

E-learning "was a way I could advance my skills to become more productive for my organization and for the future," Frederick said. He's the only weather service employee in Vicksburg, Miss., so he can't travel to take training courses like other employees.

"To ask for a week or two weeks off means there will be no one in my seat. Distance learning is the only way," he said.

Government executives and e-learning analysts say Frederick's experience will soon be duplicated many times over in the federal government, because e-learning is crossing the threshold between early and widespread adoption.

That means contractors will be seeing more opportunities as e-learning becomes so commonplace that it will no longer be viewed as an activity that employees occasionally leave their jobs to do. Instead, it will be an everyday part of the job.

In some organizations, such as the Navy, e-learning is already part of the job, said Jeff Snipes, chief executive officer at Ninth House Inc., a San Francisco producer of e-learning courseware.

"It's in the water system," Snipes said. "It's not something you do because you have to from time to time."

The government "seems highly motivated to move quickly. Whatever it takes to transform the work force, they are willing to do," said Sam Adkins, a learning technology researcher in Monroe, Wash.

 

INTEREST GROWS IN FEDERAL MARKET

Michael Brennan, an e-learning analyst at Framingham, Mass., IT research firm IDC, said he expects to see mass adoption of e-learning in the federal government within two or three years.

Brennan, IDC's program manager for learning services research, found that federal, state and local governments will spend $400 million on e-learning in 2003. By 2007, spending will pass $1 billion, according to Brennan's analysis, published in September.

This was the first time Brennan studied government spending on e-learning. Previously, his clients weren't interested. But now companies are requesting more information as they see government agencies increase the percentage of training dollars allocated to e-learning. That is about 10 percent in state and local governments, and is slightly higher in the federal government, Brennan said.

Massood Zarrabian was surprised by his own interest in the federal marketplace.

"If someone had told me three years ago that the federal government would be one of the verticals we'd focus on, I'd say, why would that happen this year? [But] the federal government -- its vision and strategy is actually ahead of the commercial market," said Zarrabian, president and chief executive officer of Outstart Inc. The Boston company makes software that allows users to create their own course content. Twenty percent of the company's business comes from the federal government, Zarrabian said.

Frank Russell, president and chief executive officer of GeoLearning Inc., a West Des Moines, Iowa-based learning management system provider, also said he was surprised by the strength of the federal market.

The company, one of two learning management system providers for GoLearn, recently opened a Washington sales office. Thirty percent to 35 percent of company revenue comes from federal agencies, Russell said.

"We saw corporations pick up e-learning very quickly in the dot-com boom, but after the bust and 9-11, corporations got a little more conservative in investing in technology," Russell said. "The federal government saw this as a way to streamline, as something that made a lot of sense. They are really trying to show how this new technology can save money and improve productivity.

"We're very bullish about the federal space," he said. "It is a perfect environment -- people are spread out all over the globe, on ships and military bases -- it's ripe for expansion."

 

READY FOR TAKEOFF

Several factors have converged to make widespread adoption feasible, e-learning experts said.

"We have the technology to implement e-learning on a large scale, and we have the standards necessary to do it," said Michael Parmentier, a principal with consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. in McLean, Va.

Last year, the technical standard, called Scorm, was just taking hold; now agencies routinely require it, e-learning vendors said. Scorm, or Shareable Content Object Reference Model, enables sharing and reuse of online educational content.

"I see more sharing to gain economies of scale across the government. A lot of that was borne out of homeland security," said John Higgins, chairman of the e-learning committee of the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va. "They know they are going to have to move content across multiple departments and across agencies. They view Scorm as a way to do that."

The push for a federal enterprise architecture has made it harder for agencies to buy standalone systems, and so it is contributing to enterprisewide adoption of e-learning, Adkins said. Two years ago, agencies could buy expensive technologies that were unique to their operations. Today budget reviews are much more stringent, and purchases must align with the architecture.

"GoLearn is the poster child for that [enterprisewide] philosophy," Adkins said. "It's a magnificent example of collaboration -- sharing money and expertise amongst agencies."

[IMGCAP(2)]By 2004, all federal agencies must migrate to the GoLearn system. Already, 31 agencies are using the common GoLearn platform, and components of 11 other agencies are participating. In fiscal 2004, 10 to 15 more agencies will join the network, said GoLearn project manager Mike Fitzgerald.

About 240,000 people have access to the network, and about 180,000 of those are regular users. Over 10 years, GoLearn is on track to save agencies $784 million, said Fitzgerald, who works for the Office of Personnel Management.

Another factor driving government interest in e-learning is the coming wave of federal retirements, e-learning experts said.

According to some estimates, 70 percent of all federal workers will be eligible to retire within the next four years. Government executives asking how they will compensate for the massive brain drain see e-learning as a solution, said Higgins, chief learning officer for BearingPoint Inc. of McLean, Va.

"Think about the number of employees that will retire in the next five to 10 years and the knowledge those people will take with them," Higgins said. "How do you carry that forward to the next generation?"

Even if federal agencies had unlimited training resources, they wouldn't have time to train all the workers, he said.

"When you have large groups you have to train quickly, e-learning is the modality of choice in the federal government," Higgins said.

 

DEMANDING MORE CAPABILITIES

In the days of early adoption, e-learning in the government centered on automating classroom-based training and putting training records online.

"A lot of our clients spent the last three or four years integrating learning management systems, and bought large e-learning catalogs in a first-generation effort to get something up and running -- to be able to say, 'We have e-learning,' " said Snipes of Ninth House.

But now agencies are looking for substantially more sophistication, said Paul Sparta, chairman and chief executive officer of Plateau Systems Ltd. The Arlington, Va., learning management systems provider gets about 30 percent of its business from the government.

The new capabilities government buyers demand include scheduling and logistics management, management of large quantities of online training material, creation of online content and matching of organizational requirements with employee capabilities, Sparta said.

Pam Stephens, manager of the Virtual University at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has launched three versions of the training initiative. The third, which went live in March, is a part of the GoLearn initiative. Version 3 is vastly different from the original, which had access to 65 courses.

"Some of the features we use now didn't exist [then]," Stephens said. Technological improvements have brought to HUD features such as e-mentoring; the ability to find and use learning objects; and basic reporting capabilities, which allow managers to see what courses each employee has taken.

Stephens wants to add more capabilities, such as more extensive reporting features, a content management system that would allow employees to create courseware in house and Web and videoconferencing.

Fitzgerald recently took advantage of GoLearn's new mentoring feature when he was having trouble with an Excel spreadsheet. The mentoring service connects users with experts worldwide, 24 hours a day. Fitzgerald logged on and got his answer in a few minutes.

"I didn't leapfrog from cubicle to cubicle, interrupting my coworkers for that macro I didn't know," he said.

By using the mentoring feature, Fitzgerald was learning and working at the same time.

"Under the old paradigm, you were either training or working. You weren't doing both. Now you can't differentiate between working and learning because you are doing both," he said.

Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery can be reached at gemery@

postnewsweektech.com.
Army Distance Learning XXI Recompete

Agency: Army Training and Doctrine Command

Value: $435.7 million

Status: RFP is expected in March

Purpose: The Army needs contractors to evaluate, design, implement, manage and deliver courseware and other training products and services for federal agencies; assess training needs; and specify training objectives.

Course Development Support Services

Agency: Department of Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness and Response

Value: $3.6 million

Status: RFP is expected Dec. 15

Purpose: Homeland Security needs support services for the independent study program of the Distance Learning Branch of the Emergency Management Institute at the National Emergency Training Center. Services provided by contractors will include student record management, test scoring, statistical and narrative reports and program analysis.

GoLearn.gov

Agency: Office of Personnel Management

Value: Unknown

Status: RFP is expected in December

Purpose: OPM needs providers of learning management systems, course development and course content to provide services for GoLearn, the federal government's enterprisewide e-learning program.

Interactive Teletraining Network

Agency: Army Training and Doctrine Command

Value: $78.4 million

Status: RFP is expected in July

Purpose: The Army needs video teletraining equipment and communication services at more than 110 sites, as well as communication service for the Army distance learning programs.

Software Editing Tool

Agency: Naval Surface Warfare Center

Value: Unknown

Status: RFP is expected in January

Purpose: The Naval Surface Warfare Center may have a requirement for a software tool that allows editing of e-learning courses used by the U.S. Joint Forces Command. The courses are developed in English and must be manually translated into other languages to provide training for coalition partners

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