Transforming information-technology training: a master plan for change

by COL Pete Farrell

Information technology has revolutionized our society and our Army. Those of us who are privileged to serve as Signal Regiment members are experiencing new and expanding roles, missions and requirements as our Army continues to leverage Information-Age technologies as a basis for warfighting. The soldiers and leaders who operate, maintain and employ IT systems are becoming increasingly critical to battlefield success; new and greater demands are placed upon them daily. These demands will continue to grow exponentially.

Likewise, the infusion of new technologies and increasing use of commercial-off-the-shelf products, as well as new digital systems, are taking place side-by-side with the continual operation of legacy systems. The result is a mixture of old and new communications and information systems for the foreseeable future.

All this has created an enormous challenge for the Army�s training base as training struggles to keep pace with IT changes. Our soldiers and leaders are required to be skilled in the science of operating and maintaining IT systems and networks, as well as the art of employing, fighting and protecting them. The skills required to operate in today�s IT force are constantly being modified by changes in technology, and these skills will decay or perish if they aren�t frequently employed or refreshed. The current resident education-and-training model doesn�t lend itself to frequent training opportunities. Likewise, it places an enormous reliance on having actual equipment at the schoolhouse to conduct the required training.

IT and digital-training master plan

Now that IT has revolutionized our society and our Army, we must radically change the ways we train our soldiers and leaders in the IT arena. We must aggressively move to leverage new education-and-training technologies and methodologies, and we must revolutionize the way we train IT soldiers and leaders.

The Signal Center at Fort Gordon, Ga., created the IT and digital-training master plan to provide a vision and roadmap for meeting the education-and-training needs of Signal and IT soldiers, leaders and units. This master plan represents a major change in the way we will train the force, now and in the future.

Lifelong learning

These changes start with the adoption of lifelong learning as the education-and-training approach for our community. The lifelong model includes a mixture of traditional schoolhouse resident instruction as well as instruction presented at other locations, and it�s consistent with education-and-training trends in industry and academia. The location of instruction becomes progressively less relevant as the learning approach matures and the Army culture evolves to accept it. As the student advances in experience, rank and responsibilities, the education focus is less on knowledge and basic skills to more on attitudes and strategic skills required for accessing and using technology-assisted learning materials just-in-time and on-demand at the individual�s location.

Lifelong-learning model The lifelong-learning model is the Signal Center's new training approach.

Lifelong learning as an approach for education and training considers all members of the Signal and IT force, including civilian employees, to be engaged in learning wherever they�re located. It�s a total approach that includes instruction and materials delivered in synchronous and asynchronous modes, just-in-time, on-demand and adapted to students involved in formal school programs and courses as well as practical day-to-day duties and activities.

A primary goal of lifelong learning is to minimize differences in learning that take place in the schoolhouse and at other locations. Lifelong learning, in fact, implements instruction using the most cost-effective mix of locations, materials and methods.

Lifelong learning represents a real change in the way the business of education and training is conducted. The approach impacts the relationship of the schoolhouse and student. Our schoolhouse accepts and assumes the same responsibility for students at all locations, which impacts the design of training materials, the focus and responsibilities of staff and faculty, student records, funding allocations and other factors associated with learning, testing and certifying students. It also requires that the student accept and assume higher levels of personal responsibility for his or her education. Distance learning and web-based education-and-training materials are tools of lifelong learning.

University of Information Technology

We�re forming the University of Information Technology at the Signal Center as the organizational structure for delivering lifelong learning and training to our soldiers, leaders and units. This university is much more than brick and mortar. It will be a combination of hardware, software, facilities, connectivity and people providing lifelong-learning materials, information and support that includes 24/7 reachback for the Signal and IT community � including Active and Reserve Components, other military services, joint commands and agencies as well as alumni.

We expect UIT to facilitate and foster lifelong professional and personal relationships and to become the "home" university for Signal and IT soldiers, leaders and their families, including alumni. UIT will have the same responsibility for all students, regardless of their location, and it eliminates any differences between students located at Fort Gordon and other locations; all its students will be the same.

UIT�s components include colleges derived by transitioning the Signal Center and Fort Gordon schools to this status and establishing relationships with commercial training sites, units, armories and individual homes. The components also include relationships with academic and research organizations that are supporting UIT�s education-and-training needs.

UIT features and advantages University of Information Technology features and advantages.

Education-and-training model

The master plan includes a new education-and-training model that provides assignment-oriented training to get better-trained soldiers and leaders to the field faster. AOT provides focused training for follow-on assignments.

The assignment-oriented education-and-training model enables the university to fulfill its responsibilities for:

Training soldiers on the science of using systems;
Training leaders on the science of using systems and the art of planning, designing, establishing, fighting and protecting systems and networks within the context of an operational plan;
Providing knowledge-based training common to all Signal and IT soldiers and leaders;
Including education and training of theory and principles in knowledge-based training. This training includes embedding and reinforcing theory and principles as part of military-occupation-specialty specific training at the "teachable moment";
Including testing and evaluation to verify that soldiers and leaders arrive at their units trained; and
Providing "tracked" AOT tailored to follow-on assignments.

The education-and-training model is flexible. It doesn�t assume one-size-fits-all and can be tailored to meet the needs of individual MOSs, soldiers and/or leaders. These changes include those resulting from continued insertion of new technologies and adoption of new missions that impact Signal and IT soldiers and leaders. The model supports training of legacy, digital and COTS systems for an increased student throughput that can be expected as the Army, other military services and joint commands and agencies continue fielding more communication and digital systems across the force.

AOT model The assignment-oriented education-and-training model. Bottom line: the new system will place better trained, more focused soldiers in the field more quickly and cheaply.

The model puts soldiers and leaders in the field faster with knowledge of theory and principles � soldiers and leaders who have received training "tailored" to their unit assignment. Placing trained soldiers and leaders removes the burden of AOT from units in the field and supports an improved partnership of UIT and these units.

Extended campuses

We�re establishing a network of remote campuses at locations with special needs and/or high densities of Signal and IT soldiers and leaders, such as Fort Lewis, Wash., III Corps at Fort Hood, Texas, and XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Extended campuses concept UIT's extended campuses concept.

These remote campuses enable us to take education and training to the location of the lifelong student � our soldiers and leaders. The lifelong-learning approach, sponsored by UIT, extends beyond Fort Gordon�s physical boundaries to include individuals at other locations with the same rights and privileges as students located at Fort Gordon.

Simulations

Signal and IT education and training is ideally suited for using simulations at UIT and other locations. Most of the tasks Signal and IT soldiers and leaders perform can best be acquired via "learning by doing," so we�re aggressively developing simulations to support technical (science) and tactical (art) education and training. The design for these simulations includes distribution to the locations of our soldiers, leaders and units.

These simulations are expected to become the preferred content for our education and training. They include heavily technical subjects that can be supported with personal-computer-based simulations and stimulation.

We�ll be using a mixture of traditional education-and-training materials and methods that quickly give way to interactive virtual and constructive environments. Validation will take place in these virtual and constructive environments and, when required, in live environments to achieve very cost-effective training.

UIT will be exporting simulations to the remote campuses and to units in the field, as well as to individual soldiers and leaders.

Resource center

We�re establishing a University Resource Center to provide primary access and 24/7 reachback to the university. This resource center will also integrate, manage and distribute simulation software.

Partnerships

We realize the master plan is a major undertaking that�s much larger than Fort Gordon. It includes partnerships with Signal and information units, other Training and Doctrine Command schools, military services and organizations, academia, research organizations and industry. We�re looking to private organizations as true partners to assist us in developing a research program which advances and recognizes the professionalism of our people, helping us bring together a consortium to advance our community�s needs and to advocate our needs at local and national levels.

Implementation

We�re taking a number of concrete actions to implement the master plan. These actions include establishing functional implementation task forces that are preparing implementation-and-action plans. These action plans are bite-size chunks that will result, over time, in accomplishing the master plan.

The action plans are identifying specific actions to be accomplished, assigning lead and supporting responsibilities, and specifying milestones and timelines for completing each action. These action plans include conducting a prototype evaluation of the assignment-oriented education-and-training model for MOS 31R and of the PC-based technical simulation to support training for follow-on assignments of 31R soldiers.

In addition to membership from USASC&FG and its schools, ITFs include representatives from the Reserve Components, "remote" sites such as Fort Hood and major Signal and IT units, organizations and agencies. The representatives from beyond USASC&FG are considered particularly critical for including the needs and concerns of the larger community UIT serves. Also, this larger membership supports developing "real" partnerships with the field.

The realization of the IT and digital-training master plan with UIT, a new education-and-training model and the use of simulations as the basis for learning aren�t isolated to USASC&FG. It�s a major project that involves the participation and support of agencies such as Headquarters TRADOC and Headquarters Department of the Army, as well as Forces Command and many of its units. ITFs are identifying action items such as student assignment policies and procedures, funding formulas that recognize education and training the university will provide at other locations, and new testing-and-certification policies and procedures for lifelong learning. Identifying these action items includes outside organizations and agencies that must support the implementation plans and recommendations for working with them toward successful implementation.

We also have formed an executive steering committee to oversee implementation of the master plan. ESC members include representatives of the USASC&FG command group, the university and Reserve Components, as well as Signal and IT field units who understand the vision and potential and are responsible for implementing the master plan. We also are considering including representatives from academia and industry on the committee. The full ESC is expected to formally meet semi-annually to review plans and progress, and to make recommendations.

Summary

IT soldiers will be the glue that holds our knowledge-based Army together. Proper training for these soldiers will require a radical new change in the way we�ve done business.

The Signal and IT community is traveling a path that�s a long-term undertaking. All of us recognize there�s a lot of work to do. We�re fundamentally changing education-and-training paradigms for the Signal and IT community. These changes have long-term relevance and military value to our community and the nation it serves. The journey will proceed in bite-size chunks as technologies and methodologies mature and become available, as funding and other resources are made available and as our culture evolves to embrace the vision.

The IT and digital-training master plan is a living document. It�s designed to be adapted over time to accommodate changing realities, circumstances and the vision of future Signal and IT leaders. With support from Signal and IT leaders, the master plan represents a rallying point of pride for the university and the community it serves.

COL Farrell is the Signal Center�s deputy commander/assistant commandant. Previous assignments include 15th Regimental Signal Brigade commander, Fort Gordon, Ga.; Office Chief of Signal (the Signal Regiment�s personnel proponent) director, also at Fort Gordon; chief of Signal Branch, Enlisted Personnel Management Directorate, Personnel Command, Alexandria, Va.; 501st Signal Battalion commander and division Signal officer, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.; and Signal Corps representative and instructor, Department of Military Instruction, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y. Commissioned in the Signal Corps in June 1975, he holds a bachelor�s degree from West Point and a master�s degree in education from Long Island University. Military education includes Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pa.; Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Joint Staff Officer Course, Armed Forces Staff College, Norfolk, Va. Military awards and decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and seven awards of the Meritorious Service Medal.

Acronym QuickScan
AOT � assignment-oriented training
COTS � commercial-off-the-shelf
ESC � executive steering committee
IT � information technology
ITF � implementation task force
MOS � military-occupation specialty
PC � personal computer
TRADOC � Training and Doctrine Command
UIT � University of Information Technology
USASC&FG � U.S. Army Signal Center and Fort Gordon

dividing rule

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04/04/12

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