Drummer explained that the Chief of Naval Operations has five top priorities that learning can help accomplish: manpower, current readiness, future readiness, quality of service and alignment. “When we talk about manpower, we’re talking about the war for people—the war in terms of competition with industry for the right people, recruiting the right people, raising our retention rates, as well as lowering our attrition rates,” she said. “When we talk about current readiness, we’re talking about ensuring that our force is properly trained and ready to go to war, ready to fight. Future readiness—we think we’re in a state of transformation, which centers on knowledge superiority. We want to continue to maintain knowledge superiority over our enemies, and we think in order to do that, we have a challenge to get more of the right information to the people who need that information.” Quality of service, Drummer said, means creating and sustaining a work environment that improves personal and professional growth. Alignment focuses on ensuring that expectations are met in providing quality of life and addressing quality-of-life issues.
The NETC has a vision of being the world’s premier learning organization, Drummer said. The organization defines itself based on definitions from Harvard’s Business School and Peter Senge’s work, she explained. “He defined a learning organization as an organization skilled at not only developing and creating, but also acquiring and transferring knowledge,” Drummer said. “We’d like to be a place where people at all levels continually expand their capacity to create results, and in order to do that, we think we have to provide access to information and knowledge wherever it’s needed—anytime, anyplace.”
Recruitment and retention are major challenges for any military branch, especially during wartime, said Michele Cunningham, vice president of marketing and product management for THINQ. “They certainly want to be the employer-of-choice for 18-year-olds who are not on the college track, and maybe even those who are that see the military as a path to getting there, and they certainly want to retain their service people after they’ve invested a great deal of time, money, energy and effort in those individual’s skills and readiness.”
She added, “Their goal is to create not just better soldiers, but really to uplift the general population as those individuals move back into civilian life.” Learning and development is key to this mission, and in order to provide learning at any location, at any time, the Navy has turned to technology-based solutions, using THINQ’s learning management system to launch the Navy Knowledge Online portal. “The military have been some of the earliest, most enlightened and most aggressive adopters of learning technology,” said Cunningham. “For all the reasons you would expect, they have a highly mobile and distributed workforce, to put some of it into the commercial parlance. Mission-readiness is more than just market share and competitive positioning—it’s all of that in an exaggerated extreme.”
Now that the Navy Knowledge Online portal is up and running, learners can determine their learning needs based on the five-vector model, which covers professional development, personal development, leadership, certifications and qualifications, and performance, Drummer said. By applying the model in the portal and through data-mining with the LMS, Drummer said active-duty and reserve personnel can determine where they are on their learning path and understand what steps they need to take to progress in their careers.
“The object of the whole process is to create a dynamic learning environment, with the idea of increasing the learners’ control and responsibility for their own learning,” Drummer explained. Learners can choose from many learning modalities, including blended learning, e-learning, instructor-led training, reading activities, communities of practice and collaboration tools and more. “The idea is to reduce the gap between the learning environment and the performance environment,” Drummer said.
Providing technology-based learning has created some additional challenges for the NETC, including finding standards for developing reusable learning objects and for creating content that can be accessed across numerous technology platforms. In addition, consolidating its various databases in order to mine the data and figure out what kinds of learning individuals need has been a challenge, Drummer said.
“The other challenge we have that I think everyone else has is the culture transformation—educating people in our organization in terms of what we’re trying to do and how e-learning will actually impact them in a positive way and how to learn the tools that are available to them,” Drummer said. “Build it and they will come is a myth. We have to show how it’s going to impact their lives positively, how it’s going to provide something in return for its use, in order to get them to actually come.” In that area, Drummer added, the NETC has been successful.
The most difficult challenge in developing the online learning has been tying it to actual performance. “How do we link all the learning that we’re putting online into the individual career needs of our sailors, to what they actually have to do on the job?” she asked. She added, “We’re also including ships at sea, which is unique to the services because we’re the only service that has those big gray things floating out there that we also have to accommodate in terms of bandwidth and technology.”
Drummer said that the LMS has been key to creating an integrated learning environment (ILE). “The LMS, of course, we use to actually track our students, and it also helps us to define exactly where the training needs to be and keep track of that training and who’s taken what and who’s completed what,” she explained. “It manages the learning activities of the sailors, and that’s just a piece of this huge enterprise, what we call the Navy Knowledge Online portal, …where a sailor can go and actually find out where they are in this learning path and where they need to go next.”
In addition to helping sailors and others understand the steps in their career path, the learning portal also links the mission of the service to the training. “In other words, if in fact there’s training that we’re going to invest in, we can identify what skills, knowledge and abilities that matches to or ties to in terms of the sailors’ performance,” Drummer said. “So all that will make a complete circle in terms of helping the sailors identify where they are, where they need to be, where they should be and where they need to go in order to get there, but it also allows us to align what we’re doing with the training with the mission of the fleet.”
The NETC has seen various types of returns on its LMS investment. The reduction in the amount of time it takes to train has been a major savings in terms of what Drummer called “man years.” In addition, because the technology allows the NETC to create reusable learning objects, it is seeing savings in terms of development costs. “We’ve created some guidelines for courseware development, and we’re starting to develop our courseware as reusable objects so we’re able to take small bits of courseware that have been developed in the past and use them to create new training that we can use in the future, which drives the cost of new development down quite a bit,” Drummer said.
The most obvious savings, she said, have been on travel costs because the learning is now available from any location. “We’re looking at right now about $40 million in savings a year just in travel costs,” Drummer said.
The Navy’s online learning won the E-Gov Explorer Award for exploring e-learning. In addition, Brandon Hall recognized the Navy in its look at best practices in e-learning in the United States. “We came out as one of the top three in the industry,” Drummer said. “I think they had 99 judges, so we went through quite a bit of scrutiny for that award, and we’re pretty proud of that.”
Ultimately, Drummer said, the Navy is trying to capitalize on what it calls “the human performance systems model.” “Even though we’re a training organization, we address performance problems within the fleet—to look at those as performance problems and not necessarily training problems, to look at the full spectrum of people, equipment, environment and culture,” she said. “Any of those may be ripe for some change or solution, and training is not always the solution. So we not only look at training as a solution—what we look at is a total picture of performance.”