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Continuum of Learning: Creating life-long learners

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) -- Keesler Air Force Base’s 336th Training Squadron has begun developing multiple initiatives aimed at improving the learning experience of Airmen who are fresh out of basic military training.

Air Education and Training Command’s Continuum of Learning initiative is a shift to better focus how Airmen learn by integrating education, training and experience in ways that allow them to learn anytime, anywhere throughout their careers. The end goal of the continuum is to create a culture of life-long learners.

“What this does, is transform our industrial-age pipeline production system into a modern-age, learner-centric model,” said Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, AETC commander.

According to Rick Harmon, 336th TRS communications and information flight chief, the squadron is laying the foundation for innovative ways of conducting modulated training that is current and relative at any stage in their career.

The first initiative the 336th TRS is tackling is to realign career development course writers with the training development element. This means the CDC writers will now work directly with their career fields and the three-level courses to bridge the gap between what Airmen in the field are actually doing and what the instructors are teaching at tech school.

“This initial step is an essential building block in the process of the Continuum of Learning,” said Harmon. “This will have long-reaching impacts for a career Airman’s training at all skill levels, and will create a culture of life-long learning.”

The previous method the Air Force used to develop this training centered on training specialists, said Harmon.

“The problem was it lacked an operational flavor to make it relevant and to keep pace with changing technical requirements,” Harmon explained. “Now with the CDC writers working hand-in-hand with the training specialists, we’ve partnered our top experts in the career fields with the masters of delivering education, enabling them to see and capitalize on opportunities for the betterment of training quality.”

Lt. Col. Daniel Schmitt, 336th TRS commander, further explained why this shift was necessary.

“The most important thing with our training at tech school is to make sure it’s as tight with the operational needs as possible,” Schmitt said. “We want our Airmen to be ready to hit the ground running from day one. Having a contact point in the training squadrons to collect feedback from the field and modify training in a more agile manner allows us to be able to respond quicker with both big changes and small ones.”

With this building block in place, the 336th TRS will also move to modularize their curriculum.

Whereas previously, the Air Force provided training strictly in a traditional classroom setting, the new curriculum will move most content online to Blackboard, a program widely used by universities around the world to make course content available anywhere the student is.

Initially, the squadron will move their Security Plus and Client Systems Courses to this format.

“Courses and instructors are being retooled to present material in a more learner-centered approach where the learner is held responsible for their education by using a self-paced and team-based approach to learning,” said Harmon.

The knowledge portion of the course will be hosted online, but that doesn’t mean the students won’t have a classroom experience still.

This model is often called the “flipped classroom.” For homework, the students will read and study the material, and when they come to class they will apply what they have learned in engaging and collaborative discussions with their peers. This paradigm shift will also change the way the instructors are used in these classrooms.

“The instructor’s role will be to facilitate, coach and mentor students,” said Harmon. “This role is crucial because each class will have students in different stages of the learning process.”

The other benefit of this approach is it allows students to excel in the material to efficiently advance through the curriculum faster and graduate early.

Students and instructors are excited for this shift to a more modern approach to learning.

“One of the lessons learned over my three years assigned to the Security (Plus) course is our students must be engaged and take partial onus for their education,” said Master Sgt. Jesse Chauvin, 336th TRS instructor supervisor. “AETC’s industrial model of education has not paced well with the high tech world we expect our Airmen to participate in.

Introducing a mixture of instructor centered, student centered and inverted learning empowers the student to not only buy in to the course, but to take charge of it. After attending a student centered learning course provided by Dr. Stephen Ellis and Mrs. Caryn Warden at Second Air Force, I was able to see how the learning process is much more involved, complex and beneficial for a student.”

While the concept of the flipped classroom has been implemented before, the move to put these courses online signifies a major step for the cyber pipeline.

“Keesler (AFB) and the 81st Training Group are leading the way with these innovative changes,” said Schmitt. “The 338th Training Squadron tested the flipped classroom months ago and has implemented it with great success. Now the 336th Training Squadron is preparing to flip the classroom on its two largest cyber pipelines. It’s an exciting time to be making a difference for the next generation of Airmen with the initiatives we’re enacting today.”

Initiatives like these have spread across AETC and the goal of the command is to revolutionize the way we deliver training to create Airmen in the modern Air Force.

“This really is a change in the learning paradigm of how we develop Airmen and how we prepare them,” said Lt. Col. Kasey Stramblad, Continuum of Learning strategy chief. “That really empowers them to expand their horizons to be better versions of themselves.”