Mission: Education

The Australian Defence Organisation deploys first-class online training to troops.

The Australian Defence Organisation believes that education advances its mission.

And, like other executives, Australian defense officials knew they had to find the most effective, cohesive way to deliver courses to the ADO's nearly 100,000 military and civilian personnel.

Brett MacDonald, director of Flexible Learning Solutions for the Australian Defence Organisation
Brett MacDonald, director of Flexible Learning Solutions for the Australian Defence Organisation

Image Credit: Asa Mathat


They wanted a single approach for the entire organization, one that would standardize content and control costs at the same time, says Brett MacDonald, director of Flexible Learning Solutions at the ADO.

MacDonald and his team scored big with the 2003 launch of the Defence Online Campus, a learning management system that attained those objectives. The initiative's success earned it a nod from the Computerworld Honors Program in the Education & Academia category for 2005.

"We can't say enough about it. We love it," says Wendy Horder, an Air Force wing commander who, as director of the Australian Defence Force Peacekeeping Center, is using the Web-based system to educate troops.

Cohesive Approach

The Australian military had e-learning capabilities prior to the ADO-wide integrated system, but not all divisions had equal capabilities, MacDonald says. So as officials spent 2002 developing a business case, they were clear in their desire for a system that standardized educational policies and procedures -- which would allow for centralized IT and educational management.

"People were saying, 'Let's look at this in a strategic way: How is it going to improve how we deliver education and training? Let's go from that aspect.' So we took a step back and looked at what we needed to do," MacDonald says.

Team leaders then assembled all major stakeholders early in the process to better understand their requirements. That exercise produced a list with more than 700 desired functionalities from the army, navy, air force and various civilian groups.

The team hired Deloitte Consulting, which handled all aspects of the project, including the selection of software providers.

The Web-based Defence Online Campus is an integrated learning management system, learning content management system and basic content-creation tool. The software is supported on a centralized IT server and operates within the Defence Restricted Network, a WAN available to nearly all ADO personnel.

The learning management software comes from Thinq Learning Solutions, a Baltimore-based company acquired by Saba Software Inc. in 2005. An application called OutStart Evolution from Boston-based OutStart Inc. provides both the learning content management and content-creation functionality.

The team chose these vendors because they met more of those 700 requirements than the other finalists, and the software companies had experience working with the U.S. military, says Dane Buchardt, deputy director of Australia's Directorate of Flexible Learning Solutions.

Today, the Defence Online Campus offers about 150 e-learning courses. In fact, it's one of the largest nonacademic e-learning system implementations in Australia. The ADO's approach is to follow some of the best practices seen in the private sector, particularly among companies in the U.S., where e-learning has a stronger foothold than it does in other parts of the world, says Claire Schooley, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

"This is a growing trend worldwide, as learning becomes something that all organizations have to be active in for [competitive] reasons," Schooley adds.

The ADO is already seeing cost savings and other benefits. Horder, for instance, now offers an eight-hour United Nations course to personnel via the online system. About 500 people have taken the online course since last July. The cost? Only $100,000, the price of the contract to develop the e-learning content, Horder says. It would have cost $750,000 to train that many people in face-to-face sessions.

The system's benefits aren't just financial. William Monfries, a colonel of education and training systems at the Army Headquarters Training Command, says trainers and students have "much more varied access and therefore flexibility." He says that if soldiers can access course work on their own time, with minimal disruption to their jobs, "that's an immediate return."

Given these successes and endorsements, MacDonald says the objective today is to grow the system. He wants to see more interactive programming and more functionality in addition to more training offered in synchronous ways, such as in virtual classrooms.

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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