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USAFSAM uses Learning Management System to modernize training platforms

Technical Sgt. Tia Strong and Staff Sgt. Andrew Daily, instructors with the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine's Department of Occupational & Environmental Health, navigate Blackboard, the
commercially-hosted Learning Management System the School has contracted with to modernize its training platforms. (U.S. Air Force photo/David W. Snedigar)

Technical Sgt. Tia Strong and Staff Sgt. Andrew Daily, instructors with the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine's Department of Occupational & Environmental Health, navigate Blackboard, the commercially-hosted Learning Management System the School has contracted with to modernize its training platforms. (U.S. Air Force photo/David W. Snedigar)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- The United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine is working to modernize across the schoolhouse, and they are updating their training platforms as part of the initiative.

USAFSAM, part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing, has partnered with Air Education and Training Command to contract with Blackboard, a commercially-hosted Learning Management System, to enable synchronous learning for training and education. Other mission partners across the Air Force include AETC Flying Training, Technical Training and Special Missions; the United States Air Force Academy; Air Mobility Command; Air Force Personnel Center; and Air Force Services.

“The University Model of the 21st century provides learning experiences in new ways, using a variety of technology, online resources and new educational delivery methods,” said Col. Penelope Gorsuch, USAFSAM dean. “Flexibility and adoption of adult learning theories are key. So it is only fitting that we move forward with implementing an LMS here at USAFSAM.”

According to Gorsuch, the benefits of using an LMS are remarkable.

“First, it is highly accessible,” she said. “The platform is based on a username and password, rather than being Common Access Card-enabled, so our students can use it anytime, anywhere, even if they are at home or deployed. But it also allows for much more creativity and student-instructor interaction than traditional distance learning.

“The LMS we’re using also allows us to save money, as more of our course materials as they become paperless,” Gorsuch continued.

Perhaps most importantly, introducing a platform like Blackboard means the school can offer more blended courses.

“The ability to create blended courses is truly fantastic for our students,” Gorsuch explained. “They can do some preparation and some course work using the LMS, often at their own pace, and then they also get all the benefits of hands-on training. It absolutely leads to better proficiency and retention, which is the ultimate goal.”

USAFSAM is currently offering two pilot courses using the LMS, and Gorsuch said they are getting great reviews.

“Our students have responded exceptionally well to this approach,” she said. “For many of them, it helps ease the transition from high school or college, to the operational world, and then back into a schoolhouse environment. And the fact is we live in a technology-driven world, so we’re reaching a whole new generation of students who have certain expectations about and experiences with learning using technology. The LMS puts USAFSAM more in line with the University Model, and it helps us mirror a state-of-the-art university.”

Beyond the immediate benefits in the classroom, the LMS allows for a repository of information students can access even after they go back to the operational Air Force. It also gives the school an opportunity for faculty development.

“The instructors at USAFSAM are second to none,” Gorsuch said. “But this LMS is opening the door to enhanced development. It is allowing our faculty to transform the way they deliver information to our students.”

USAFSAM will launch additional courses using the Blackboard LMS starting in September.

Education and training is one of the 711 HPW’s primary mission areas, with the goals to prepare diverse learners in a stimulating academic environment to perform the mission anytime, anywhere and in the most demanding circumstances and to apply and extend learning assessment science, technologies and applications -- coupled with policy and operational experience -- to create research-driven, agile and relevant curricula for persistent readiness and lifelong learning.