COLUMBUS, Ohio –
In March, when the coronavirus outbreak caused many Defense Logistics Agency operations to change from physical to virtual, DLA Training employees in Columbus, Ohio, had little time to adjust their methods of providing training to the global enterprise.
DLA Training Branch Chief Tim Shaw and his team wondered how they’d continue serving DLA customers in a mass telework environment.
“Our focus is still providing training to our workforce, it’s how we execute that mission that’s changed,” Shaw said.
Before the pandemic, DLA Training’s 31 instructors were accustomed to teaching in person, but as travel restrictions increased, the entire organization had to adapt and expand their focus on distance learning and computer-based training through the agency’s Learning Management System.
The Defense Supply Center Columbus building where DLA Training resides houses two broadcast studios for this purpose.
“For a long time, we had a lot of live classes and many that were delivered virtually from the studio,” said Multimedia Specialist Emily Chinnock. She coordinates with instructors to provide audio and video support as well as other training materials.
Since virtual courses offer more flexibility and save the agency travel costs, DLA Training found a way to successfully adapt about 35 courses for Adobe Connect, a software service designed for remote training, web conferencing, presentation and desktop sharing.
Shaw said Adobe Connect promotes partnership between DLA Training’s instructors and multimedia specialists.
“The multimedia folks have to load videos and documents in the background using a form we call session planner that Emily helped develop,” he said. “It sets the tone for how the class flows.”
In mid-May the team delivered the first pilot class in Adobe Connect and gradually added more, Chinnock said.
“It really took off in June or July and we haven’t stopped since,” she continued. “Many courses are delivered several times per quarter, so once one is ready, we add a new one to our list.”
Shaw said instructors and the multimedia specialists conduct rehearsals to ensure classes run smoothly before going live with students.
“We work out the bugs internally on how the courses should be run, but how do you set the screen so the students will see the instructor? Will they only see the PowerPoint presentation, or will they see both?” The team has overcome these and other obstacles through trial and error, Shaw said.
Implementing Adobe Connect wasn’t an easy process. The multimedia team worked with DLA Information Operations to start using the software, Chinnock said. Challenges included the many different types of computers DLA employees use and the way users sign into the network.
“We compared four different platforms that were available to us,” she said. “At the time, Microsoft Teams was not out yet, but we compared Skype; WebRTC, which uses VTC capabilities; Defense Collaboration Services and Adobe Connect.”
Adobe Connect checked all the boxes, but the multimedia team had to make sure it was accessible to all students. She said courses can be viewed via a web browser, but the software works best if users download and install the Adobe Connect desktop app.
Chinnock said the team learned a lot about Adobe Connect, including the lack of access through Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. The multimedia team developed user guidance under LMS Job Aids and Reference Documents and started a ‘tech check’ forum every Friday afternoon.
“If anyone knows they have training coming up, they’re invited to drop in,” she said. “It’s open house style and users can test their equipment to make sure they can get in through the app.”
Before September when DLA Training was able to contract for Adobe Connect, they partnered with a Defense Department organization called All Partners Access Network, or APAN, which allowed users to borrow Adobe Connect licenses.
Initially, many instructors were hesitant to teach virtually and some classes featuring hands-on demonstrations were postponed. All instructors have had to adapt their presentations using Adobe Connect versus live teaching.
“The instructors are staring at a computer screen now and providing the same content,” he said. “They are passionate about training and [teaching virtually] is something new.”
Chinnock said despite setbacks and having to cancel some courses, in the second quarter of fiscal 2021, the team will deliver 142 courses and 136 of those will be virtual.
In addition to alleviating travel costs, the organization has saved DLA money by delivering digital books.
“Not only do you have the cost of printing the books themselves, but when they come to us, we have to spend money to pack and ship those books out to the training sites,” Shaw said.
Once course content is updated so it’s available to individuals with disabilities in accordance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, members of the Training Design and Production Support division convert it to a pdf and upload it to LMS.
“One of the things that Emily and her team did was come up with instructions on how to download the books,” Shaw said, adding that once students have downloaded the digital book, they can view, highlight and print content.
“We still get the material to the students and we’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by not having to print and ship books,” he added. “COVID has forced us to ramp up that initiative and I haven’t had any complaints about digital books from instructors or students.”
Shaw said even after instructors and students physically return to classrooms, digital books are here to stay.
As a former instructor, Shaw said it’s important for DLA employees to know that DLA Training is committed to providing quality training.
“I don’t know how you convince people to embrace change [because it’s] constant,” he said. “We understand this isn’t the most ideal situation, but we’re all in this pandemic together.”
Agency employees can find more information about virtual learning, downloading course materials and user guidance on Adobe Connect under the LMS Job Aids and Reference Documents. (A DLA Common Access Card is required)