Leading learning innovation key to developing Airmen

  • Published
  • By Maj. Gen. Erv Lessel
  • Air Education and Training Command
The Air Force has a heritage rooted in technology and innovation. From our earliest days, Airmen have sought to find a better way to dominate the domains in which we operate -- air, space, and now, cyberspace. 

Developing superior capabilities which enable global vigilance, global reach and global power have proven vital to our nation's security. Leading learning innovation is the key to developing our future Airmen and these superior capabilities. 

Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz, commander, Air Education and Training Command, recently stated that, in addition to recruiting, education and training, innovation must be one of our core competencies. He believes, as a global leader, our education and training programs must be "cutting edge." 

So just how is AETC pursuing innovation today to establish cutting edge learning programs? We started with General Lorenz's vision, "Deliver unrivaled air, space and cyberspace education and training," and used that as our guiding principle. 

Next, we developed new learning concepts -- knowledge management, continuous learning and precision learning -- which will guide the development of our future Airmen. 

Finally, we've begun to innovate by pursuing creative new ways to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our learning programs. Let me give you some examples of how AETC is leading the way to learning innovation. 

The key to innovation is creating an environment where new ideas and risk-taking are encouraged and supported. To this end, AETC established a process to incubate and test new learning ideas through projects called Advanced Learning Technology Demonstrations. 

The ALTD program funds and manages projects which explore new ideas, determines their value and assesses whether they should be implemented across AETC and the Air Force. Through these ALTD projects, we will learn from our experiences and implement new programs that leverage our successes. 

Initial ALTD efforts include projects focused on social networking, podcasting, virtual classrooms, mobile learning and testing security. Other ALTDs will follow in the coming months. 

To showcase the latest technologies and inspire new thinking, AETC established an Innovation Center located at Randolph AFB in the AETC headquarters. The center displays some of the latest education and training simulations and technologies, to include the MyBase virtual environment in Second Life, the latest unmanned aircraft system simulator and mobile learning devices. The center also provides a unique environment to nurture out-of-the-box thinking. 

To reward innovation initiatives and successes, AETC established a formal Innovation Award program recognizing accomplishments in two categories: Innovation in Education and Innovation in Training. The AETC commander presents the awards at the annual AETC Symposium held each January in San Antonio. 

The command and the Air Force are indeed serious about leading the way in pursuit of cutting edge education and training. To oversee this effort, AETC established a Future Learning Division to manage learning innovation studies and projects and to assist with the implementation and integration of successful projects into command-wide programs. 

To provide guidance and prioritize requirements, AETC established a formal governance structure that includes a future learning working group, board and council. This structure ensures AETC's senior leaders are actively involved in setting priorities and guiding learning innovation. 

To monitor the outcome of learning innovation efforts, the command incorporated cutting edge technology objectives and measures into the AETC Balanced Scorecard. The latest initiatives and performance results are reviewed quarterly by senior leaders using Balanced Scorecard data. 

The real test of a commitment to learning innovation comes in the form of funding. To this end, the Air Force supports AETC's efforts by providing the financial resources necessary to pursue multiple advanced learning studies and ALTDs, and to transition these projects into cutting edge education and training programs. With these funds, the command can continue to pursue learning innovation and develop viable Future Learning Systems. 

Over the past several years, AETC has continually pursued and implemented new programs that are both innovative and cutting edge. 

Examples of these programs include: Air Command and Staff College online master's degree, Associate-to-Baccalaureate cooperative, Air Advisor training, Combat Airmen Skills Training, Unmanned Aircraft Systems training, Advanced Distributed Learning courses, and a re-tooled Air and Space Basic Course. 

In this pursuit of education and training excellence, the pace of change is accelerating and our Air Force heritage lives on through it. 

To continue our progress toward delivering unrivaled education and training, it is essential for AETC's Airmen to pursue innovation as a core competency. Being a leader in learning innovation is critical, both to winning today's fight and to securing tomorrow's Air Force.