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The Public Manager Magazine Article

How Technology Is (or at Least Should Be) Changing Federal Training

Instructor-led online programs can help the federal government deliver quality training at a fraction of the cost.


Tue Apr 12 2016


Instructor-led online programs can help the federal ­government deliver quality training at a fraction of the cost.

How Technology Is (or at Least Should Be) Changing Federal Training-38f54102096e4c3683a3c7bd82cf00154e3c5f0819615b8e9401bf37e009f612

Gone are the days when students had to drive miles to a classroom to attend a long lecture only to repeat that process many times during their college semesters and throughout their careers.


Within the last 100 years, learning has progressed from correspondence courses, CD-ROMs for computer display, and great lecture halls with brick-and-mortar classrooms to cyber or "click-and-mortar" classrooms. With the geometric increase in the student database, the cost of education at the academic and corporate levels has plummeted from what it was only five years ago to an amount that is much more affordable as we approach the third decade of this century.

Learning technology has enabled a greater degree of cross-cultural and international collaboration. This diversity of input has opened the gateway for a greater degree of creativity and innovation, which has led to new patents and a multitude of new inventions. Workforces have become more productive due to this increased collaboration. These advances in learning technology also have enabled federal government agencies to more quickly identify training needs.

A number of economic indicators or drivers have had an impact on the way the federal government delivers its training. These include slow economic recovery after the housing bubble and the draw down in the defense budget due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq coming to an end. As a result, federal budgets were reduced or, at least, are growing at a much slower pace.

Federal agency leadership instituted a number of policies, which were aligned with the economic drivers. They included:

  • delays in filling vacancies

  • more teleworking of the federal workforce

  • significant reductions in government travel for business and professional conferences.

The federal training community soon realized that the traditional training delivery method, which included primarily classroom instruction, could not be sustained. The estimated cost of a typical classroom training event, lasting four or five days, would be in excess of $55,000. In addition, they discovered that 85 cents out of every training dollar was spent on delivery—and not content. Delivery included the cost of the instructor, student travel, per diem, and facilities. In this training model, only 15 cents out of every training dollar was spent on actual instruction.


The federal training community needed to find more innovative and creative ways to deliver quality training and learning opportunities, which would support the agency missions of a worldwide workforce. They also reasoned that the federal workforce needed to increase the level of collaboration between and among the workforces of federal agencies. They concluded that if agencies could reprogram some of their training funds away from traditional classroom training, they could create quality instructor-­led online training programs and repurpose that content over and over again at a fraction of the cost of delivering traditional classroom training.

With the progress that we, as a society, have made in the technology of learning delivery, the foundational concept of adult learning has not changed. The concept of adult learning is this:

  1. Present the learner with an idea.

  2. Allow the learner to reflect on that idea.

  3. Enable the learner to discuss the idea with peers.

  4. Give the learner an opportunity to apply what is learned.

  5. Allow the learner to drop the idea, modify the idea, or imprint the idea that is learned.

As long as learning technology continues to support the concept of adult learning, this technology will be useful to a wide of community of learners.

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