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Winning the War With 21st-Century Learning

Armed with its strategic performance learning model, the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) provides the U.S. Department of Defense’s acquisition workforce with learning assets 24/7 — whether they’re at work or home, in the classroom or on the go.

The model also helps identify where and how employees learn, enabling the DAU to provide a total learning environment where employees can’t help but learn. Further, usage of this model ensures alignment between learning and business strategy/senior leadership goals.

Learning at DAU has undergone a paradigm shift from a 20th-century traditional classroom-based environment to a 21st-century total learning environment. DAU faculty members are armed with real-world experience and train with advanced learning tools such as games, simulations and virtual environments. For instance, they’re able to deploy immersive business simulations to help with retention, present real-world scenarios within the classroom setting and ultimately have a positive effect on employees’ overall learning experience.

“We are all very honored and proud to be recognized by our peers as one of the LearningElite organizations,” said Katrina McFarland, president of DAU. “We believe the Defense Acquisition University has truly accomplished a ‘learning revolution,’ from a primary classroom-only training organization to a best-in-class corporate university.”

Many have acknowledged DAU’s impact on the workforce, including Ashton B. Carter, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics at the Department of Defense, who chose to go against the grain by increasing the learning and development budget when many other organizations were curbing spending. Every year CEOs of various organizations and other stakeholders receive formal annual reports that outline DAU’s performance and value. These reports include enterprise metrics and outcomes reported on a quarterly basis.

“DAU has led and still leads the field in actually deploying the latest learning strategies, cutting-edge technologies, strategic planning, business infrastructure, evaluation, leadership alignment, knowledge sharing, learning infrastructure and learning research,” said Christopher R. Hardy, director of the Global Learning and Technology Center at DAU.

“Organizations come to DAU to learn and try to adapt what we are doing,” he said. “We share with all, and in return we learn from them as we reflect together on possible solutions that have worked for us and might work for them within their environment.”

During a time when those in uniform on the front lines are met with daily threats, it’s vital the acquisition process responds rapidly to meet their needs.

“The acquisition process describes the end-to-end procedures, or the way the Department of Defense purchases goods and services from contractors to support military operations,” Hardy explained. “It encompasses the design, engineering, construction, testing, deployment, sustainment and disposal of weapons or related items to equip our war fighters in defense of our nation. DAU training plays an integral role in helping the acquisition workforce be more efficient and effective in administering this process.”

DAU’s successes over the years have been well documented, as evidenced by numerous awards and recognitions.

“Just as a rock thrown into a pond sends ripples across the water to the other shore, DAU’s learning assets have an impact across the defense acquisition workforce, helping to improve acquisition outcomes,” Hardy said. “Last year, DAU reached students from more than 97 countries, achieved a significant growth in our learning hours and graduated our one-millionth student. By investing in cutting-edge technologies, learners are able to reach DAU’s learning assets in the classroom, at work, at home and on the go.”

Technology and learning go hand in hand at DAU. Systems and tools support online learning and classroom events as well as informal knowledge sharing and job support. The learning organization leverages two integrated LMSs and the Defense Acquisition Portal, DAU’s 24/7 informal learning network that gets 18 million-plus hits per month and enables the acquisition, technology and logistics areas of the workforce to access policy updates and just-in-time leadership news in addition to serving as a one-stop shop for job-critical information.

DAU is planning to launch a virtual world in September that will enable individuals to interact with various discussion and media-sharing tools, enhance collaboration in small group settings and aid performance with the ability to aggregate files, regardless of Internet location.

Deanna Hartley is associate editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at dhartley@clomedia.com.