USAF First Sergeant Academy embraces blended learning
The U. S. Air Force First Sergeant Academy has transformed its curriculum from a traditional “brick-and-mortar” education experience to a mixture of facilitated distance learning and in-resident classroom time to teach future first sergeants. What was once a three-week in-residence course is now four weeks of distance learning followed by two weeks at the academy, which is located on Gunter Annex. (U.S. Air Force graphic)
by Airman 1st Class William J. Blankenship
Air University Public Affairs
3/20/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. - -- The U. S. Air Force First Sergeant Academy has transformed its curriculum from a traditional "brick-and-mortar" education experience to a mixture of facilitated distance learning and in-resident classroom time to teach future first sergeants.
What was once a three-week in-residence course is now four weeks of distance learning followed by two weeks at the academy, which is located on Gunter Annex.
"Blended learning offers the academy and Airmen much more flexibility," said Chief Master Sgt. Emmette Bush Jr., academy commandant. "The students get a large component of the curriculum online before they get here. Those building blocks are put to use during later lessons when students are in the classroom for their resident time."
The academy graduates about 500 first sergeants annually and is part of the Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education. The online curriculum includes subject areas such as administration, human resource management, maintenance of discipline and readiness.
In addition, under the previous curriculum, academy instructors traveled to various bases to conduct seminars as additional learning opportunities. Blended learning, however, replaces the need for instructors to go on temporary duty to conduct the seminars, while still maintaining the number of graduates.
"Facilitated distance learning brings us up to the state-of-the-art in post-secondary education and delivery methods," said Col. Stewart Price, Barnes Center commander. "It leverages readily available education and learning management systems and delivers education in an environment today's NCOs are comfortable operating in--an Internet-based platform. This technology allows us to put the comprehension levels of learning in a low-cost environment and saves the TDY days for things that absolutely need to happen in a resident environment."
The quality of instruction is also improved.
"Blended learning gives us the flexibility to inject more dialogue and curriculum into the training and doing so in a financially savvy way," said Bush.
The changes in the curriculum also support mission effectiveness at home stations as well because students have the ability to participate while continuing with their jobs.
"The blended learning experience also allows students in the field the opportunity for mentoring from their own first sergeants before traveling here for training," said Bush.
The four-week online portion sets the stage for students to attend the two-week in-residence course, where instructors explain and walk through various duties they will be responsible for as a first sergeants at their next assignments.
"Blended learning was a pretty good experience for me, and I think the whole class took something away from the online course," said Master Sgt. Johnnie Bork, a recent graduate. "We had discussion questions on various subjects we would encounter as a first sergeant, and I was able to do a lot of research."
Bork said that because of the research he did before arriving at the academy, he was better prepared for classroom discussions.
"Because of this curriculum, we can be better prepared to serve our commanders and our Airmen," said Bush. "We need good leaders to take care of the Airmen. Blended learning is making that happen, and better leaders make for better Airmen."