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Using Holiday Block Leave to Update Training Materials

In the second of three articles describing best practices identified during an Army Training and Doctrine Command accreditation visit to the Army Soldier Support Institute, the authors discuss a procedure for using the leave period at the end of the year to make sure Recruiting and Retention School courses and training materials reflect the latest practices of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command.

The Recruiting and Retention School (RRS) at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, faces the ongoing challenge of updating its courses and training materials to incorporate changes occurring in the U.S. Army Recruiting Command (USAREC). The school needed a streamlined process to ensure that all lesson plans remain relevant. The solution was to coordinate revisions of training materials with the school’s academic calendar, specifically the holiday block leave period at the end of the calendar year. The Army Soldier Support Institute (SSI), through the RRS, has been using the holiday block leave period as the occasion to update all of the school’s lesson materials.

The Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) accreditation team that visited the SSI from 13 to 24 July 2009 identified this process as a “best practice.” This article will discuss the processes used to leverage technology and conduct a 100-percent lesson plan update while minimizing the impact on traditional holiday policies.

The holiday block leave period is a 2-week period during which Soldiers who are assigned to the Army’s training centers are allowed to return home for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. [This period was previously known as “Holiday Exodus.” Its name was changed to “holiday block leave period” by TRADOC Regulation 1–11, Staff Procedures, dated 10 June 2009.] Under the guidance of the SSI, the RRS developed a Six Sigma-supported streamlined process to conduct the annual lesson plan update procedures during the holiday block leave period. This newly designed process has allowed the RRS to update all lesson plans (for 16 functional courses) within the 2-week holiday block leave period.

Preparing for the Update Process

The RRS training developers created a streamlined approach for developing lesson plans that combines all lessons, slides, and practical exercises into one format. The incorporation of instructors into the refined update process allows the RRS to use all available subject-matter-expert personnel. Instructors are trained as instructor-writers. They have received training in the development of lesson materials, task analysis, and design methodologies. The RRS update process simply leverages the instructors’ subject-matter expertise.

The training developers then conducted instructor key personnel training with the cadre. During the hectic holiday block leave period, as an alternative to having 10 developers hastily attempting to keep lesson materials current, the RRS allowed cadre to become combat multipliers by assisting in the updating of lesson materials.

The lesson plan format is a Microsoft PowerPoint document that combines all of the regulatory guidelines outlined in TRADOC Regulation 350–70, Systems Approach to Training Management, Processes, and Products, and the Automated Systems Approach to Training (ASAT) database. During a Lean Six Sigma study, errors in lesson plan materials were discovered. It was determined that these errors were caused by the multiple platforms used in developing training materials. An innovative design captured all lesson plan, multimedia, and practical exercise materials into a single document, allowing one document to contain all three products. This eliminated many of the errors.

The RRS training developers extended the update process and created workflows within SharePoint that allowed for all changes to be captured and documented. This workflow also serves as an audit trail for capturing changes made to lesson plans throughout the year. The use of SharePoint allows the training developers to assign lesson plans to an instructor, capture the recommended changes, and review each lesson plan before it is released for instruction in January.

In preparation for the updates, the training developers create a tracking sheet within SharePoint. Lesson plans are assigned to instructors based on their expertise and skill level. A plan is developed to have all lesson materials updated before the beginning of the holiday block leave period. This allows for editing, workflow, and quality control processes to be completed before instruction begins during the first week of January. The lessons are then released to the assigned instructors for edits, returned to the RRS training developer, and subsequently approved by the training director for release.

During Holiday Block Leave

Approximately 6 weeks before the holiday block leave period, the RRS stops enrolling new students. This gives instructors time to use the streamlined approach to update the lesson plan materials for all 16 courses. The larger courses use the team concept and collaborate with each other to garner tactics, techniques, and procedures that are ready and relevant based on changes within USAREC.

Doctrine is the key to quality instruction. Cadre review all doctrinal changes, messages, and Battle Command Knowledge System postings for all possible changes to course materials. The doctrine team at USAREC headquarters also provides support during the lesson update process. Instructors are required to provide supporting proof when recommending changes to lesson materials by citing appropriate doctrine.

Fielding and Post-Leave Implementation

After completing the entire lesson update process, all changed lesson materials are forwarded to the RRS training director for review and approval. Only approved lesson materials are released for instruction. Again, the RRS training development team uses SharePoint as the tracking mechanism to ensure that only those lessons that have been reviewed several times are released for instruction. The change management process is used throughout the year so materials remain current with USAREC policies and practices.

The RRS training development team has established a process that allows it to keep pace with the business changes within USAREC. Long gone are the days when the training developer spent massive amounts of time updating courseware. The new streamlined process prevents the team from becoming inundated with changes that cripple its ability to keep pace. We believe our ability to leverage technology will benefit the command and subsequently change the traditional methods of lesson material maintenance within TRADOC. Through the leveraging of technology, continuous improvement, and innovative thinking, the RRS continues to shape the future of training development.

Donald D. Copley, Jr., is the director of training and personnel development at the Army Recruiting and Retention School at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. A retired Army combat veteran, he holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing and master’s degrees in human resource management and human resource development, and he is working on a Ph.D. degree in management philosophy with a specialization in leadership and organizational change.

Rodney Edmond is a senior training developer at the Army Recruiting and Retention School at Fort Jackson, South Caroina. A retired Army combat veteran, he holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and master’s degrees in health services management and computer information systems management. He is working on a master’s degree in business administration.

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