MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. (AFNS) -- As any builder would know, building a structurally sound house starts with a solid foundation.
That's the blueprint curriculum developers at the Air Force's center for enlisted professional military education followed when developing the new distance learning course for senior NCOs and building the new curricula for the Air Force Senior NCO Academy at Gunter Annex here.
Developers and faculty at the Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education kicked the level of learning up a notch with version 6 of the distance learning Senior NCO Course 14. The new version replaced version 5 in late 2013.
What makes v6 different than v5, said Senior Master Sgt. Christine Knudson, the superintendent of the center's senior NCO programs team, is that v5 was developed primarily at the knowledge level of learning, with some comprehension-level learning objectives, a learning model designed to address Air Force education requirements for senior NCOs that dates back to the early 2000s.
Using interactive media, v6 addresses current institutional competencies prescribed for senior NCOs and starts at the comprehension level, with some opportunities to apply learned academic principles, she explained. The course is a prerequisite for eligible students to attend the new, in-resident Advanced Leadership Experience, or ALE, at the Senior NCO Academy.
An instructor at the Air Force First Sergeant Academy at Gunter Annex said he didn't think he needed to complete v6 before attending ALE because he felt the course he completed in 2008 was sufficient.
"I was wrong," said Senior Master Sgt. Bryan Charz, who graduated recently from the SNCOA. "There was so much to learn in version 6, and it was a great stepping stone into ALE, where procedures, processes, concepts and leadership styles all got put into action."
To make it easier for students to do their coursework anywhere, anytime, the v6 course material is accessed via the Internet on a commercial learning management system instead of through the access-restricted Advanced Distributive Learning System.
Just as v6 is a completely different than its predecessor, the curriculum and teaching methods at the academy also were rebuilt from the ground, up.
The curriculum moved from the application level to the synthesis level, said Chief Master Sgt. Kyle Robinette, the vice commandant of the Academy.
"Though the previous curriculum and instructor delivery method worked to capture interrelationships between lessons, the course engaged one lesson at a time and tested those lesson principles separately," he said. "Because engagement of leadership concepts occurs simultaneously in real life, the new ALE combines lesson principles throughout the course."
For example, he said, in the old course, students learned about full-range leadership in a lesson. They were redirected back to those principles in a case study and then evaluated with a few select questions on an objective test. In ALE, students arrive with a comprehension of full-range leadership and engage its principles in three different modules, synthesized with seven other lessons.
"The assessment for the three modules is student-centered papers with synthesized relevance to their individual leadership styles and units," Robinette said.
Because v6 is constructed at the comprehension and application levels of learning, ALE students have the knowledge they need to jump right into the heart of the curriculum from the start.
"Students are expected to arrive to ALE with a comprehension level in all lesson principles previously taught in the old course," he said. "From day one and in daily writings, students engage multiple lessons in every module and integrate those lessons into their leadership development plans. This work is translated later in the course to an action plan for further development and refinement of leadership skills well beyond attendance at (the Academy)."
Currently, students selected to attend ALE who have not completed v6 arrive eight days before the start of class to complete the prerequisite, Robinette said.
"This will continue until the requisite completion rates are high enough to support removing the need," he said. "Those few students who have completed version 6 arrive in time to attend the 25-day ALE only."
By setting a solid foundation with v6 and dovetailing it with the new ALE curriculum at the academy, the Barnes Center's objective is to graduate senior NCOs with sound leadership skill sets, he said.
"The course goal is to develop adaptable senior enlisted leaders to operate critically, strategically and jointly in complex and ambiguous environments," Robinette said. "Important to achieve, this is a rigorous design that challenges the leadership development of every student and is relevant to the force."
The Barnes Center provides cutting-edge education to develop the leadership ability of enlisted Airmen and to professionalize the corps, said center officials. The EPME transformation at the senior NCO and NCO levels represents the most significant change to EPME programs since the "Year of Training Initiative" in 1993.
In 2011, Air Education and Training Command, Air University and the Barnes Center planned to design a more efficient and effective education system to take advantage of the available technology to enhance the reach and delivery of enlisted education programs.
The Senior NCO Aacademy blended learning education program represents completion of phase one of the approved plan. For phase two, the Barnes Center will begin beta testing its new NCO Academy course at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, later this year, with a scheduled implementation at all NCO Academies beginning in the spring of 2015.