AETC Commander Envisions Open Access Education for Future Airmen

Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, Air Education and Training Command’s boss, said during ASC17 that USAF’s training mechanisms must shift for a better-trained future force. Above, airmen from the command’s 59th Medical Wing prepare deployment bags for transport Aug. 30 at JBSA-Lackland, Texas, in support of Hurricane Harvey relief operations. Air Force photo by Johnny Saldivar

The head of Air Education and Training Command wants all Air Force training content to be available to every airman at any time.

This forward-looking aspiration is part of what AETC Commander Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson said will be a shift from today’s “industrial production process pipeline” to an “enterprise-level force structure construct,” more closely resembling development ladders in the private sector. “Stovepipes” of the informational and technological systems within AETC don’t communicate well at the moment, and airmen are wasting time relearning what they already know and missing opportunities to learn what they need to know for the mission.

Two main focus areas in this effort are the on-demand and on-command abilities of training, as well as a more solid experiential tracking method, Roberson said during ASC17.

On-demand learning means any airman, from any location, and at any time should be able to access content relevant to their work. Today, airmen go to Air Command Staff College, for example, to get ready for air command and staff. Most of these airmen are already “fairly far down their careers,” Roberson said, when they arrive. Meanwhile, commanders in various arenas across the force may have never attended such courses, which are obviously beneficial to their daily work. On-demand learning would change that, allowing anyone with an applicable assignment to access courses tied to it, if they so desired, or were so commanded.

On-command learning is the logical conclusion of on-demand learning. USAF tells an airman it’s time “to go to school,” Roberson said about new assignments, and USAF won’t stop sending airmen off for specific, duty-centric schooling. But now those airmen can lean on the on-demand abilities of the continuum, digging into tangential courses before they’re already rushing to get a handle on new information.

The second focus of the effort is tracking what airmen know and utilizing this information to best teach them further in what they need to know as opposed to repeating courses. For example, AETC wants to leverage abilities like machine, or deep, learning artificial intelligence to determine what courses airmen can skip as they may’ve learned similar content already in other courses of the same ilk.

“Interactive, individualized, this is learning while you’re doing it,” Roberson said. “And it’s maximizing the learning you’ll be able to get.”

Similarly, schooling itself is categorized currently in a somewhat inefficient manner for airmen development,

“Today, it matters a little bit where you go to school,” Roberson said, adding while Harvard “means one thing” and carries with it a weight different than other school names, “there’s no competences or demonstration” of what airmen learned at such an institution other than grades. The aspiration is to give airmen credit for “what they know” as opposed to where they’ve been, he said, and also for what they’ve done. This is the final piece of the puzzle.

In what Roberson called developmental special experience (DSE)—which he said USAF was “just getting started on” developing—a mix of distance and collaborative learning, and visits to bases will allow airmen exposure to topics and experiences they may’ve never been part of but which may be beneficial to their development.

Specifically, this ties into the “joint environment” airmen will get more and more called upon to immerse in as part of of a concerted effort in the Air Force to increase the visibility of airmen’s joint capabilities and experiential credit.

Roberson also announced during the conference AETC’s new battlefield airman recruiting squadron, which it’ll stand up Oct. 1.