The following is an interview with Dr. Christopher Hardy of the Defense Acquisition University (DAU). The DAU was recently honored by the Federal Government Distance Learning Association (FGDLA), winning an organizational Eagle Award for excellence in distance learning implementations.

Dr. Hardy is Director of the Global Learning and Technology Center at DAU. He spoke with Fed UC about how distance learning is a critical piece of the technology DAU leverages to create a better skilled acquisition workforce.

Thank you for speaking with Fed UC, and congratulations on your FGDLA award. Can you provide a little background on DAU for our readers?

In 1991, Congress passed the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA) in an effort to professionalize the workforce and established DAU as the primary training institution for acquisition certification training. By 1995, the DAU mission was to provide effective and efficient acquisition education, training, research, and associated academic activities as an integral part of acquisition support. DAU provides certification training to over 151,000 acquisition professionals and has continued to expand to a fully integrated 24/7 learning environment.

Here are our most recent annual statistics:

• Provided 11.2 million hours of formal (classroom and online courses) and informal learning (short online training modules, on-site consulting, tailored training, online knowledge sharing assets and communities of practice).

• Provided 6.8 million hours of training.

• Graduated 202,970 students,—including a record-breaking 56,818 classroom graduates.

• Provided 314 continuous learning modules with 474,893 completions by the workforce.

• Provided 624,556 hours of mission assistance efforts working with customers in their workplaces.

DAU is mainly located in the U.S., but we have some facilities around the world. There are five regional campuses, and our goal is to centralize the curriculum but decentralize the training. Our faculty is made up of senior subject matter experts from technical career fields such as contracting, project management, engineering, logistics, and others who actually have done what they teach.

What events and trends led you to implement distance learning?

Initially in 2000, we were driven to turn to distance learning because we just didn’t have the capacity and resources to meet the demand with only classroom training. Plus we’ve got a global workforce today, so overcoming geographic boundaries was imperative. And some things we found were actually more effectively taught online.

What tools and technologies support your distance learning strategies?

Within its learning assets, DAU also has incorporated games and simulations, virtual worlds, robust social collaboration methods and systems, and brief video tutorials. Additionally, DAU makes extensive use of web portals and multimedia. We are implementing a web-based collaborative authoring tool, a digital asset management system, learning analytics tools, an enterprise search capability, and conducted a market analysis for a next generation learning management system. This exemplifies how DAU looks continually at emerging trends and technologies to ensure the university offers the best capabilities to the workforce. This requires constant self-assessment and re-invention.

What new initiatives are you planning for distance learning and collaboration over the next 24-36 months?

DAU intends to incorporate learning and knowledge sharing assets into the very fabric of daily work. Today’s workforce increasingly relies on DAU’s learning assets to do their job. Since most learning takes place on the job—perhaps as much as 80 percent or more—DAU is expanding its capacity, reach, and access, while exploring new and exciting tools and technologies.

We’re also particularly excited by our new Teaching and Learning Lab (TALL) internal testing facility – we have some 30 initiatives planned for the next three years to test for adoption and deployment. In a lab setting, failure can also be extremely constructive (and less expensive)! DAU will continue to integrate formal and informal learning.

Greater use of videos is planned, more lecture capture and redistribution that way. We had explored virtual world applications, but security issues preclude DAU from moving in that direction.  Tablets are going to be a game changer for us. In particular they will help us enrich our mobile support capabilities.