NAWCAD WOLF learns great teachers make great trainers

Former teachers are a critical component of the ePerformance team at Webster Field. From left, Jason Noren, Catherine Thistle, Mike Kelley, Sam Goodnow, Emily Berens

NAWCAD Webster Outlying Field (WOLF) has discovered the secret to success in developing interesting, relevant, well-designed training materials: hire a school teacher!

Training has come a long way since the days of dry lectures and multiple-choice question exams. Today’s warfighter may be placed in one of many types of training scenarios, depending upon the material to be learned.

Since 2000, the ePerformance team under the Airborne Systems Integration Division at NAWCAD WOLF has been changing the means by which training is delivered to the fleet, with an emphasis on methodologies such as game-based, scenario-based, and interactive training.

Game-based training features scoring elements and is a familiar format for many of today’s learners who have grown up on digital games.

Scenario-based training places the user inside a situation similar to what they may encounter on the job. The user must then figure out what to do without guidance.

Interactive training might employ bounded simulations, which offer a representation of a live system screen simulating the functions required to complete a task.

The goal behind these types of formats is to have users perform tasks and become accustomed to the actual system on which they are training, not just answer questions that might be quickly forgotten.

“Our first teacher was Mary Clifford who started supporting our team in June 1989, over thirty years ago,” recalled Linda Davis, the ePerformance team lead. “She’s now retired, but still provides occasional support to us when we need extra help. While here, she returned to school for an MBA with a minor in data processing. Mary championed the development of training solutions that truly engaged adult learners — a philosophy she brought from her experience teaching in a classroom and as a lifelong learner.”

The team’s second teacher hired was Catherine Thistle. WOLF brought Thistle on board approximately 12 years ago and had previously taught at Park Hall Elementary School in Lexington Park. She is now a Sr. Instructional Designer with a Master of Arts in teaching and certification as an instructional designer/developer. There are now six former teachers working full time on the ePerformance team: Emily Berens, Samantha Goodnow, William “Mike” Kelley, Matthew Koval, Jason Noren, and Catherine Thistle.

“We teachers are rightly described as the ‘worst kind of students,” Kelley said. “Because we have no patience for low-quality courses or teaching strategies. We are harsh critics and apply these high standards to our own work.”

Dave Hager, Airborne Systems Integration division director, agreed with this assessment but thought that these high standards make them ideal for developing naval training. “Our teachers typically join the ePerformance team as instructional designers. They consult with an organization’s subject matter experts to elicit specific training requirements, and then work with our software developers, graphic artists, and animators to put together highly specialized training modules.”

When asked why teachers tend to become such excellent instructional designers, Davis offered many reasons.

“First, teachers know that all outward-facing communication is high-stakes. Just try sending out a letter to parents with a typo in it and see what that does for your reputation,” she said.

“Additionally, teachers understand when to be the ‘sage-on-the-stage’ and when to facilitate as the ‘guide-on-the-side.’ As the educational landscape across the DOD and commercial trade spaces shifts from exclusive use of brick-and-mortar learning environments, organizations are finding increased value in virtualized learning experiences. Educators are among the best professionals to help structure curriculum for electronic, asynchronous, and/or blended learning experiences.”

Davis says that WOLF’s success in its approach is self-evident. “Since we began hiring teachers, product quality has improved—and people love the training being produced!”

This sentiment has been proven universal, as the team won the NAWCAD Commander’s Award for Fleet Support in December 2018.

NAWCAD WOLF is fortunate to have instructional analysts with such rich backgrounds in creating differentiated and scaffolded educational experiences for a variety of learners. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning… something ingrained in a teacher’s philosophy of education.

The ePerformance team is available for training design for both U.S. Navy organizations and other federal agencies. Contact Linda Davis at linda.b.davis@navy.mil or via phone at (301) 995-6066.