Defense Acquisition University (DAU) was established to provide practitioner training, career management and other services to help 126,000 Department of Defense (DOD) Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L) personnel make smart business decisions.
In 2003, DAU started to explore using online simulations for training. Due to the nature of the roles within AT&L, real learning experiences often are too expensive, dangerous or infrequent to provide adequate learning opportunities.
For example, contingency contractors can be deployed overseas at any time in support of activities ranging from a relief effort to a military action. Procurement processes that a contractor is used to doing in an office with an Internet connection and an established supplier network could suddenly require working face-to-face with contacts who speak a different language and have different cultural experiences.
“Simulations have a good track record of effectiveness for training and education and deliver experiential learning, which is fundamental to DAU’s training approach,” said Hans Jerrell, DAU deputy director of the e-learning and technology center. “Our primary goal is to improve acquisition outcomes, and simulations help us do this by placing someone into varied, challenging situations to practice and learn in a safe environment.”
Whether a brand new contractor, a transfer from a program office in the U.S. to one in the field or an experienced officer needing a refresher to be aware of policy changes, it is impossible to offer classroom training to address every instance these individuals will encounter. DAU focuses on helping personnel learn a core set of principles in the classroom and then offers simulations and other programs to help them learn to adapt and transfer those core principles.
“There is a big difference between ability to recognize the correct response on a multiple-choice quiz and the ability to generate a correct response when working through a simulation. This approach to learning is more comprehensive and very powerful,” said Dr. Alicia Sanchez of games and simulations at DAU.
When evaluating simulations, DAU first researches whether an off-the-shelf product will work. When necessary, it may make modifications to a commercially available simulation. Internal custom development of a simulation is a final option to meet very specific and critical learning curriculum requirements.
In the coming year, DAU plans to introduce simulations and gaming features into training initiatives, including:
• Specific DAU courses aligned with AT&L learning objectives: Examples include the use of mini-games in business, cost and financing games, the use of a superhero story line in contracting courses and a card game named Cassandra that is currently used in systems engineering courses.
• Virtual learning through continuous learning modules on the DAU site, including a source-selection module that includes a branching decision-making simulation created using machinima technology, and a game based on corrosion prevention and control.
• General business and leadership experiences — primarily a variety of Flash-based applications that will be housed online on a gaming and simulation Web site — will include tycoon-type games, problem-solving games, quantitative statistics-based games and negotiation games such as Harvard Business Publishing’s “Negotiating for Results.”
DAU offers simulations and games to personnel in all 13 AT&L career fields, with varying field and technology experiences. As long as they are matched to the course level and are relevant and easy to use, the DAU staff believes simulations have appeal across all of its populations.
“What was at first a disruptive technology has now become mainstream,” said Sanchez. “We are continually looking for innovative ways to create more engaging programs that help us advance and retain our personnel, and simulations definitely contribute.”