New AU eSchool transforms officer distance learning PME Published June 2, 2017 By Maj. Jillian Torango Air University MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- As a direct result of a massive 10-year transformational effort to revitalize officer professional military education distance learning programs, Air University formally stood up the eSchool of Graduate PME here on June 1, 2017. The Air Force officer PME hierarchy is built of basic, intermediate and senior developmental education programs, and their distance learning tracks all now comprise the eSchool of Graduate PME. The Air University commander at the time of the initial transformation plan in 2007, retired Gen. Stephen Lorenz, emphasized the importance of bringing the programs together. “All of the pieces of Air Force officer PME fit together,” said Lorenz. “Squadron Officer School to Air Command and Staff College to Air War College, they all build upon each other, providing a greater effect for the long-term health of the Air Force and the nation.” The transformed OPME exchanges one-size-fits-all, episodic educational experiences for a menu of educational opportunities and choices that offer individualized depth and breadth of study. These focused studies are balanced by foundational courses designed to ensure that each student receives the common core competencies appropriate for their rank. To facilitate this transformation, Air University created the eSchool of Graduate PME, which integrates all of the non-resident OPME that were spread across Squadron Officer College, ACSC and AWC. “Bringing AWC, ACSC and SOC together into a cohesive team enables standardized design, innovation and operations across a career-long continuum,” said Dr. Bart Kessler, dean, eSchool of Graduate PME. The eSchool reached initial operational capability by launching the new AWC Edition 18.0 on Aug. 22, 2016. Edition 18 curriculum is delivered online through a mix of self-paced courses and asynchronous facilitated seminars. It provides students with peer-to-peer interaction and collaboration opportunities, facilitation of online seminars by certified faculty and the ability to customize the program to suit personal and professional needs. The new program currently serves more than 4,000 students and provides a strategic “air-minded” curriculum that prepares graduates to provide strategic leadership, appropriate expertise and critical thinking in support of national security objectives. “By incorporating student choice with online peer-to-peer and faculty collaboration, in addition to reducing and focusing readings, Airmen are able to cut down about a third of the time they needed to complete the program,” said Kessler. “This enables us to better focus on current issues and problem-solving, while valuing Airmen’s time.” On Jan. 18, 2017, the eSchool launched the new SOS 2.0 program for captains. This new offering incorporates student choice through expanded focused course offerings, more commonly known as electives. Opportunities for student collaboration have been doubled without increasing the time it takes an Airman to complete the program. The next step the eSchool will take to reach fully operational capability is the launch of the newest intermediate developmental education program (ACSC) early in 2018. While originally overhauled in 2012 to version 6.0, officially moving away from the “box of books” to a combination of facilitated and self-paced courseware, the program needed to be reconfigured in order to expand and fully integrate the suite of focused studies courses (electives) between the three colleges. “Our core objective is to deliver high-quality, precision distance learning education to the total force of officers and civilian equivalents,” said Kessler. “We’re committed to developing critically thinking, innovative and adaptive leaders by delivering the right education to the right person at the right time. Providing students more choices and letting them tailor their education to meet their career needs produces more creative problem solvers and leaders to meet the demands of today’s complex multicultural environment.” The historical evolution of the startup of the eSchool began in 2007 with the creation of the Air Force’s Online Master’s Degree Program. Started as a Secretary of the Air Force and Chief of Staff of the Air Force initiative, the OLMP provides Air Force officers the opportunity to pursue higher education while simultaneously meeting service needs. At the time, both a master’s degree and IDE were expected for promotion from the rank of major to lieutenant colonel. With the OLMP, Air University was able to take some of the stress off of Airmen warfighters embroiled in overseas contingency operations by creating an accredited, cost-free, online master’s degree. OLMP also satisfied Air Force IDE and Joint Professional Military Education Phase I requirements, thereby directly linking graduate education to deliberate force development. To date, 3,323 students have earned an accredited master’s degree in military operational art and science. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” said Lorenz, when talking recently about the 10-year anniversary of OLMP. “We’re taking care of our Airmen, especially during these years of many deployments. This has been a smashing success.” The OLMP set the standard for Air Force distance learning by being flexible and adaptable in meeting the needs of both the student and the service; providing precise, timely critical thinking exercises within a warfighting context; and providing a platform and methodology to foster a lasting impact for further distance learning innovations. "I’m so proud of the tremendous effort and operational strides the eSchool has made,” said Col. Brian Hastings, ACSC commandant. “We’re bringing to fruition the vision of educating more Airmen and students more broadly and more deeply across all the services and federal government. This is an incredible investment in building human capital and collective intellect." For more information about the eSchool of Graduate PME, or any officer distance learning programs, go to the eSchool website at www.airuniversity.af.mil/eSchool/.