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Intelligence Officer Training launches “Learning Next” beta course

(Courtesy photo)

(Courtesy photo)


The 315th Training Squadron has embarked on a new initiative to meet Air Education and Training Command’s Continuum of Learning challenge aimed at creating a training environment that develops Airmen into lifelong learners.

Under the umbrella of “Learning Next,” on Oct. 23, 2018 the Intelligence Officer Course kicked off 14Next, a beta course designed to keep the current competency based training standards but completely change the method of delivery.

Students entered the classroom to find desks arranged in “pods” to promote group cross talk, charts on the wall for hands-on scenarios, and a conference table to serve as a venue for collaboration and a mock stage to practice briefing future commanders. During initial introductions, students tried their hand at impromptu briefings and shared “ridiculously interesting” stories, which included an acapella performance, tap dance basics, harrowing tales of reindeer and goats, as well as a variety of achievements. All setting the stage for the many public speaking opportunities requiring clear communication that will be expected throughout their Air Force careers. 

According to Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, AETC commander, the paradigm that the Air Force controls what you learn, when you learn it, and how you learn it should be flipped, and students given control to the greatest degree possible. With this in mind, three instructors, Maj. Nick Swanson, Master Sgt. Stephanie Zengerle, and Master Sgt. Christopher Gibson, were given 45 days to map out an aggressive new learner-centric beta course. With the direction to “forget the rules and dream big.”  We also gave them a strong supporting cast, cadre from the 17th Training Group, 17th Civil Engineer Squadron, 17th Training Support Squadron and 17th Communications Squadron. These personnel worked to bring their plans to fruition.

While lectures still exist, we have greatly minimized them in favor of increasing pre-reading, case studies, scenarios, briefings, exercises, and gamifaction. Instructors facilitate discussions to encourage dialogue and deeper understanding of concepts through conversation and debate. The beta course consists of five phases, each phase is based on the “Learn, Execute, Debrief” model. Cadre will also focus on capturing student feedback and every other aspect of the learning experience. 14Next does not replace the current Intelligence Officer Course, but we will run concurrent to the primary pipeline and will implement the best practices and lessons learned captured on portions that were not immediately successful.

Additionally, the course is group-paced; if students quickly grasp topics and concepts, the class could progress forward or spend extra time reinforced concepts. The primary objective of 14Next is to enhance critical thinking, deepen understanding of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance functions and capabilities, prepare students to participate in candid discussions, and improve communication skills.

According to Col. Thomas Coakley, 17th TRG commander, current strategic guidance such as the AETC Learning Next construct and the Next Generation Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Dominance Flight Plan, both envision a transformation of Airmen into warfighters capable of executing the National Defense Strategy’s imperative, that the Department of Defense be prepared to defeat great-power competitors.

Pilot Training Next has set the precedence for a beta course, but until now has not perpetuated to less tangible career fields where virtual and augmented reality are not as easily transferable. A lesson taken from PTN is that faster to the field is great, but it cannot be at the expense of multiple iterations of hands-on application and experiential learning that only repetition can solidify into long-term retention.

The first 14Next class is composed of 15 second lieutenants. The group is diverse, commissioned through ROTC or Officer Training School; prior and non-prior enlisted experience. Their ages range from 22 to 33-years old with degrees that include Biochemistry, Geology, History, Psychology, International Affairs, and Communications.

The goal of the 17th TRG remains to be at the forefront of Learning Next and push the boundaries to improve cadre and students to meet the demand of the future.

The 17th TRW Strategic Plan declares: we must continue to be innovative, agile and professional; however, we must add lifelong learning as a mind-set for us all. We must strive to make ourselves better, as we motivate our Airmen to do the same. Lifelong learning is no longer a luxury but a necessity. Airpower Starts Here.

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