Army Outlines Goals of Online Learning Program

WASHINGTON (08/02/2000) - In one of the most ambitious military education initiatives since the post-World War II GI Bill education program, the U.S.

Army is looking for a vendor to provide an entire package of technology and course offerings as part of an online learning program for soldiers.

The U.S. Army announced the Army University Access Online initiative last month along with plans to award the contract by December and have laptops in the hands of recruits by January. [See "Army Lining Up Online Education," July 6.]U.S. Army officials, including Secretary Louis Caldera and Brigadier General Kathryn G. Frost, the Army's adjutant general, filled in more details Wednesday during an all-day program for universities and technology vendors, whose representatives turned out en masse to find out what kind of marching orders the Army will give the winner of the US$550 million, six-year contract.

The GI Bill of Rights for veterans, passed in 1944, provided educational funds to hundreds of thousands of soldiers, most of whom used the benefit to attend college. The Army University Access Online program has the same goal, but will use technology to deliver the courses.

U.S. Army officials said they want to ensure that soldiers who are eligible to pursue associate, bachelors and masters degrees or technical certifications can complete degree requirements anytime, anywhere by accessing a single Web portal.

In addition to building the site, the chosen vendor must provide each soldier with a laptop, a printer, an ISP (Internet service provider) account, help desk assistance and extensive curriculum choices from accredited U.S.-based universities and colleges.

Barracks, family housing and other military facilities will have to be rewired.

The vendor also will have to provide administrative support, training and counselors.

"A single contract is what we are expecting, but multiple providers," Frost said. "The best value is essential, user friendliness is an absolute and the responsibility for the quality of the program will belong to the individual who gets the contract."

Giving soldiers the opportunity to earn a college education through an online learning program will help recruit and retain soldiers, Caldera said. It also will help produce information-savvy soldiers and technologically skilled civilian workers, he added.

The Army hasn't decided yet which bases will be the first to offer Army University Access Online, but enrollment next year is expected to be between 16,000 and 20,000 troops. When the program is fully rolled out, the Army envisions it serving all 1 million Army soldiers and their spouses.

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