<p>ALEXANDRIA, Va. – This isn't your father's regulator. In an innovative step, NCUA is exploring the use of virtual learning to educate its examiners. On Dec. 3 NCUA started a three-month pilot with e-learning firm VCampus Corporation (www.vcampus.com), Reston, Va. According to VCampus Director of Online Instructor Services Valerie Watson the pilot took a training class that NCUA normally conducts in-person in about two-and-a-half days, and transformed it into an online version that spans two-weeks. The benefits are that participants don't have to travel to Alexandria to get educated, and a lot of it can be done on their own schedules. The pilot used the "blended learning" approach said Watson. Blended learning is a popular educational model that combines self-paced, synchronous, and asynchronous educational features. The self-paced model basically allowed NCUA participants to view class material online at their pace and complete online forms such as tests. Watson said the asynchronous model brings participants (including student-to-student, and student-to-trainer) together online through things like threaded chats, which are popular in the virtual world. Synchronous learning is similar, except it is in real time, such as instant messaging technology (see IM story on this page). The pilot was developed by 3 NCUA Management Development Candidates, and tested by examiners. "We have an extensive training program for our examiners that goes on throughout their career. A team of people got together and worked on this project to see how Web-based learning works and if it could work for us," said NCUA spokesperson Cherie Umbel. Interestingly, NCUA decided to adopt one of its most technical training courses, ALM II, to this online format. Participants are currently completing a survey that may determine how much further NCUA goes with this virtual form of educating examiners. Watson said e-learning could benefit NCUA because its examiners are scattered throughout the country. "Something like 70% of their examiners are remote (not in Alexandria). Getting them to a class can be difficult. This connects people through technology," said Watson. She noted that travel expenses account for 50-60% of training costs. That's wiped out with e-learning. A real life classroom-like atmosphere can be created remotely, said Watson. For example, during the NCUA pilot participants logged on to a Web page where the instructor could use applications, such as showing Excel files, while they were all connected via a conference call. But Watson said e-learning is also about breaking out of the classroom mode. "For hundreds of years, we've been accustomed to traditional classroom training, face-to-face training. But that allows learners to be very passive. There's only so much time for questions," said Watson. Contrast that to the virtual world, with delayed threads, instant messaging, and other techniques, that allow dialogue among participants to occur at any time. "The pilot looked at how NCUA could replace or augment classroom training," said Watson. Umbel said the jury is still out as to what role e-learning will play at NCUA. "The general consensus here is that nothing is going to take the place of classroom training for most of our classes," she said. She did note that nothing is certain until the pilot is further evaluated. [email protected]</p>

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