Written by David Plouffe & Nancy Almeida, instructional systems specialists at the U.S. Coast Guard Leadership Development Center.
Online education has grown rapidly in the last 30 years. Now, instructors can post video lectures and audio clips, facilitate discussion boards and coach students online. Some colleges and universities even offer graduate and post-graduate degrees 100-percent online — in disciplines from education to engineering. But, what about “leadership?” Many people believe it’s impossible to teach leadership online, because “to teach people to lead people, you need people!”
The Leadership Development Center, co-located with the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., is dispelling that belief through their first-ever blended learning course, the Senior Enlisted Leadership Course. Designed for E8 and E9 personnel, the SELC offers a four-week online component followed by two weeks resident in the classroom. Online, students share photos and personal and professional experiences, then explore modules on Coast Guard core values, Coast Guard history, Coast Guard traditions and leading change. They share their perspectives through a facilitated online discussion board. These topics are presented through real-life scenarios. Senior enlisted personnel from a variety of specialties and backgrounds are teamed together, affording them the opportunity to learn from each other. The facilitator further challenges students by taking them out of their comfort zone and exploring “what if” situations.
By the time the SELC students arrive for the classroom portion of the course, they are well-prepared, well-acquainted and ready to make the most of the face-to-face interactions. Master Chief Petty Officer Kevin Leask, SELC instructor and online facilitator, observes that when students report to the LDC after completing the online portion of the course, they are energized, familiar with their classmates and prepared to discuss in great detail the material they learned online.
In the two years since the blended learning course was first offered, student and instructor response has been overwhelmingly positive. One recent SELC graduate shared the following with his Chiefs’ Mess:
“The four weeks of online discussion board is very similar to college classes, except it’s fun stuff to discuss. When was the last time you had a conversation with peers about core values? Strategic plans for the Coast Guard? And other situations we encounter all the time? The class goes by fast and I won’t sell every single thing about it, but I will say this … IT’S AN AWESOME COURSE. GO TO IT!!! Be a leader, put extra ideas in your toolbox, go re-motivate yourself about being a CHIEF and a Coast Guardsman.”
The learning does not stop when senior enlisted leaders graduate SELC. LDC continues their development through additional online resources posted to CG Portal, including material related to conflict management, personality profiles, crew endurance and social intelligence. SELC provides senior enlisted a common leadership language to use within the Chiefs’ Mess; in turn, these leaders train and mentor junior enlisted members and junior officers.
This course proves leadership can be taught online! Leaders communicate across geographic barriers, critically assess situations that may be unfamiliar to them and expand their leadership toolbox. Leveraging technology does not have to remove people from the learning equation; online learning can actually enhance the collaborative process.