Magazine article Policy & Practice

Wisconsin's Partner Training Section: Training and Technology

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Wisconsin's Partner Training Section: Training and Technology

Article excerpt

Well into its second decade of providing blended learning opportunities to Wisconsin Works (W-2) staff, the Department of Children and Families' Partner Training Section (PTS) continues its journey, integrating advances in technology with traditional classroom experiences and onsite support for staff providing W-2 services (the state TANF program) and support to the state's low-income families. It is a long way from the late 1990s when the transition began, and as PTS looks forward, a look back at its evolution offers a perspective on training and technology.

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Budgetary issues at the state and local agency levels influenced the shift toward distance learning in important ways. Gerry Mayhew, Partner Training's section chief since 1998, said that her predecessor, wanting to get on board with the trend, received fundingofor distance development, while the decision had been made "to stop funding the lodging and daily expenses of new workers while they were in New Worker Training." In the late 1990s, PTS had ten training centers located statewide, none of which, on its own, could hold enough people for a mandatory training. Add to that the expense of facility rental agreements and no maintenance dollars for computer rooms, PTS received another prod in the direction of distance learning. Today, PTS has no training centers, using the web for distance learning, local W-2 agency training space to present face-to-face classroom material, and hotel conference rooms for larger, department-required round-table training events.

Belts were tightened, but people still needed training. W-2 and county income maintenance agencies (at the time, PTS trained Food Stamps and Child Care courses in addition to W-2) objected to delays in getting training for new workers. Beki Lockery, the state lead for the W-2 Enhanced Case Management curriculum, noted that this belt-tightening, content-to-be-trained conundrum and the need to "maximize classroom time on building skills, rather than lecturing to build knowledge," as another rationale for movement toward distance training. Line staff recognized that they could read and learn the material on their own and recommended using class-room time for practice and networking. Lockery said that the planning process necessitated that PTS explore what could be done most effectively through technology (policy and processes) and through classroom work (building training participants' case management skills).

The first attempts at using distance learning had some hiccups. "At first, PTS contracted out to have courses developed," Distance Coordinator Mark Schmitt noted. "However, in less than a year, it became clear that in order to be able to update the content developed by a third party, as well as develop future distance learning courses, PTS had to learn the technology and become proficient at developing its own courses." Mayhew added that to avoid costly errors in the future, "we made some major moves toward straightening out our distance path," investing in training and in building a relationship with the department's IT community.

Schmitt, along with Mayhew, Lockery, and New Worker Training (NWT) lead Lynda Fischer--PTS's core leadership team with a combined total of nearly 70 years in the training field--are the relative constant, leading a team of regional trainers in distance and classroom material development and training. Schmitt said that the team has built its skills in web design, graphic arts, sound and video recording, and course development coding through further education and training they developed in-house. He added, "Many of the strides we have taken over the years have come from staff diving in and learning on their own what was needed to get the job done. As staff has experimented with new or different techniques in distance learning, they shared them with other staff members and thus, we all grew. …

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