by Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst
We have been hearing the story over and over again: I would love to be there, but I am not authorized to travel right now. Whether in Maine, Pennsylvania, or Oklahoma, many states are facing an imposed moratorium on certain out-of-state travel for state employees, which include travel to training and conferences.
This is unfortunate, as the benefits of face-to-face learning and learning from new communities of practice is lauded as one of the greatest ways to learn and increase staff skills and program capacity. The literature on learning is rife with findings that show in-person training and face-to-face learning best improves knowledge gain, comprehension, and analytical use of the information shared.
However, as an interesting article in Higher Education points out, “it is important to catalyze movement beyond the (negative) hype about technology-enhanced education.” There is a growing understanding that online training, especially when combined with an on-the-ground/in classroom experience, can have strong outcomes. Additionally, in the absence of options to travel to in-person training, online learning is highly desirable.
With this in mind, ASWM is working to provide a variety of training tools in the coming years, ranging from the in-person annual Federal-State-Tribal Workshop (which provides the highly valued in-person, group learning and networking opportunities) to access training materials through webinars and reports. ASWM will take a strategic approach by developing a comprehensive training plan to support state wetland program staff and others.
ASWM has received funding to explore options for alternative training, including the development of online training modules. We are exploring options for tying in with wetland certification programs, with continuing education credits, and collaborating with a variety of partners who can assist in the development and design of these resources.
While ASWM values face-to-face training as our top choice, there are some learning experiences such as learning how to identify elements of a wetland in the field or see a specific practice in action still require in-person, onsite learning, we have also been expanding learning opportunities through the use of electronic delivery – such as ASWM’s popular wetland restoration webinar series in 2015, which has garnered hundreds of participants per webinar.
Why? ASWM is finding that wetland professionals and states, tribes and local government staffers particularly are extremely limited in their access to travel funds and permission to travel for training purposes. Staffs are soaking up any opportunities they can access to learn.
In addition to changes in access to on-the-ground training, ASWM’s recent Status and Trends Report, shows that the need is great for training. State wetland program staff in many areas of the country are reporting high levels of staff turnover and organizational restructuring that lead to new, more junior staff filling positions previously held by staff with extensive experience in wetland work. Some positions are being lost and many staff have responsibility for additional aquatic resource programs, resulting in staff new to working on wetlands that may have little training on the topic.
Over the coming months, ASWM will establish a national working group on training that will be exploring these issues, working to identify existing resources to build upon, models that work, best practices for developing online training that will well-serve our on-the-ground wetland professionals, and informing academia about the needs of the wetland community with respect to training wetland professionals through higher education learning opportunities.
We look forward to sharing ASWM’s work in this area over the coming months and welcome examples of training or learning experiences that have enhanced the capacity of wetland professionals. We look forward to learning new ways to build state and tribal program capacity.