Monday, 03 December 2018 11:47

Learning! 100: Mission Mars 2020 Featured

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BY JOCELYN GAJEWAY, TECHNICAL TRAINING SPECIALIST, NASA’S JET PROPULSION LABORATORY

Typically, when presented with a new project, learning professionals tend to use either a waterfall method or a modified iterative approach to develop the system and materials. These approaches remain best practices when working with content that is in a relatively complete state at the time development begins, but are not nimble enough to keep up with some project’s rapid development and release cycles. Structuring the development to an AGILE framework seems like the next most logical choice, but when speaking with colleagues, it seems as though it was making additional work, and sending teams back to square one with every sprint. How, then, to take advantage of integrating the development of training with the content without falling into the trap of starting over every month?

THE MISSION 
In June of 2017, I was presented with the opportunity to collaborate with the Mars 2020 project as they began development of the Rover Mission Operations Training System. When I started, I learned that many of the roles, tools, and processes for Mars 2020 were under development. Meaning neither of these approaches would be flexible enough to keep up. Instead, after an initial extensive needs analysis and curriculum design phase, each phase of development would be in short cycles targeted to iterations and development of training for each release. This prevented the rebuilding the entire program with each change, enabled rapid implementation of changes based upon learner feedback, and provided current and highly specific training materials throughout the life of the  training program.

As we began, it became apparent that in order to develop the flexible, scalable program, we needed to hold in-depth interviews with subject matter experts, team leads and other supervisors, [role archetypes] with experience performing similar tasks on other flight projects. It was critical to involve them in the development of the new tools and processes. These interviews delved into the skills and knowledge required to perform the dayto-day duties of the job, including the unspoken “soft skills” exercised regularly, rather than a strict task analysis. These interviews and the resulting analyses formed the foundation of the competency-based curricula for each role.

The competency-based approach allows the development of the course material to proceed at the same pace as the development of tools and processes, with the same outcomes.

At the same time, refinement of training content is linked to new software features. Revisions to the initial source content are aligned to the planned feature releases for the development sprints, and the changes are made using either ADDIE or a modified iterative approach, allowing instructionally sound content to be developed and deployed. This also allows the training content to scale to the project’s needs. The training content is always complete and current to the state of tools and processes are in development.

Of course, running parallel to this sprint style development is a slower, more traditional development cycle for the tatic content, mostly foundational knowledge considered “nice to have”, rather than a critical skill. This was actually one of the most interesting takeaways from the interview period. Background knowledge is ultimately required for a trainee to be proficient in their role, but it is possible to structure the training flow and pipeline to allow new trainees to reach basic qualification and begin to work in their roles in a shorter timeframe. Prioritizing the development of roles and topics in this manner allows the training system as a whole to be more efficient, creating a steady pipeline of qualified individuals. Having enough qualified personnel means that there is also room for additional refresher and advanced training to continue throughout the project without affecting operations.

In order to develop a truly effective training system, training cannot be an afterthought, shoehorned in at just before release. Instead, the paradigm of training development needs to shift to more flexible processes, allowing learning professionals to be a part of the team, to truly understand the user stories and outcomes, and develop effective, engaging content to support those needs.

Typically, when presented
with a new project, learning
professionals tend to use either a
waterfall method or a modified
iterative approach to develop the
system and materials. These approaches
remain
best
practices

when
working
with
content
that

is
in a relatively
complete
state

at
the
time
development
begins,

but
are
not
nimble
enough
to

keep
up
with
some
project’s

rapid
development
and
release

cycles.
Structuring
the
development
to
an
AGILE
framework

seems
like
the
next
most
logical

choice,
but
when
speaking
with

colleagues,
it
seems
as
though

it
was
making
additional
work,

and
sending
teams
back
to

square
one
with
every
sprint.

How,
then,
to
take
advantage
of

integrating
the
development
of

training
with
the
content
without
falling
into
the
trap
of
starting
over
every
month?
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