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Learning professional gather, connect during symposium

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Holly Patterson
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs

SAN ANTONIO, Texas —The Air Education and Training Command (AETC) learning community gathered to connect and optimize learning ecosystem efforts, while showcasing the diversity of the group, during a learning symposium in San Antonio, Texas, Sept. 27-29, 2022.

Learning professionals collaborated on interest areas such as competency-based learning implementation, technology integration and faculty development and the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Dr. Wendy Walsh, AETC’s chief learning officer, said the symposium is meant to hash out some of the challenges that exist within Air Force learning systems.

“My job is to connect the network of learning across the entire Air Force,” Walsh said. “This event is meant to bring together different perspectives from all over the Air Force learning ecosystem.

“As an Airman, or even as a leader, sometimes we don’t know what’s happening across the ecosystem,” she said. “There are about 75 people here from AETC who have all come together to think about why we’re doing this, why we need to be more connected and optimize those connections, visualize what the learning system looks like and how to connect those pieces.”

One of the more unconventional aspects of the conference included what facilitator David Hill referred to as “hand knowledge,” allowing people to use their hands while problem solving and helping them to think in new ways. 

“Our brains are always thinking,” Hill said. “They’re always working through things even if you don’t realize it. Asking someone to use their hands opens their mind in ways they aren’t even aware of.”

Hill specializes in the Lego Serious Play methodology, which is an innovation designed to enhance business performance by introducing new skills and prompting dialogue and was just one of the breakout sessions offered during the symposium.

Aside from the small group breakout sessions, participants were encouraged to connect with other learning professionals in attendance and build on those connections throughout the week.

One way to keep track of those connections was through a connection chandelier. Facilitators created the chandelier by hanging foam spheres with numbers correlating to each participant and encouraged attendees to link their numbers as they networked by using three colors of yarn: orange for a new connection, green for a growing connection and yellow for a strengthened connection. 

Marcus Carrion, lead facilitator and a logistics career field administrator with Air Force Personnel Center, said the chandelier was a tool to encourage networking and build trust among the learning professionals.

“Facilitation alone won’t fix or solve problems,” Carrion said. “Contributions, both individual and collective, fuel the journey.”

Dr. Jared Astin, Air Force Civil Engineer School’s associate dean, said the conference was necessary to ensure everyone in the system is moving in a similar direction to meet the needs and challenges in an effective and efficient manner. 

“It is important to bring folks together to share ideas and concepts and create synergy to tackle challenges,” Astin said. “I was as able to reconnect with folks that I had lost track of that will be valuable to bounce ideas off of moving forward.”

Jose Surita, executive director of the 37th Training Wing at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, said he wasn’t sure what to expect from the symposium, but anytime you can learn something new about yourself or your organization is a win.

“You don't truly realize how many different organizations influence the learning development of our force until you take a step back and look at the educational path of our Airmen and Guardians,” Surita said. “I have already used the connections made at the symposium to help our wing develop a more purposeful civilian professional development program.”  

Eric West, training director for the 782nd Training Group out of Sheppard Air Force Base, agrees with Surita. 

"I definitely benefitted from seeing so many others' perspectives on their part within the Air Force learning ecosystem," West said.  "Prior to the symposium, I hadn’t put much thought into how vast the ecosystem is and how a change to one part of it can have an impact on so many other parts."

Walsh stressed that conferences like these are necessary to give people the space and time to focus on the perspectives they’re responsible for representing.

“It can be a very uncomfortable space to bring all these different minds together,” she said. “Our military members are always wanting to focus on action, fixing the problem. But once you understand your own perspective and you start to tell that story and listen to the stories of others, you start to see possibilities.”

Walsh also said information sharing can help put away old and outdated ways of looking at ideas and help professionals tell a new, more accurate narrative of what’s happening in the learning community. Eventually, she hopes the work being done by AETC learning professionals can be shared beyond the command.

“AETC is responsible for supporting and enabling training across the United States Air Force,” Walsh said. “We need to share what we’re thinking and hear their ideas to show the art of the possible when it comes to developing our force to optimize and really protect our nation.”

The Air Force Learning Professionals Section is under AETC’s Operations and Communications Directorate at JBSA-Randolph. AFLP’s mission is to develop, promote and foster individual and organizational effectiveness by creating, curating, and offering an array of innovative and diverse learning opportunities and programs in support of the Air Force’s commitment to Learning Professionals’ development.