Soldiers are briefed on Structured-Self Development and Army Career Tracker. As of April 1, SSD is a requirement for noncommissioned officer promotions. (Army)
The program of courses soldiers need to be eligible for promotion is now mandatory.
The long-planned policy to make the online Structured Self-Development program a requirement for Noncommissioned Officer Education System attendance took effect April 1 for the entry-level course, and will be followed this year and into 2015 by the other courses.
The new requirement is crucial for the Army’s nearly 1 million active and Reserve enlisted soldiers, given that NCO Education System courses are required for promotion.
Under the service’s schools-for-stripes policy, the Warrior Leader Course is required for advancement to staff sergeant, the Advanced Leader Course for sergeant first class, the Senior Leader Course for master sergeant and the Sergeants Major Course for sergeant major.
Structured Self-Development courses are not specific for the different specialties and career fields of the Enlisted Personnel Management System but address issues that are common across the service, such as health and fitness, Army history, ethics, military writing, leadership and effective management.
The multitiered system of Web-based SSD instruction is designed to bridge the learning gap that occurs between operational assignments and formal military schooling, particularly the newly retooled courses of the NCO Education System.
Each of the SSD courses requires 80 hours of study, and soldiers have three years to complete each of the four courses.
The Army began the phased implementation of Structured Self-Development three years ago, and had planned to make the various levels of the program prerequisites for NCOES courses Oct. 1, 2012, the beginning of fiscal 2013.
Connectivity problems related to the delivery of courses to soldiers resulted in the Oct. 1 deadline being replaced by the phased approach now in effect.
Under the revised schedule, SSD-1 becomes a prerequisite for Warrior Leader Course attendance April 1.
SSD-1 primarily is populated by privates, privates first class and specialists who were enrolled in the course upon graduation from advanced individual training.
There is no SSD-2 between the Warrior Leader Course and the Advanced Leader Course, but the common core phase of ALC, which is delivered via distributed learning, remains a requirement for Advanced Course attendance.
SSD-3, a course primarily populated by sergeants, staff sergeants and sergeants first class, becomes a prerequisite for Senior Leader Course attendance June 1. The June 1 effective date also applies to SSD-4, which becomes a requirement for Sergeant Major Course attendance.
SSD-5, the senior level tier of Structured Self-Development, will become a requirement for assignment to nominative command sergeant major positions Jan. 1, 2015.
While it has taken several months to eliminate the connectivity problems that plagued Structured Self-Development initially, “the technology platforms that deliver SSD are ready to support that mission this year,” said Col. Sharon H. Baker, commander of the Army Training Support Center, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.
The Support Center, a Training and Doctrine Command organization, runs the Army’s distributed learning program by providing support to proponent schools when they have requirements for DL courseware, Baker said.
SSD courses are delivered to soldiers via the Army Training Network and the Army Learning Management System.
Soldiers also can access courses through the Army Career Tracker, which, in turn, links to ALMS.
ALMS delivers 1,300 distributed learning courses to about 2 million military and civilian students each year, but SSD-1 generates the most accounts, with 137,000 soldiers registering for courses in January alone.
About 2,000 soldiers complete the SSD-1 every week, according to Baker.
With the surge of troops completing SSD-1, NCO academies are braced to train more than 23,300 Warrior Leader Course students during the remainder of fiscal 2013.
The 22-day course will be conducted at 15 locations for 12,500 Regular Army soldiers; 14 schools for 9,100 National Guard soldiers, and four schools for 1,701 Army Reserve troopers.
The sharp increase in the number of soldiers taking and completing SSD-1 follows an 18-month effort by the Training Support Center to eliminate the connectivity and ease-of-use problems that previously plagued the course.
Recent improvements, based on feedback from soldiers who participated in limited user tests at Fort Gordon, Ga.; Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Carson, Colo.; and Eustis include:
Coding errors that prevented students from advancing through the course have been eliminated.
Bookmarking errors that resulted in the system not saving a student’s work have been eliminated.
This had been a major problem in that it required soldiers to restart the course when they had a break in studies, something that was discouraging and aggravating, according to Col. Charles E. Harris, chief communications officer (G-6) for TRADOC.
Students also reported problems with screen freezes, and video issues, which have since been fixed.
Perhaps most aggravating to the thousands of students who had problems with SSD-1 was the lack of timely support from a help desk system that was understaffed, overwhelmed and did not operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Since then, the Army Training Help Desk has been augmented with additional staff and is now a 24/7 operation, with wait times reduced from hours and days to less than a minute.
The Army Training Network is the site for accessing Structured Self-Development courses via the link to the Army Learning Management System.
Soldiers cannot enroll in an SSD course until prompted to do so following graduation from initial entry training or an NCOES course.
Soldiers access SSD courses using their Army Knowledge Online credentials, either username and password or Common Access Card.
A CAC is required to take the exam at the end of the course, a security measure designed to certify the identity of the person taking the exam.
For at least 10 years, the Army has been looking at ways to take nonsensitive materials off of its operational network, according to Baker.
The operational network generally requires access with a CAC.
“We have been trying to create a non-dot-mil learning environment for the Army,” she said.
In support of that concept, the Army will run a one-year pilot program, beginning in September, with the Command and General Staff College in a dot-com learning environment.
“For future use, we will look at other professional military education [courses], such as the Army War College, and perhaps go to that environment as well,” Harris said. “We also have enlisted the help of the Army G-6 … to work toward some non-dot-mil architectures that will make it easier for soldiers to access [learning] content.”
Additionally, Baker said TRADOC is working to make it easier for soldiers to use mobile devices for courses.
“It is much easier to use those in a dot-com environment than a dot-mil environment,” she said.