Know the System – Be Able to Articulate the Formal and Informal Learning System Around You

[This article initially appeared in the 2022 Spring Issue of Two More Chains.]

What is the learning system like on your module, crew, or home unit? How does it work? Do you dedicate specific time to learning or do you have a more opportunistic approach—capitalizing on learning moments as they present themselves?

Regardless of the system, we must embrace the mindset that time and energy spent learning is time and energy spent seeking improvement. We are all responsible to create space for deliberate reflection on what has happened and why, and to share our stories of lessons learned. This is the case in a formal learning setting such as in a classroom or in an informal setting such as during the hours spent completing routine tasks around the base.

Whether you are in the role of student or teacher, what is your attitude toward on-the-job training? Do you spend time and energy to develop others? Do you advocate for your own development?

In the formal learning system, we have position task books to guide on-the-job training. Task books outline the tasks that must be successfully performed to become qualified in the position. Informally, endless opportunities exist for organic on-the-job training. A qualified or skilled practitioner surely has tricks of the trade or best practices to impart to less experienced folks that would not be captured in a standardized task list but are just as important to successful job performance.

Give some thought to your learning system. Knowing and being able to explain it is the first step toward maximizing your learning opportunities.

4 thoughts on “Know the System – Be Able to Articulate the Formal and Informal Learning System Around You

  1. It is unfortunate that in our training, many of the courses we utilize are so out of date as to be useless. It is not just a few classes, but dozens of s-courses that are out of date by 10, 15 or 20 years. There is no consistency nationwide in our courses as individual programs try to make updates on their own, or worse, those that don’t know any better, teach from the book and provide incorrect information. Apparently there is no timeline to update the majority of these courses, NWCG is sitting on their hands waiting for someone else to do the work for them. FEMA is interested in taking over a few of them, but again there is no timeline of if or when. The system is broken and no one seems interested in fixing it.

    • Brian, I would not agree that they are sitting on their hands and waiting for someone else to revise them. I would call it trying to stuff 50 pounds of potatoes in a 10 pound bag. There are only so many training specialists, budget, and available and volunteer quality SMEs willing to do the actual work. Under the radar are several initiatives and issues that are being worked on in an attempt to make some headway. Way back, when I was on the Training working Team it was a tremendous and frustrating challenge for us. That has not changed and the training leadership I know are also frustrated and challenged. There are many of us who are interested and would like to fix it, and several are working the problem. However, like someone else said, “Technology moves so much faster than bureaucracy” and involving multiple federal agencies makes it worse. In my estimation there needs to be a complete rework of how the agencies work together and on which courses. The “Endorsement” initiative is a start, but there is far more work than workers.

      • I agree that there is more work than workers, but having been asking these questions for more than 15 years, I have seen little to no progress. What classes have been officially updated in the last five years? 5? 10? I have developed updates for various programs and tried to get them officially distributed with no success. I am tired of going to a required training for a task book, spending limited time and money to attend a class, only to find that it is so out of date as to be completely useless. We are doing a disservice to our firefighters, partners, cooperators and the public when we cannot even update an existing class with pertinent information. Teaching a course initiated in 2000 is ridiculous considering the many changes we have seen in 20 years. Maybe it is time to leave the NWCG and go our own way. I have often been told ‘we only have one seat at the table’, and since it isn’t working maybe it is time to get up and leave. It seems FEMA wants to take over a couple courses, but again no information on what, when or if they will do this. I retire soon and will start a few congressional inquiries and perhaps that will shake some things loose.

  2. Somebody ought to put a few of us on AD (Admin Determined) to assist in this debacle. Instead of bitchin about States and Cooperators …be proactive and start collaborating and reaching out…something the LMAs are great at lecturing others about…

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