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eLearning and the battle of la Drang

October 11, 2018

The battle of la Drang was a major battle fought in November 1965, at the eastern foot of the Chu Pong massif in the central highlands of Vietnam. This battle is considered to be the first significant engagement between the United States and North Vietnamese armies.

This particular battle was documented in a television special report called the Battle of Ia Drang Valley by Morley Safer, as well as the critically acclaimed book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway. This book was then used as the basis for a movie called ‘We Were Soldiers,’ starring Mel Gibson.

At landing zone X-Ray, a force of 200 American soldiers, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore, landed in a zone that was initially thought to be lightly defended, but as things turned out, this group had actually landed in the middle of 3 North Vietnamese army battalions – approximately 1600 men! In the end, the American forces were victorious.

Being the naturally curious type, I decided to read up on Lt Colonel Hal Moore. After all, someone who’s able to pull off a victory when facing forces 8 times their size probably has a thing or two to teach me (and probably you, too!).

It turns out that Hal Moore eventually became a three-star general. He retired from the US Army in 1977 and passed away in 2017.

There is a YouTube video of General Hal Moore’s speech on leadership made at the American Veterans Center conference in November 2007. It’s an excellent speech, and well worth watching if you’re interested in leadership.

Often in life, we come to a fork in the road where your heart tells you to go in one direction, but your instincts tell you to go in the other. General Moore stated in his speech (2 minutes 39 seconds into the video) that your instincts are the product of your experience, your reading, and your personality. When times are critical, your instincts are your best resources.

Pilot Training and Experience

By now, you’re probably tired of trying to draw the correlation between this and what I do for a living – eLearning, or online pilot and aviation training courses. What could the relationship possible be between a battle fought a long time ago in a distant land and learning online? The common denominator is experience. Through learning, you gain experience, and that experience becomes the basis for the very instincts that aid you in critical moments.

Wikipedia defines experience as the knowledge or mastery of an event or subject gained through involvement in or exposure to it. Reading about something, or taking an eLearning course is exposure to something. Involvement is actually doing it. Training flight crews involves a lot of reading, but also much practice gained through simulator sessions and during operational flights.

Online Pilot Training by Type of Aircraft

Although Avsoft International is best known for its collection of aircraft flight deck graphics, we have a pretty active eLearning business. We have the largest collection of aircraft systems courses in the world. This is because, unlike other eLearning providers, we provide eLearning courses for specific aircraft types. For example, most eLearning providers will offer you a ‘one size fits all’ B737 classic course; Avsoft, on the other hand, will offer you a B737-300, a -400, a -400 freighter, a -500, or a combination of models. And if you can’t find what you need in our pre-existing catalog, we’re equipped to create precisely what you need.

As part of this eLearning business, we also offer Learning Management Services for training organizations, so we have quite a bit of experience in the delivery end of a course. Over the years, I’ve discovered that a majority of organizations that do eLearning don’t understand what they’re doing or what’s going on, and in my experience, this is true regardless of the type or size of organization. It’s pretty frustrating dealing with an eLearning manager when you’re discussing their needs or trying to address a problem that needs to be solved, but that eLearning manager doesn’t understand what’s going on.

As I pondered the experience angle of life, I couldn’t help but consider where my experience had brought me. I’m a retired airline pilot myself, having spent 20 years at Northwest Airlines (now part of Delta Airlines). During my career at Northwest, I was exposed to quite a bit of eLearning, which allowed me to become deeply familiar with the receiving end of the process. Now, with Avsoft, I get to be an expert on the delivery end of the eLearning process, though this familiarity and expertise wasn’t automatic. Rather, it was acquired over time by first using an open source LMS, and eventually designing and operating our own. Being involved with the production of eLearning courses has allowed me to become even more instinctual throughout the process, not to mention that it’s given me the opportunity to learn quite a bit about other aircraft systems besides the one I flew as a pilot.

Whether your organization is an Avsoft customer or not, understanding the management of a Learning Management System, the design and development of one, and how things really work offers insight into how you might best utilize these kinds of tools for your organization. Hopefully, through exposure (like the kind you’re getting reading this blog), you can develop further experience to draw upon to better steer your organization’s eLearning efforts. I’ve got a few more stories up my sleeve, too. I’ll be writing about our victories as well as our failures because it’s important to reflect on both, but failures deserve particular scrutiny. As far as I’m concerned, a failure is nothing to be ashamed of. The important point is to look at the failure to determine the chain of events that led to the failure point, and how it may have been avoided in the first place. Just like in Safety Management Systems, this process is not designed to assign blame. It’s designed to improve your thinking or your organization’s thinking, so that this failure becomes part of your experience, eventually enabling your instincts to kick in with higher strength and accuracy when decisions come your way in the future.

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