MCI distance learning instructors lead, write the way

5 Mar 2008 | Lance Cpl. Jacob H. Harrer

The quarter is coming to a close and new composite scores will soon be calculated. The rush is on to complete correspondence courses. Whether serving on duty or playing barracks rat for the long weekend, Marines are studying the bullet-ridden, diagram-filled booklets. For some of them, the course is simply 15 more points towards their composite scores. For others, it is the difference between corporal and sergeant.

 While the extra points are helpful for promotion, the mission of a Marine Corps Institute course is to fill training gaps, said Capt. Jennifer Ryu, MCI deputy director of the Distance Learning Technology Department. A select group of Marines is responsible for identifying deficiencies in regular training, developing a thorough curriculum and polishing each correspondence course. These experts are known as MCI’s distance learning instructors.

 Translating real-life experience into textbooks requires Marines who are willing to devote themselves to becoming professional educators. The information they pass on will be read by thousands of Marines across the world and used in training events and combat. After all, Marines are trained to do what they are taught, so any deficiencies in the curriculum could compromise future missions.

 “Having been in the fleet for so many years, you get to see areas where Marines need more training,” said Staff Sgt. Walter Sweeney, one of 20 distance learning instructors. “It’s actually a privilege to be able to help them [Marines] with their training before they make those mistakes. It’s more of a proactive approach than a reactive approach.”

 According to Ryu, MCI ensures each course contains accurate and timely information, and proficient Marines from many different occupational specialties must write them. The distance learning section is comprised of Marines from nearly every MOS, ranging from infantry and combat arms, to legal administration and electronics.

 Each year, a screening group travels to Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton to search for and interview potential instructors. Each candidate is expected to have a proven record in the operating forces.

 “We want Marines who have operational experience, who are ready to have a deep impact on their MOS,” added Ryu.

 Sweeney, an aviation maintenance specialist, is one such Marine. Sweeney deployed to Indonesia in 1999 and Al-Asad, Iraq in 2004, gaining valuable experience for his job. Also, throughout his extensive travels, he met many Marines working in his MOS, an essential pool of knowledge for distance learning instructors. After arriving at MCI in September of 2006, Sweeney was put through a self-paced instructor training program that typically lasts about nine months.

 “It was down and dirty,” said Sweeney. “It was like a crash course. You have a whole learning system to master.”

 After learning how to write correspondence courses, instructors must review current courses for updates. Instructors work with senior Marines from all around the Corps to find gaps in training.

 The operational experience of the distance learning instructor helps tremendously during this phase of course development.

 “Having the outside entities and knowing Marines in the upper echelons helps you attain the material you need,” Sweeney said.

 By speaking with instructors at each schoolhouse and gathering information from the most experienced Marines in each career field, instructors identify areas for improvement in regular training and MCI courses. The writers then develop goals for what needs to be taught, known as a “targeting board.”

 Using the targeting board and the experience of their peers, instructors produce a training manual, then test it on other Marines. With these results, the instructors revise their work to ensure the final product is effective and meets each goal on the targeting board.

 Once a course manual is finalized, instructors create the online exam. What began as the revamping of training, ends in a streamlined system of personal study and speedy internet testing. After about nine months, the final result is the simple, red textbook laying on the duty desk, waiting to be read.

 Marines all over the Corps can take advantage of MCI courses to immediately improve their skills and earn points towards promotion. They can be confident about the knowledge they gain, as it comes from some of the Corps’ finest Marines, the MCI distance learning instructors.

 For more information on becoming an instructor, contact Capt. Ryu at (202) 685-7446 or via email You can also contact Master Gunnery Sgt. Stewart at (202) 685-7522 or via email