GSA Offers Online Training in Conference Etiquette

Agency uses Blackboard platform to draw teachable moment from conference 'mistake.'

This year has not brought the most positive of headlines for the General Services Administration, particularly after revelations agency officials spent excessively at an over-the-top Las Vegas training conference that featured a mind reader, bicycle giveaways and extravagant receptions.

But now the agency is using that “mistake” as a catalyst for an effort to train other employees on conference etiquette, a topic that will serve as one of the first courses of its new virtual training program set to launch in January, Lauren Concklin, a marketing analyst with GSA, said Thursday during a webinar sponsored by GovLoop.

“GSA underwent a huge travel mistake in the last year, and this is also another reason why we want to modernize our training,” Concklin said, noting that the goal of virtual training is to reduce travel mishaps and help agencies realize efficiencies and cost savings.

The agency has teamed up with the online learning platform Blackboard to provide Web-based training to federal employees across government. A manual and in-person process for registering for and attending classes is moving online, allowing feds to register, pay for and attend classes via Internet. The Blackboard platform also provides tools such as discussion boards to collaborate, Concklin said.

GSA plans to launch its first online course, “Travel Basics,” through Blackboard in January, Concklin said. Another course – “How to Attend a Conference” – will go live in February or March, she added.

“Thanks to the big mistake we had in the last year, GSA is using that as an opportunity to say, ‘here’s what we did wrong,’ and helping other federal agencies to learn from our mistakes,” Concklin said. “So ‘How to Attend a Conference’ is one course that’s going to be piggybacked off that theory.”             

The new online platform also is enabling GSA to offer training in a more creative, game-like setting. “There is a difference in the way generations like to be trained, but one thing we know for sure is that the old click-style of PowerPoint training isn’t always the most effective, especially when it comes to training employees on things like travel,” Concklin said. “Doing it in a more integrated, creative way is more engaging.”                                      

GSA also is trying to push a capability that will establish more uniform tracking of training courses for federal employees. This will involve a new system that will push out to agencies a tracking feature that enables training courses to automatically be updated in an employee’s personal file once completed, Concklin said.

GSA also hopes the new online training platform will provide federal employees with greater personal choice on training courses and allow employees to keep up with training, even despite travel and training budgets being cut by 30 percent. “Federal agencies are realizing that their people need to be trained on certain topics, and travel is definitely one of them,” Concklin said. “And by opening the door to these platforms, it’s giving us the opportunity to greatly reduce the price to our federal agencies and allowing more employees to take training and take moretraining in one year.”