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The contract management learning center: this learning and knowledge management center is a key focal point for professional development and community-building.

This year is going to be an exceptional one for NCMA members. In addition to the regular portfolio of products and services that NCMA offers the acquisition community, we are excited to announce the launching of our new Contract Management Learning Center (CMLC), debuting this month.

The CMLC is a new members-only virtual learning and knowledge community. Created with a technology called a learning management system (LMS), this Web-based education environment shares knowledge and offers opportunities for all our members. The CMLC features a virtual campus map that categorizes all its resources, using graphic depictions of campus buildings. Each building is actually a link to various features and functions within the virtual campus. Through our new learning center, members have access to courseware, documents, data, instructors, colleagues, students, and a comprehensive skills gap analysis tool. Members have full control over the management of their own profiles and learning records, and can actively participate in the many Communities of Interest (COI) that reside in the CMLC.

NCMA is proud of the tremendous value the launch of the new CMLC brings to membership. And because access to this new career management resource is restricted to NCMA members, the CMLC access power only resides with you; and you are ensured to share this community with only your peers.

How It All Started

In today's fast-paced world of "here today, gone tomorrow," the role of professional associations is changing. Today's professionals are busier than ever before. They need information, network, and professional development opportunities to be timely and convenient. The ways they learn and the organizations they choose to associate with must accommodate their hectic schedules. An on-line learning center is consistent with these changes and education formats in today's environment.

The new learning center represents the culmination of the many years of experience NCMA has earned in providing education resources to its members. Although this CMLC is a newly announced member resource, this virtual community was developed through a two-year market analysis. NCMA realized that the scope of its education vision would require extending the functionality of most learning management systems beyond their traditional means. After much research and evaluation we concluded that the Chantilly, Virginia-based Meridian KSI system offered the best technology basis for NCMA and our CMLC.

NCMA developed the CMLC to address the demands of time and attention that are placed on NCMA members in their daily professional routines. It's designed to do so by providing convenient, on-demand access to specific, organized, and searchable information. It also provides many networking opportunities through access to individuals and specialized Communities of Interest.

As technology continues to advance, so, too, do member expectations. Membership dues are now looked upon as an investment by most people. We realize "belonging just for the sake of being part of the group" is not common practice these days. The World Wide Web has caused a proliferation of information. Herbert Simon, a Nobel prize-winning economist, may have said it best when he said, "A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention." Members expect NCMA, and other professional associations, to wade through, filter, and communicate what is useful to them from the avalanche of information that is available. Members expect real value for their membership dollars. If you are not adding value to the information that is available, you are not satisfying the members' expectations.

NCMA members now have a powerful resource that allows them to keep pace with the rapid advances in technology. Our learning center represents the answer to the expectations of today's member for new ways to learn, connect, and contribute to the acquisition community.

Adding Value to Your Membership

First and foremost, the CMLC is designed to be your ultimate resource. Our goal is to increase our members' on-the-job performance by giving immediate access to helpful information, tools, people, and providing products and services that aren't always readily available to you when you need them.

Through the learning center, members also have the ability to manage their career development by measuring themselves against the community and understanding what skills they need to develop in order to advance. This allows them to easily create their own individual development plan (IDP) and maintain their own learning record.

One of the most valuable and essential benefits an association can provide its members is the ability to connect and network with other individual members in the community at large. The new CMLC achieves this is two different ways. First, it connects a member to other individuals through its "Peernet" function. The Peernet provides a member with the option to share general and/or specific information about him/herself with the entire community or to identify him/herself as a subject matter expert. This information is searchable, thus allowing others in the community seeking guidance or wishing to network to connect with the specific member who can help them.

Second, the CMLC connects individual members to others in the acquisition community who share a common interest. This is accomplished through various Communities of Interest (COI) that exist virtually in the learning center. These communities are actually groups of members that are open to sharing knowledge, advancing their particular acquisition specialty, and networking among their peers. Members can belong to as many communities as they wish.

Finally, members can position themselves to contribute to and influence the acquisition community. There are many opportunities to engage the community as a subject matter expert, independently or as part of a COI. There are opportunities to write articles and technical papers for submission. All members have the opportunity to submit a review of an article, paper, or other resource they have used in the CMLC. Additionally, members can act as career advisors to others, if engaged to do so.

How It Works

Here are some of its largest and more popular features. As mentioned earlier, the learning center uses a virtual campus map that divides all its resources, using graphic depictions of campus buildings. There are eight separate buildings in the campus, each containing unique features and functionality.

One of the most unique features of the CMLC is a self-assessment instrument, also known as a skills-gap analysis. This instrument contains several general job titles relating to federal government or private sector contracting. Each of these positions identifies core competencies, which are tied to the NCMA competency model that is used by NCMA certification department. Members can identify the job title that most closely resembles their current or desired job and measure themselves against the competency levels for that position. They will then be able to determine where their "gaps" or educational needs are to advance in their career.

A second unique feature of the learning center is the individual development plan (IDP). An IDP is a tool that identifies your learning and developmental needs, based on the general job position that you choose, your self-evaluation, and others' evaluations. Success in your position requires certain knowledge and skills. Your IDP defines these requirements and provides feedback on your accomplishment of them. It further provides links to training activities from other education providers to help you improve in specific areas.

Other notable learning resource features include:

* Training seminars from leading contract management education providers mapped to the competency models,

* Audio files from NCMA conferences,

* Web sites,

Articles (from recent Contract Management issues and other magazines),

* The Buyer's Guide,

Newsletters,

* Technical papers,

* Books,

* Searchable network of peers, and

* Communities of Interest.

All of these features are linked to your IDP, but may also be accessed by performing a keyword search according to your area of interest. They are indexed by major market segments (federal, commercial sector, and state/local) and levels (beginner, mid-level, and executive).

How to Get Involved

The CMLC is an NCMA member benefit and is accessible exclusively to NCMA members. The first step: Verify that you are a current member of NCMA in good standing. Then, you can access the CMLC portal through the "Members-Only" section of the NCMA Web site, www.ncmahq.org. Upon your initial visit to the center, you will be asked to register and set up your user profile. The registration process involves providing some personal information (name, organization, e-mail, etc.). You will also be asked to choose the general position title that most closely resembles your current job duties.

Once you have registered, the entire learning center is at your disposal. You can complete the self-assessment and create an IDP. You can take courses (classroom or online), read a paper, visit a Web site, or even find a book. You can join a Community of Interest or share your expertise with the world through the Peernet tool.

It's really up to you and your immediate needs as to where you go in the learning center and what resources you use. And since it is virtual, it is always available as a powerful tool and tremendous resource for you.

The Future

The CMLC is a growing, dynamic addition to NCMA'smember services. Beyond learning and knowledge management, this is also a community-building tool. The more each person participates and contributes to the learning center, the more each will benefit. We encourage you to make the CMLC an immediate part of your professional toolbox.

RELATED ARTICLE: CMLC Benefits

* Improve your on-the-job performance with immediate access to information.

* Manage your career development (skills-gap analysis and IDP tools).

* Connect to key individuals in the community.

* Belong to Communities of Interest that matter to you.

* Contribute to and influence the acquisition community around you.

About the Author

BILL SCOTT is the director of education and chief learning officer at NCMA's national office. Send comments on this article to cm@ncmahq.org.
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Author:Scott, William N.
Publication:Contract Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2003
Words:1607
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