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Volume 26
Number 1
Spring 2009
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Interpretive coaches review student site-based activities before awarding an advanced certificate of completion. (Katie L. Bliss) Social / Cultural Sciences
Building an NPS training program in interpretation through distance learning
By Elizabeth R. Barrie and Katie L. Bliss
Published: 4 Sep 2015 (online)  •  14 Sep 2015 (in print)
  A training chasm
Flexible learning tools
Fulfilling the mission
About the authors
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A training chasm

“APPROXIMATELY 70,000 PRACTITIONERS work in partnership with the National Park Service to deliver interpretation and education services to the public,” according to the NPS Interpretation and Education Renaissance Action Plan (National Park Service 2006). However, “only 3,000 of this workforce currently participate in interpretation and education training” (National Park Service 2006). A gap in training that encompasses 67,000 people creates vast challenges for maintaining and upholding professional standards. New tools—built on an interpretation and education training platform that has evolved over the years—are beginning to address this challenge.

As early as 1994, the NPS Division of Interpretation and Education defined competencies for interpretation in the parks. In 2004, using the Multipurpose Occupational Systems Analysis Inventory–Close-Ended (MOSAIC) methodology, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) validated 13 competencies integral to the delivery of interpretation and education services:

• Knowledge of the Resource

• Knowledge of the Audience

• Knowledge of Appropriate Techniques

• Informal Visitor Contacts

• Interpretive Talk

• Conducted Activity

• Illustrated Program or Demonstration

• Interpretive Writing

• Curriculum-based Education Program

• Interpretive Planning

• Interpretive Media Development

• Interpretive Training and Coaching

• Interpretive Research

“A gap in training that encompasses 67,000 people creates vast challenges for maintaining and upholding professional standards.”

The MOSAIC process incorporated input from interpreters at multiple pay (i.e., GS or general schedule) levels who rated the competencies on several scales, including importance and requirement for entry. The rigor of this methodology ensures that the competencies can withstand legal challenges.

These competencies established professional standards for national park interpretation and education services, but did not provide the necessary training materials to reach all of the volunteers, concessioners, partners, and employees performing these services. Therefore, in 2005 the National Park Service partnered with Indiana University’s Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands in order to revise the Interpretive Development Program curriculum and address this vast training gap. After a systematic review of the curriculum, the partners decided to create the Interpretation and Education Distance Learning and Credentialing Platform. This platform contains a blended curriculum based on the OPM-validated competencies.

The partners launched a pilot course in 2006, and courses on the Foundations of Interpretation (addressing the first three competencies listed above) and Informal Visitor Contacts rolled out in spring 2007. Subsequently the program has released courses on the interpretive talk, interpretive writing, conducted activities, and training and coaching. Courses on additional competencies will be released in late 2009.

The curriculum for each competency now includes (1) a competency narrative, (2) an online self-paced course, and (3) a classroom training packet. NPS partners and the public alike can access all materials at Since the initial launch of the platform, people all over the world (e.g., China, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates) have registered for more than 7,000 courses. Hence, the training gap is closing via a mechanism that provides park managers with flexible tools for upholding NPS interpretation and education standards, while also providing widespread access to NPS-sponsored training of OPM-certified competencies.

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This page updated:  13 July 2009

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From the Guest Editor(s)
In This Issue
Information Crossfile
Book Reviews
Masthead Information
The Canon National Parks Science Scholars Program: A legacy of science for national parks
Science for parks / parks for science: Conservation-based research in national parks
The rock and ice problem in national parks: An opportunity for monitoring climate change impacts
1,000 feet above a coral reef: A seascape approach to designing marine protected areas
Management strategies for keystone bird species: The Magellanic woodpecker in Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina
Climate change and water supply in western national parks
Mercury in snow at Acadia National Park reveals watershed dynamics
Organic pollutant distribution in Canadian mountain parks
  Building an NPS training program in interpretation through distance learning
Musical instruments in the pre-Hispanic Southwest
Societal dynamics in grizzly bear conservation: Vulnerabilities of the ecosystem-based management approach
Linking wildlife populations with ecosystem change: State-of-the-art satellite ecology for national-park science
Whale sound recording technology as a tool for assessing the effects of boat noise in a Brazilian marine park
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