Most people think of the National Rifle Association as a political organization. While the related entity, the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) is, in fact, a political group, the core NRA is really a training and education organization. When you send your membership dues, you’re supporting programs like the Eddie Eagle child safety initiative. When you choose not to join the NRA, you’re not withholding your hard-earned money from political lobbying, you’re choosing not to fund impactful education and safety programs.
What do those education programs really do? Quite a bit. According to the NRA-ILA,
the number of privately owned guns in the U.S. is at an all-time high, upwards of 300 million, and now rises by about 10 million per year. Meanwhile, the firearm accident death rate has fallen to an all-time low, 0.2 per 100,000 population, down 94% since the all-time high in 1904. Since 1930, the annual number of firearm accident deaths has decreased 81%, while the U.S. population has more than doubled and the number of firearms has quintupled. Among children, such deaths have decreased 89% since 1975. Today, the odds are more than a million to one, against a child in the U.S. dying in a firearm accident.
Those stunning statistics are no accident. NRA membership dues have supported the development of over 125,000 Certified Firearms Instructors that teach over one million students per year about the proper use of firearms and self-defense. On the safety side, 26,000 law enforcement agencies, schools, and civic groups have taught the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program to 27 million children since 1988.
Those are big numbers, and to date, delivery of education programs has been done the old-fashioned way, using paper and live instructors, teaching one class at a time. However, the world has changed dramatically with the advent of the internet. Not only is information easily available to most anyone, people now expect the ease and convenience of online delivery. Who wants to get in a car and spend hours sitting in a classroom, when certain types of information can be delivered instantly to a laptop, tablet, or mobile device at a time and place convenient for the student?
But don’t take my word for it. Consider the following:
In 2011, people spent $35 billion on eLearning programs. By 2014, that number had grown to over $56 billion. Now, it’s well over $100 billion per year.
Corporate America has figured out that eLearning costs approximately 50% less than traditional classroom instruction. Better yet, it’s up to 60% more effective, likely because the students learn at the own pace, whether that’s faster or slower than a class average.
About half of current college students take at least one course online.
So what does this mean for the National Rifle Association? As an organization entirely dependent on voluntary contributions, every possible efficiency in delivering their core training and education mission stretches each donation dollar further. Or, put another way, more efficient training allows content to be delivered to more students for every given dollar.
Additionally, online learning formats allow other learning benefits. Courses can be developed with instantaneous knowledge checkpoints in the form on periodic “quizzes.” If the student demonstrated knowledge of the material, then the course proceeds. If not, the eLearning module can redirect the student to areas of weakness. Also, it’s possible for course designers to monitor the effectiveness of topics and methods of presentation to optimize the effectiveness of course delivery. It’s a win for content providers and students.
Kicking off the blended learning initiative in 2016 will be the flagship NRA Basic Pistol Course. In its current live class instruction format, it reaches over 300,000 students per year. Much of the course content is classroom-based and can be effectively delivered via online courses. Multimedia and graphics might even be a more effective way to show people how guns work, different types of actions and things of that nature. As an NRA Certified Handgun Instructor, I know firsthand what the material looks like from spending two days mostly in a classroom looking at notebooks and PowerPoint slides.
The idea for the new blended courses involves looking carefully at the content and making determinations as to what content can be delivered online via a self-paced program and what content actually requires live instruction. Obviously the range and shooting portions of many courses will have to be done in person at a qualified facility. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.
Most of the content of the NRA Basic Pistol course can be delivered right to the student’s home via on-demand online learning modules. This course will still include printed materials, and the NRA Guide to the Basics of Pistol Shooting book will be mailed to the student when they register for the online class. Once the student completes the online portion of the class, they will receive a code and instructions which will enable them to schedule the live portion of the class at a mutually agreeable time with one of 125,000 NRA Certified Instructors. After meeting the student and completing the range portion of the class, the instructor can make a final evaluation as to whether the student has successfully earned a certificate of completion for that specific course.
While the NRA has wisely elected to start with their most popular course, NRA Basic Pistol, you can be sure that other classes will quickly follow. Who knows, some classes may be able to be delivered entirely online. With the new content delivery channel and economies of scale of education delivery, I suspect we will see new categories of instruction that could not have been delivered profitably before in a classroom only environment.
Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. This article was produced in cooperation with the NRA.