Reaching the Soldier
Army distributed learning uses technology to fight Global War on Terrorism
By Hugh C. Laughlin/TRADOC News Service
FORT MONROE, Va. (TRADOC News Service, April 27, 2005) – There is no question today that we are a nation at war, with service members deployed to the far reaches of the world. The Global War on Terrorism has greatly impacted how the U.S. Army is developing its training programs.
The Army Distributed Learning Program brings together many different pieces into one common standard.
The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command mission of recruiting, training and educating the Army’s Soldiers is a huge undertaking. TADLP plays an important role in the professional development and education of the Army’s Soldiers and civilian employees.
“When you talk about distributed learning, there are multiple complementary components to it,” said Michael Jacobson, a senior training analyst for the Distributed Learning Division, Training Development and Delivery Directorate, TRADOC Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Training, Fort Monroe, Va.
Over the past two decades, Army training and education has undergone some profound changes. “Twenty-five years ago, all the management of Army training was done by hand. Fifteen years ago, different stovepiped systems were developed to use technology and automation to satisfy some of these aspects of Army training,” described Jacobson.
“The deficiency was that none of these systems could communicate with each other. Data had to be recreated in multiple systems, and you couldn’t cross-reference any of this stuff,” said Jacobson.
Today’s information technology has allowed for the increased speed of information processing and the ability to increase the usability across multiple platforms.
With the ultimate goal being to improve readiness by the delivery of standardized individual, collective and self-development training to Soldiers and units any time and any place, TADLP is the umbrella that provides this for the entire U.S. Army professional development and education system.
The major components that fall under this umbrella include distributed learning courseware, lifelong learning centers, digital training facilities, the Army Learning Management System and the Deployed Digital Training Campus.
One of the key components of the Army’s DL program is its repository of courseware. The Reimer Digital Library and the Soldiers Training Homepage, housed at the Army Training Support Center, contain more than 5,000 DL courses and training products available for both Soldiers and Department of the Army civilian employees to access on-line.
The Armor Captains Career Course is a good example of a resident course redesigned for DL that leverages the efficiencies of DL technology.
The course makes use of some limited immersive training, roleplaying and interactivity. Examples and lessons are embedded in the course using Web-delivered streaming video, according to Jacobson. Modules have embedded gated quizzes and exams.
The course makes use of both synchronous and asynchronous technology over the Internet. And there is a collaborative tool used for synchronous sessions.
This course is representative of the type of courseware TRADOC is developing and fielding for the Army.
Another key component in providing access to training anytime anywhere for any Soldier is the Army Learning Management System.
“The ALMS is simply an automated information-management system currently focused on DL training,” said Col. Marty Vozzo, the TADLP integration officer at TRADOC.
“In other words, if you’re an instructor at Fort Sill, Okla., you now have an automated tool to track the progress of your students,” Vozzo described. “This is everything from course enrollment to grading and collaborative mentoring with your students.”
ALMS does more than facilitate the needs of instructors. According to Vozzo, this is an automated tool that has the capability for course managers to manage many aspects of Army training, like course scheduling and course deconflicting tools, or aligning instructors, classrooms and equipment requirements.
ALMS will ultimately manage resident training via yearly enhancements managed by the training community.
The Army Training Information System provides distributed learning with both a physical and logical architecture to help bring many pieces together.
The ATIS vision is a “seamlessly integrated, interoperable training information-management system with a common database and set of services supporting the requirements of the Army training information architecture-operational architecture configurations,” according to Jacobson. He said ATIS sets the overarching architecture of the many applications like ALMS to be able to cross-reference and interact with one another.
“The bottom line here is this is the overarching architecture of the multiple computer software configurations that plug into the program,” described Jacobson. “From beginning to end, you have integrated training analysis, training development, training delivery and training management capabilities. No single piece of software can reasonably handle that whole gamut.”
The ATIS architecture brings together myriad functions into one comprehensive information system.
Whether it is an Army unit as a whole, unit training management, future combat systems, individual students or a training developer, they will access ATIS through that common architecture.
Training developers will use the soon-to-be-fielded Training and Doctrine Development Tool as part of ATIS to develop TRADOC-generated course programs of instruction, individual tasks and collective tasks. “For example, individual tasks have to be associated with courseware,” Jacobson said. “The courseware is loaded into a learning management system. The LMS draws from that same set of databases TDDT uses to develop individual tasks and associate them with courses.”
From the Soldier’s perspective, the efficiency and thoroughness of the training that’s delivered is greatly increased.
Also, the cost to the Army for training Soldiers can be reduced. “The efficiency that is leveraged through this architecture ultimately allows the Soldier to be better and faster trained,” said Jacobson. “This provides Soldiers the ability to manage their training, manage their career through professional development and access in a single point all those things that impact his or her professional development from a training perspective.”
With the ongoing Global War on Terrorism, providing access for the Soldiers to the reference training materials is now more critical than ever before. To provide this access, the Army has developed the Deployed Digital Training Campus.
“DDTC is a portable digital network that can be set up anywhere and has both satellite connectivity and terrestrial connectivity, like your office network, that provides access to a whole host of DL content,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Hall, training transformation chief in the Distributed Learning Division, Training Development and Delivery Directorate, TRADOC DCSOPS&T.
DDTC is basically a server in a box, with 20 laptop workstations and a wireless local-area network capability. The internal LAN for this classroom can be configured for simultaneous sets of workstations, providing video teletraining, DL courses, collaborative synchronous connectivity or simulation-based training capabilities, said Hall.
Hall describes this deployable network, making the analogy to the Swiss Army knife. “It has multiple applications like having the different knife blades, the can opener, screwdriver, etc. It is really meant to provide maximum capability in the hands of the operational commander to get access to all that stuff which is out there,” he said.
DDTC has several prototypes already deployed throughout the world. “We are planning to field two systems this summer to an active-Army division preparing to deploy to Iraq,” said Hall. “We are looking to deploy these systems as part of a continuous user test. The objective is to get these two units to them this summer, giving them time to train up on the two platforms, and then they will take one forward with them and leave one back at home station.
“These systems will be much more mobile, coming in pieces that are easy to assemble; plug it into the server and fire it up,” he described. “We don’t want to produce a piece of equipment that is going to require a lot of logistics support. We want this to be easy for Soldiers to use. And we don’t want to burden an operational commander in terms of resources to operate this system. The benefit ratio is high.”
Hall gives this example of how the DDTC can be used. “If I’m in the field and I want to get information on a particular subject through one of the LLC portals, I can contact a subject-matter expert on something and collaborate with them on the most up-to-date procedure or get feedback on something,” described Hall. “I can go right to the school to get that information. I can show them pictures and be talking with them on-line, classified or unclassified. Or I could use a whiteboard.
“The DDTC is a problem-solving mechanism,” Hall said. “It opens up access directly into the schools from the field – from the Soldiers in the field, directly back to the schoolhouse, the centers where those experts are. It provides that digital linkage right back to the folks who are the experts.”
The LLC is a concept initially developed at Fort Gordon, Ga., and its University of Information Technology. Essentially it is a technological facilitator supporting the Army’s lifelong learning initiative, said Jacobson. TRADOC is planning to field this capability to 15 installations in the next six years.
The LLC is the digital hub of the Army’s lifelong learning process, where standardized proponent content is developed, stored and delivered to Active and Reserve Component Soldiers and civilians. The LLC connects students to TRADOC proponent schools for training and education throughout their career and features robust help-desk capabilities to manage Soldier training.
“Not having to bring that Soldier back to the schoolhouse to get that enhancement training is a significant benefit of the lifelong learning centers,” Jacobson said. “With a Soldier using a DDTC or DTF, an instructor at an LLC can deliver any requested training throughout the world.”
Another reachback capability for deployed service members is the Interservice Distributed Learning Courseware catalog.
“All the services’ senior training leadership agreed there was a need to get a handle on all the DL courseware that is out there,” said Jacobson.
The plan of action was to make that content accessible to any desired Department of Defense user. “This also began an exploration of a joint Web portal for authentication and authorization of users,” Jacobson said. “It would provide access to the actual content to the warfighters who are deployed.”
TADLP is providing a benefit for the Soldiers and enlisted leaders returning from a deployment by leveraging the information technologies available to deliver vital leadership training while keeping Soldiers close to their home station, units and families.
The noncommissioned officer corps is credited with successfully leading small combat units throughout the initial Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom campaigns. The NCO Education System is key in developing NCO leadership knowledge.
Many of these NCOs, along with thousands of junior-enlisted Soldiers, will return from OIF/OEF only to prepare for future deployment at the next level of leadership without having attended required schools, resulting in a training backlog.
In an effort to reduce the NCOES training backlog, Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course common-core training is being delivered through DL based video teletraining. “Course schedules have been synchronized with redeploying units’ training plans, and schools are also focused on essential critical tasks to limit time away from home station,” said Jackie Courtney, a senior training analyst for the Distributed Learning Division, Training Development and Delivery Directorate.
According to Courtney, it is vital to the success of future OIF and OEF deployments, and the organizations these NCOs serve, that they attend and complete the next phases of their respective professional military education. The Army enlisted promotion system mandates credit for this training.
The driving force behind TADLP is to increase training readiness, provide maximum opportunity and access to DL products, and save resources by reducing resident training using DL capabilities. The desired endstate is a better-trained Soldier.
TRADOC will continue to redesign courses for DL to support leader development and essential functional training for an Army at war. This truly is transformational for the Army.