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The ADL Initiative traces its origins to the early-1990s, when Congress authorized and appropriated funds for the National Guard to build prototype electronic classrooms and learning networks to increase personnel’s access to learning opportunities. By the mid-1990s, the DoD realized the need for a more coordinated approach. The 1996 Quadrennial Defense Review formalized this by directing development of a Department-wide strategy for modernizing technology-based education and training. This strategy became the original ADL Initiative. In 1998, the Deputy Secretary of Defense directed the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness (USD(P&R), in collaboration with the Services, Joint Staff, Under Secretaries of Defense for Acquisition and Technology and the Comptroller), to lead ADL Initiative. The Deputy Secretary of Defense also directed the USD(P&R) to produce the Department-wide policy for advanced distributed learning, develop a corresponding “master plan” to carry out the policy, and to ensure sufficient programs and resources were available for the associated implementation (see the 1999 ADL Initiative Strategic Plan for more details).

By 1998, the DoD and other Federal agencies (e.g., the Department of Labor) had each established their own ADL Initiative projects, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) moved to consolidate these via the Federal Training Technology Initiative. Thus, following guidance from Congress, OSTP, and the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, the DoD ADL Initiative was grown into a Federal-wide program. Specific direction for this can be found in Section 378 of Public Law 105-261, the Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1999, which required the Secretary of Defense to develop a strategic plan for expanding distance learning initiatives, as well as Executive Order 13111 (President William J. Clinton, 12 January 1999), which called for an integrated Federal-wide approach to distance learning.

Shortly after President Clinton signed Executive Order 13111, the Pentagon released the Department of Defense Strategic Plan for Advanced Distributed Learning (April 30, 1999) and the corresponding Department of Department of Defense Implementation Plan for Advanced Distributed Learning (May 19, 2000). These source documents defined the ADL Initiative, its rationale and vision, in a way that still largely aligns with the contemporary program.

Importantly, the Initiative’s underpinnings and applications are germane not only to the Department of Defense, but to other government organizations, academia, and the private sector, as well. The ADL Initiative, therefore, is a structured, adaptive, collaborative effort between the public and private sectors to develop the standards, tools, and learning content for the future learning environment. The Department of Defense’s vision is to harness the power of the Internet and other virtual or private wide-area networks (WANs) to deliver high-quality learning. It brings together intelligent tutors, distributed subject matter experts, real-time in-depth learning management, and a diverse array of support tools to ensure a responsive, high-quality “learner-centric” system (DoD Strategic Plan for ADL Initiative, 1999, p. 8.

Similarly, the objectives outlined in that 1999 strategy still guide today’s ADL Initiative. For instance, the original strategy proposed pursuit of emerging network-based technologies, creation of common standards to enable reuse and interoperability of learning content, lowering of development costs, widespread promotion of collaboration to satisfy common needs, enhancing performance with next-generation learning technologies, working closely with industry to influence the commercial product development cycles, establishing coordinated implementation processes, and ultimately delivering efficient and effective high-quality learning continuously to the DoD anytime, anywhere. The original intent of these efforts was to establish learning that was accessible, interoperable, durable, and cost-effective.

And on page 9:

The advanced distributed learning strategy requires re-engineering the learning paradigm from a “classroom-centric” model to an increasingly “learner-centric” model, and re-engineering the learning business process from a “factory model” (involving mainly large education and training institutions) to a more network-centric “information-age model” which incorporates anytime-anywhere learning (DoD Strategic Plan for ADL Initiative, 1999, p. 9).

These aims were to be achieved by taking five actions:

  • Influence the development/use of common industry standards
  • Enable acquisition of interoperable tools and content
  • Create a robust and dynamic network infrastructure for distribution
  • Enable the modernization of supporting resources
  • Engender cultural change to move from a “classroom-centric” to a “learner-centric” model

Evidence of adherence to these objectives is easily identifiable in the activities of today’s ADL Initiative. The growth of the Global Partnership Network and coordinating projects with the Global Defense Cooperatives (NATO, PfPC, TTCP) continue to provide a platform of combined effort for the infrastructure of distribution. The ever-evolving list of ADL Initiative Projects is in a constant state of study and improvement when new data and technology becomes available.

The ADL Initiative’s long-term mission as well as its enduring core values, including active inclusion of learning science best practices with advanced technology development, dedication to open and interoperable technologies, a learner-centric focus, and unique commitment to widespread collaboration have advanced as technology has changed, and requirements have naturally evolved, but the original ADL Initiative mission and vision still ring true today.