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2019 Year In Review

February 04, 2020

The ADL Initiative made significant strides in 2019 along its three main lines of effort: modernization, policy guidance, and cross-coordination. The year’s efforts included increased collaboration with both domestic and international partners, the maturation of concepts devised and researched in prior years, and research-to-practice efforts for new data-driven approaches for managing the DoD education and training enterprise. This document highlights those accomplishments.

Supporting Digital Learning Modernization

In 2019, the ADL Initiative published a book titled Modernizing Learning: Building the Future Learning Ecosystem. Co-authored ADL Initiative Director Sae Schatz and other subject-matter experts spanning multiple learning-technology disciplines and communities, it describes for the DoD and other stakeholders a vision for connecting learning experiences across time and space to develop a holistic learning continuum.

The technical foundation of this new learning ecosystem is the Total Learning Architecture (TLA), a set of data specifications, technologies and governance policies that will allow the efficient and consistent flow of data across different organizations, learning applications, and learners. In 2019 the TLA was matured through the creation of a Functional Requirements Document and numerous DoD Architectural Framework (DoDAF) views.

2019 research focused on hardening the collaboratively developed specifications and standards needed to ensure data interoperability across TLA components. The xAPI 2.0 specification, is being developed with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and is expected to be rolled out in 2020. It includes minor enhancements that build upon the previous xAPI 1.0.3 specification. Strides were also made in the IEEE’s Reusable Competency Definition (IEEE 1484.20.1) specification, with anticipated completion before the end of 2020.

The TLA Reference Implementation was refactored in 2019 based on the lessons learned in 2018. This effort included a migration from the point-to-point data sharing architecture used in 2018 to a data streaming architecture based on the Apache Kafka platform. TLA “core” and “edge” capabilities were separated, and communication protocols and microservices associated with each TLA component were defined.

One example of this core/edge treatment is with the traditional Learning Management System (LMS). An LMS typically serves as the hub for distributed-learning programs, but under the 2019 Reference Implementation the traditional LMS is considered a TLA edge system, though some common LMS features are treated as core capabilities to support certain education and training modalities. This provides a more extensible approach to modernization by decoupling key services and data.

The Talent Development Toolkit (TDT) Requirements and Architecture Study was completed in 2019, outlining for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (OUSDI) the TLA technical requirements, an initial architecture, a phased implementation strategy, and evaluation metrics. The TDT represents the Intelligence Community’s implementation of the TLA and is expected to become the operational learning ecosystem for the Intelligence Community. The work performed with OUSDI helped buy down risk for other TLA components by vetting the architecture with numerous government specialists that focus on cybersecurity, data management, privacy, and information technology.

The ADL Initiative’s work on the TLA was also leveraged to support the Defense Health Agency’s own version of the TLA. The collaboration with DHA produced a TLA requirements document and an overall acquisition strategy that considered the maturity levels of each TLA component to estimate the time needed to harden and operationalize those components. This DHA acquisition strategy provides a roadmap for implementing the TLA in small increments, which capitalizes on an organization’s existing infrastructure.

Similar work also began in 2019 to support the Army’s Synthetic Training Environment (STE) program. Involvement in both programs is expected to grow in 2020. This work provides valuable lessons learned on the operationalization of the TLA that will be distributed to all ADL Initiative stakeholders in the future.

The ADL Initiative continued its progress on a portfolio of supporting projects, such as Privacy and Security for the Total Learning Architecture (PS4TLA), the Competency and Skills Systems (CaSS) Authoring Tools (CAT), the Navigator for Integrated Learning Environment (NILE), the Pervasive Learning System (PERLS), and the Personalized eBook for Learning (PeBL). These systems and applications work with the TLA to deliver instructional content using Competency-Based Learning (CBL) as a means to track progress.

Most of these applications will eventually be available to ADL Initiative stakeholders via the ADL Initiative’s Learning Technology Warehouse which also started development in 2019. This capability establishes a repeatable Dev-Ops pipeline for developing TLA compliant tools, systems, platforms, and applications, and enables a centralized location for stakeholders to test, evaluate, and eventually implement each capability.

A major focus for 2019 was to increase the adoption of the Experience API (xAPI) across the DoD. Development on the xAPI Profile Server began in summer of 2019. It supports the authoring, validation, and sharing of xAPI Profiles to ensure organizations implementing xAPI are using similar vocabularies and contexts to support the DoD’s overall data strategy. Alpha testing began in late 2019 on a system to test xAPI Implementations at scale, which is required by many DoD stakeholders before acquiring key xAPI infrastructure.

Many DoD organizations have a need to connect xAPI data into their analytics and visualization capabilities. The Data Analytics and Visualization Environment (DAVE) prototype was released in 2019 and is being implemented into the TLA Reference Implementation to showcase the value of pulling data and visualizing it across numerous Learning Record Store (LRS) implementations. This open source capability enables enterprise dashboards to pull data from all learning activities across multiple LRS instances. The data gleaned from these dashboards have great potential to address new learning problems and enable new instructional strategies, technological capabilities, and metrics objectives.

While much of the 2019 research portfolio was technology focused, progress was also made in understanding the impacts of these technologies on the science of learning. The ADL Initiative worked with the Arizona State University (ASU) to identify best practices for using distributed-learning at scale. ASU’s ADL Initiative-sponsored Science of Learning and Readiness (SOLAR) project is looking at large commercial institutions to identify best practices for the design, delivery, and management of distributed learning.

Developing and Implementing Effective Policy Guidance

Most of the modernization work performed at the ADL Initiative is reflected in the DoD Instruction 1322.26 and its fungible references. The references were updated multiple times in 2019 to address the Adobe Flash end-of-life, provide guidance on the use of xAPI Profiles, and improve their organization and readability. A planning process for continued updates was established in 2019 to help guide some of the testing and experimentation being performed as part of the ADL’s R&D mission, and to harmonize the modernization efforts being undertaken across different DoD components.

While the work performed in 2019 was more foundational in nature, it set the stage for big improvements in 2020. In addition to working with the Defense ADL Advisory Committee (DADLAC) to facilitate these updates, the ADL Initiative established relationships with the DoD’s Office of the Chief Management Officer (CMO), the DoD’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (CIO), and the Office of the Chief Data Officer (CDO) to guide the overall implementation of an education and training data strategy that aligns with the overall DoD data strategy.

Enabling Cross-Coordination Within the Distributed-Learning Community

New ADL Initiative working groups were established in 2019 to facilitate dialogue and build consensus on a variety of topics:

  • The Flash Deprecation Analysis of Alternatives Working Group has 115 members across 23 DoD agencies that are working together to address the challenges imposed by the deprecation of Adobe Flash on the distributed-learning community. Tools, templates, scripts, and acquisition guidance has been shared across this group, and participation by the DoD CIO’s office helped to create an awareness of this challenge among senior DoD leadership.
  • The xAPI Adoption Working Group has approximately 200 members from 60 agencies, including all military branches. It was established to facilitate the enterprise-wide adoption of xAPI within the DoD by collaboratively identifying and addressing adoption roadblocks.
  • The TLA Working Group fosters the development of comprehensive strategies to manage learning data interoperability through collaboration with industry, academia, and the Federal Government. Membership includes over 250 professionals from several stakeholder organizations. Its subcommittees focus on specific challenges relating to the development and adoption of competency frameworks and CBL, local and global learner records, metadata for content and activities, and an overarching xAPI Profile to support DoD education and training.

International Coordination

The ADL Initiative’s collaborations increased in 2019 with the addition of two new global partners: Ukraine and Denmark. The ADL Initiative and Denmark marked the beginning of their partnership in December 2019 at the ADL Global Partnership Network annual meeting in Florida during the weeklong Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference (I/ITSEC). Fred Drummond, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, and Rear Admiral Henrik Ryberg, Commandant of the Royal Danish Defence College, participated in the Intent to Cooperate agreement signing ceremony.

Attendance at the annual event included over 40 military and civilian participants from the US Government, NATO, Canada, Denmark, Georgia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Ukraine, the Latin American Institute of Educational Communication, Arizona State University, and the University of Memphis. Collaborations with many of these partners continued in 2019:

  • The NATO Training Group Task Group for Individual Training & Educational Development (NTGTG IT&ED): Co-chaired by the ADL Initiative, this group published the NATO Advanced Distributed Learning Handbook in 2019. The handbook is a reference manual that describes new and emerging technologies or policies related to the ADL Initiative.
  • The Partnership for Peace Consortium (PfPC): The PfPC ADL Working Group held its annual study and working group session in November 2019 in Oberammergau, Germany, that also symbolically marked the 20th anniversary of its active and productive existence.
  • The Technical Cooperation Program (TTCP): The ADL Initiative researched learning trends in the defense institutions of the participating member countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and U.S. national members. This research produced a technical research paper titled: Twenty-Five Emerging Trends in Learning and their Implications for Military Partners: An International Study, presented at I/ITSEC in December. The research findings ranked trends in learning design, learning delivery, enabling and managing learning, and learning at scale.
  • Maturing ADL In Exercises (MADLx): The MADLx project enhances military training and education by integrating xAPI into joint and coalition training exercises. MADLx also provides existing LMS capabilities to multi-national militaries that improve their abilities to educate their warfighters most effectively. After successful integrations throughout 2019, the ADL Initiative conducted MADLx trainings with organizations to help improve their learning outcomes.

Engaging the ADL Community

The ADL Initiative outreach team began a closer integration with ongoing R&D projects in 2019, with a goal to ensure up-to-date project information is shared with the stakeholder communities. Various formal and informal events were supported in 2019, including:

  • The ADL Initiative Technical Webinar Series is a monthly program of live webinars and pre-recorded webcasts that spotlight advancements in distributed learning and technology. Webinars are archived on the ADL Initiative’s YouTube channel. Recent topics included: xAPI Profile Server: Advancing Learning Interoperability Across Systems; Past, Present, and Future of Education; Training and Simulation within the Dutch Defense; and User-Tailored Privacy for TLA.
  • The 2019 Principal Investigator (PI) Meeting, held in conjunction with the spring DADLAC meeting, provided ADL Initiative stakeholders a holistic view of current and forthcoming science and technology projects. The gathering promoted technical interchange and encouraged participants to pursue opportunities for collaboration.
  • The 2019 iFEST event, sponsored by the National Training and Simulation Association in collaboration with the ADL Initiative, attracted over 350 people and focused on the development of a comprehensive TLA data strategy. Efforts are already underway for iFEST 2020, with the theme Working Out What Works: Creating Value from Innovation. It will take place on 17-19 August 2020 in Virginia.
  • The 2019 I/ITSEC conference and exhibition attracted over 17,000 people, including an ADL Initiative exhibit that hosted military and industry leaders, domestic and international partners, support staff, and other stakeholders. This year’s theme: Winning the War of Cognition by Pushing Readiness and Lethality Boundaries aligned with ADL Initiative’s goals to enhance the use of training and education data to improve military readiness. In addition to the exhibit, the ADL Initiative was featured in multiple panel sessions and its research staff presented multiple technical papers.

In 2019, ADL Initiative website, was upgraded to the new 18F standard for federal agencies, designed to enable digital services and effective interactions between government organizations, stakeholders, and target audiences. This transition makes the ADL Initiative website fully compliant with regulations established for DoD agencies.

If you have any questions or want more information about these 2019 projects, or would like to receive regular ADL Initiative updates, please contact us and request to be added to the organization’s mailing list.