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ADL Initiative Partners with NATO to Advance PERLS Microlearning Platform

December 08, 2021

The modernization of DoD’s digital learning ecosystem features the use of technologies that allow on-demand education and training. One of these technologies is the PERLS Adaptive Learning System (PERLS), an open-source platform designed to optimize anytime/anywhere learning opportunities for mobile device users. The ADL Initiative is developing PERLS in collaboration with multiple DoD stakeholders, and the team recently added NATO as a partner for early implementation of the technology.

The NATO Allied Command Transformation (ACT) organization has been working closely with the ADL Initiative to test and add functionality to the PERLS platform, which NATO has white-labeled as the NATO e-Learning Network Application or NeNA. NeNA is one of PERLS’ earliest implementations of production testing to date. By using NeNA, NATO personnel will receive recommendations for on-demand mobile content consistent with their education/training goals, allowing them to make the most of their available time outside of formal learning activities.

Cem Kumsal of NATO ACT presenting
Cem Kumsal of NATO ACT provides an update on the NeNA project during the 2021 ADL Global Partnership Network annual meeting in Orlando.

“NATO had need of a microlearning capability (PERLS), but our requirements were a bit beyond the ADL Initiative’s most recent version,” said Salih Cem Kumsal, Training Technology Staff Officer at NATO ACT. “Our NeNA collaboration allowed NATO to provide UI/UX enhancements while the ADL Initiative focused on platform optimization, security accreditation, and other elements required for DoD use. We were able to align the development of both efforts in parallel. NATO benefitted from platform optimizations and security hardening for NeNA while the ADL Initiative gained additional UI/UX enhancements for PERLS.”

Both the PERLS platform and its NeNA instantiation target microlearning, offering media-rich learning activities (typically less than 2-4 minutes each). These include podcasts, videos, documents, links, flash cards and quizzes, all serviced with a backend content management system for building and maintaining content. The adaptive frontend is offered as a mobile app or web interface.

PERLS and NeNA use a machine-learning algorithm to power a recommendation engine, so the more a user interacts with them, the more customized and relevant the suggested learning content becomes. Effectively PERLS and NeNA can adapt to both a user’s preference and level of readiness. Additionally, because they are self-directed applications, founded on Self-Regulated Learning principles, PERLS and NeNA offer goal setting, reminders toward progress, and tips for self-reinforcement.

Developed under a contract with Float LLC, PERLS and NeNA are both designed to use standards and specifications consistent with the ADL Initiative’s Total Learning Architecture (TLA), including the experience application programming interface, or xAPI. The xAPI standard enables data profiles for different types of learning activities, and specifications for formatted data storage, authentication, and access (i.e., Learner Record Stores). xAPI has seen growing acceptance throughout the e-learning community and is included in DoDI 1322.26, the DoD instruction for developing, managing, and acquiring distributed learning systems.

Graphic with NeNA logo and phone with NENA application training interface screenshot

NeNA is still in testing through late 2021. After testing, NATO will begin transitioning NeNA to its own servers. Following the transition, NATO will determine how to convert it to a full NATO capability.

“We are delighted with the opportunity to team with NATO on NeNA,” said Stella Cox, the ADL Initiative’s PERLS technical project manager. “The collaboration is allowing us to develop a more robust product that will be available to our other DoD stakeholders.”

With PERLS (and NeNA), the ADL Initiative is taking its original R&D project investments beyond the prototype toward full implementation, with accreditation, documentation, hosting, maintenance, and distribution through the ADL Initiative Learning Technology Warehouse (LTW) portal. Ultimately both the LTW and the PERLS platform will be available via the Air Force’s secure DoD cloud environment, Platform One.

The NATO NeNA collaboration is bringing added functionality and security enhancements to the PERLS project, benefiting both DoD and NATO users while promoting continued partnership and joint education and training for military and civilian personnel. The ADL Initiative looks forward to maintaining and expanding this win-win activity.

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