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Data Standards Proving Their Value for Defense Applications

December 12, 2022

Continuity among users is one of the key components to U.S. military readiness. This is accomplished by implementing and rigorously enforcing standards, specifically in the area of software and information technology (IT) used in military systems by all Services.

The Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative is part of the DoD-wide standards effort, working with the Defense Standardization Program to add education/training data standards to the DoD Information Technology Standards Registry (DISR).

Three standards that are foundational to the ADL Initiative’s Total Learning Architecture -- and DoD’s ongoing Enterprise Digital Learning Modernization reform effort -- have been established as “emerging” DISR standards. They include the Experience Applications Programming Interface (xAPI) standard, the cmi5 specification for e-learning courses, and the shareable competency definitions (SCD) standard. These three emerging standards are concurrently being coordinated with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Standards Association for commercial standards development.

  • xAPI standard – Designated P92741.1 by IEEE, xAPI is a data and interface standard that enables software applications to capture and share data on human performance along with associated context information (i.e., “experience” data). xAPI can be incorporated into nearly any e-learning technology or activity to enable the interoperable exchange of data about learners’ behaviors and performance. It uses a standard data format, and it follows standardized transportation rules to move learner data to a data store or between applications.

  • cmi5 specification – cmi5 is a specific profile for using xAPI within traditional learning management systems (LMSs), providing a more capable alternative to the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM®) standard for e-learning courses. cmi5 is more flexible and adaptable to today’s technologies. As a learner navigates through different learning activities, the cmi5 specification aligns the definition of their progress and achievements using distinct verbs that correspond to specific events. cmi5 uses xAPI as the communication and data layer but, unlike the base xAPI standard, cmi5 implements controlled vocabularies to make it easier to standardize interoperability between LMSs and other LMS-like systems.

  • SCD standard – Designated P1484.20.3 by IEEE, the sharable competency definitions standard provides specific data models and usage patterns for competencies, competency frameworks, and competency associations. These components, when combined with semantic web principles and using rubrics for evaluation, make up a cohesive framework for creating and managing competencies. Competency standards are a focus of the ADL Initiative’s Competency and Skills System project.

The journey from being classified as an emerging standard under the DISR to receiving full standards designation is underway for xAPI, cmi5, and SCD. The emerging phase gives DoD Components the reassurance to start using these standards and the products that implement them, allowing DoD Components to effectively innovate and take advantage of being early adopters of the technology. Technical Working Groups have been established to help guide the standard development process for xAPI, cmi5 and SCD. This effort includes determining if there are enough products or services available for these standards to be implemented by DoD Components and facilitating the inclusion of these standards as requirements in their IT planning processes. The standards must also be published by a Standards Development Organization (SDO) such as IEEE, to be formally recognizable as a “Mandatory” standard. It is anticipated that xAPI and SCD will have that designation in 2022, and cmi5 to achieve the designation in 2023 or 2024.

“To achieve DoD’s vision for learning system modernization, these standards will be applied to enable interoperability among the Department’s different Components,” said ADL Initiative Specifications and Standards Manager, Andy Johnson (SETA contractor). “These standards will promote data-driven and competency-based approaches to education and training, and lower costs through reduced duplication and coordinated acquisition of learning resources.”

Adoption of these standards, and others central to DoD’s education/training data strategy, is being coordinated by the Joint Enterprise Standards Committee (JESC), a governance body for DoD and Intelligence Community enterprise standards, profiles, and specifications. The ADL Initiative chairs a JESC working group dealing with standards for application programming, web services, system interoperability, graphics, user interfaces, databases, and application services. The working group’s responsibilities include performing updates to the DISR based on the resolution of change requests for existing standards, promulgating new enterprise standards, and retiring outdated standards.

The ADL Initiative invites DoD and Intelligence Community stakeholders (government personnel only) interested in education and training IT standards to participate in the JESC working group, which holds meetings twice per quarter. Contact the ADL Initiative at for information on how to attend JESC working group meetings.