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PERLS Microlearning Mobile App

PERLS mobile photo

Provide a DoD-wide microlearning capability that lets organizations capitalize on the “white space” outside of formal learning activities, such as when someone is waiting in line, on the bus, or in need of just-in-time support.

The Challenge

The mobile device has become a great necessity in our lives – we use this technology more and more to connect with others and access as well as share information regularly, rather than just making a phone call. However, using mobile devices for training and education is slow to gain momentum and not readily available for “learning anytime anywhere”. Specifically, mobile learning applications that are compatible with the learner’s daily activities and schedule, and allow the learner to take advantage of unplanned time slots to enhance and reinforce learning, have yet to be fully developed to have an impact on current curriculum options.

The Solution

PERLS is a smartphone-based microlearning application that enables DoD organizations to deliver the right training, in the right way (“bite sized”), at the right time—leading to increased exposure (i.e., time on task) to learning content, improved training outcomes, greater personnel readiness, and improved training sustainment.

About the Project

The PERLS system enables DoD to capitalize on the “informal learning” time outside of formal classrooms or training exercises. The PERLS system promises significant improvements to sustainment (i.e., shortening the period between exercises or courses)—with the goal of maintaining (or improving) long-term force readiness. Additionally, as 2017 testing with DoD’s U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) suggests, the PERLS capability may offer an efficient alternative to other forms of education and training, such as time-blocked e-learning, leading to greater efficiency across the DoD training portfolio.

The PERLS prototype is a government-owned application that supports distributed, self-regulated, context-aware, personalized learning. PERLS uses advanced algorithms to provide tailored learning recommendations to personnel based on their characteristics, learning history, training requirements, and context. The body of content in PERLS can be built over time and can use approved crowdsourcing methods to maintain currency and relevance. Learning content is either created natively within PERLS, autogenerated by PERLS through an external Really Simple Syndication feed, or developed through integration with other local or web applications that provide recommendations to PERLS. PERLS also uses xAPI and fully integrates with the ADL Initiative’s Total Learning Architecture. PERLS can also analyze and visualize data generated through xAPI.

The original PERLS R&D project spanned fiscal years 2013–2017. It included development of the PERLS software prototype and corresponding field testing with three DoD stakeholder groups (Fort Bragg Special Operators, NORTHCOM trainees, and Defense Language students). The current PERLS effort (dubbed “PERLS 2.0”) focuses on rebuilding the original research prototype to meet DoD cybersecurity regulations and support learning at-scale. The current effort also includes independent testing, to include a summative controlled empirical trial.

The ADL Initiative is partnering with the Office of Personnel Management USALearning program to support the transition of PERLS to operational use. The PERLS source code will eventually reside within the ADL Learning Warehouse, a secure, cloud-based repository where DoD and Federal Government education and training managers can access and evaluate different platforms, systems, and tools. Once available, the PERLS package will contain the complete set of software and the required documentation to easily install, configure and build the content.


A Mobile Strategy for Self-Directed Learning in the Workplace
Freed, M.; Yarnall, L.; Spaulding, A.; Gervasio, M.
2017, IITSEC

More Than the Sum of Their Parts: Case Study and General Approach for Integrating Learning Applications
Freed, M.; Folsom-Kovarik, J.T.; Schatz, S.
2017, MODSIM

PERLS: An Approach to Pervasive Personal Assistance in Adult Learning
Freed, M.; Yarnall, L.; Dinger, J.; Gervasio, M.; Overholtzer, A.; Pérez-Sanagustin M.; Roschelle, J.; Spaulding, A.
2013, IITSEC

Project Details

Period of Performance

PERLS launch: FY13
PERLS 2.0: FY19-FY22


Float, LLC
Arizona State University
SRI International


Joint Staff J7/
Joint Knowledge Online
Defense Acquisition University
US Army Futures Command
Defense Language and National Security Education Office
Office of Personnel Management USALearning