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R&D at the ADL Initiative

The ADL Initiative conducts R&D to advance the education and training interests of the US DoD and Federal Government, international partners, and digital learning domain as a whole. Currently, much of this work focuses on enabling a learning ecosystem to support lifelong learning that is personalized, data-driven, uses existing and emerging media types, and can be delivered anytime, anywhere. The Modernizing Learning book provides a blueprint for the learning ecosystem concept, and the Projects page details current R&D efforts.

Our Approach

See article “DoD Seeks Reform in Delivering Improved Training, Education,” to learn more about DoD distributed learning priorities according to defense and security leaders.

The ADL Initiative primarily executes Budget Area 6.3 (Advanced Technology Development) Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) funding. This appropriation category supports work to mature emerging concepts into practical solutions; that means bridging the research-to-practice gap between good ideas working in a lab to functional systems that perform effectively in real-world conditions. Low-fidelity laboratory prototypes are matured into workable systems ready for real-world demonstration.

The ADL Initiative works with stakeholders from the DoD and other agencies to support its R&D efforts. This includes, first, refining requirements with end-users and other experts as well as referencing existing requirement publications and ensuring that requirements remain aligned to DoD and government priorities. The Defense ADL Advisory Committee (DADLAC) plays a key role in validating and shaping these requirements.

ADL Initiative projects are not meant to be standalone efforts. Instead, R&D projects are considered as part of an integrated portfolio. Projects inform one another, and over time, various projects grow and are combined into broader, more comprehensive solutions. ADL Initiative webinars and the annual Principal Investigator meeting provide opportunities for different project teams to see each other’s work and understand how their efforts collectively fit into the larger program goals.

The ADL Initiative is committed to pursuing efforts that have broad applicability, e.g., at the DoD-wide enterprise level. The program avoids developing isolated or standalone solutions. Instead, the ADL Initiative uses best practices for technology at scale, such as using a Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) and DevSecOps principles. Open-source and other permissive licensing are strongly encouraged, where appropriate. And user-centered design and thorough documentation are emphasized, as these affect the success of implementation and sustainment.

To support its user-centered design goals and ensure projects meet end-user needs, the ADL Initiative works closely with the DoD distributed learning functional community (via the DADLAC) throughout projects. The ADL Initiative identities around two or three stakeholder organizations per project, and military or DoD civilian points of contact in those organizations who agree to serve as designated stakeholder representatives. They attend regular reviews with the performers, provide use-case inputs, and evaluate a project’s progress at key milestones.

In addition to stakeholder feedback, the program is committed to evidence-based evaluation of its project. Each project specifies key performance indicators, and empirical testing (often with human subjects) is typically required. This is another place where the designated stakeholders usually help by providing access to realistic testing sites and populations.

Wherever possible, the results of ADL Initiative R&D efforts are published or posted, e.g., to the Defense Technical Information Center or GitHub. Results are also disseminated through webinars, scholarly publications, and government-only venues.

The ADL Initiative’s portfolio of R&D projects is undertaken by a team of in-house scientists and engineers, often working alongside external vendors (e.g., selected via Broad Agency Announcements) which are managed by the ADL Initiative.

Areas of Focus

R&D projects align with the ADL Initiative’s mission to help modernize distributed learning for DoD and other Federal Government agencies. Specific areas of focus include a diverse range of science and technology topics.

Many ADL Initiative projects focus on interoperability specifications for distributed learning systems. The program’s well-known efforts in SCORM®, Experience API (xAPI) and most recently cmi5 fall into this line of effort. Similarly, other projects align with this theme, such as those aimed at integrating disparate systems into modular and service-oriented architectures, securely sharing learning data across systems, and developing appropriate metadata and paradata for system-of-systems distributed learning offerings.

Other closely related research involves data-driven learning, which includes collecting and structuring learner performance data, safely and ethically storing the data, sharing data across systems, applying data analytics, enabling data visualizations, and using the information to personalize and tailor learning activities to the individual. This line of effort involves topics such as data science, competencies, credentialing, learner profiles, visualizations, open/social learner models, and ensuring privacy and information security.

Key to all of these projects is the development of a Total Learning Architecture (TLA), which will enable personalized, data-driven, and technology-enabled lifelong learning across the DoD, other Federal Government agencies, and beyond. The TLA relies on interoperability which involves federating disparate systems into modular and service-oriented architectures, securely sharing learning data across DoD domains

ADL Initiative research also incorporates learning science (e.g., pedagogy and andragogy), including the application of learning theories to meet e-learning challenges. Also, a number of projects in the portfolio examine the development, delivery, optimization, and support of e-learning and mobile learning systems. This work encompasses the creation, delivery, and tracking of web-based interactive multimedia learning, and the assessment of supporting capabilities such as Learning Management Systems (LMSs), Learning Record Stores (LRSs), and micro-learning platforms.

Transitioning to Operational Use

Once a technology is matured, the ADL Initiative works with stakeholders to prepare for its deployment within their learning environments. This can involve creating prototype systems for sandbox-based testing, demonstrations during military exercises, and other pilot-type evaluations. One way these technologies are made available to DoD and other Federal Government users is through the Learning Technology Warehouse, which serves as a bridge to make it easier for government customers to use DoD R&D technology products. The Warehouse Portal makes available vetted matured software, along with demonstrations and related documentation, that can be readily deployed. Federal users can create an account to test and acquire education and training applications for integration with their systems.