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R&D at the ADL Initiative

The ADL Initiative conducts Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDTE) 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 advancing the technical and organizational infrastructure for a future learning ecosystem – to provide for interoperability across learning platforms and data to deliver high-quality modernized career-long education and training anytime and anywhere across the DoD.

Modernizing Learning Book

The Modernizing Learning book published by the ADL Initiative in 2019 provides a blueprint for the learning ecosystem concept which includes standards, tools, technologies, and methodologies that enable a data-driven, connected, continuum of lifelong learning. A major goal of this ecosystem is to empower learners, instructors, and leaders to maximize efficiencies, effectiveness, and readiness across the nation’s human capital supply chain. The ecosystem fosters the use of digital learning technologies, driven by data, to provide equitable and modern learning opportunities across military, civilian, and DoD personnel. This work also provides the foundations needed to enable Defense-wide AI-supported talent management in the future.

The ADL Initiative primarily executes Budget Activity 6.3 (Advanced Technology Development) through 6.5 (systems development and demonstration) RDTE funding to support the DoD’s Enterprise Digital Learning Modernization (EDLM) program. The EDLM reform effort aims to modernize DoD’s digital learning systems by moving from disparate systems supporting siloed education and training efforts to implementing federated digital architectures that use enterprise-wide data-driven methods to optimize talent development across the workforce, while concurrently improving acquisition and maintenance processes for digital learning products and services. The DoD Learning Enclave (DLE), being developed by the ADL Initiative, is a major outcome of the EDLM effort and provides the shared software services required to implement future learning ecosystem vision.

The ADL Initiative’s research investments are focused on the advancement of training, education, and human performance which bolster talent development and management in support of undertaking the DoD Mission. An effective talent management system can be envisioned as a “human capital supply chain.” It’s a complex network of different systems, goals, stakeholders, timeframes, and supporting technologies that collectively enable the placement of workforce talent with the required skills where and when they are needed. To successfully make this talent available in sync with evolving needs of the DoD, there needs to be a coordinated investment in key capability areas that work together to incrementally improve the way the DoD trains and educates people throughout their lives.

R&D Focus Areas

Today’s learner navigates a complex network of different IT systems, organizations, timeframes, and supporting technologies throughout their lives. The vision of a career-long learning ecosystem requires that these diverse learning technologies interoperate and adapt to continuously improve the way learning takes place. Technologically, that means the various software systems need to be able to exchange, understand, and use data from across the enterprise. This enterprise-level collection, sharing, dissemination, and analysis of data supports the planning and controlling of human capital accession, including education and training.

The ADL Initiative research portfolio is comprised of a chain of interrelated projects that build on each other to enable an interoperable ecosystem of learning tools and technologies, and to promote data-driven learning. The ADL Initiative Projects page provides details about specific ADL Initiative research efforts. These chains of research can be loosely grouped into four focus areas:

  • Software Modernization: The DoD’s ability to transform training and accelerate change is reliant on the strategic insight, proactive innovation, and effective technology integration enabled through software. The tools, technologies, policies, methods, and security posture required to deliver software in modern cloud-native environments are constantly changing. DevSecOps is a critical enabler of the DoD’s future learning ecosystem. DevSecOps enables software to be developed using automated pipelines that continuously integrate, build, test, and deploy software over its entire lifecycle. Automation results in faster delivery of updates, improved security posture, and reduced costs yielding a high return on investment.

  • Data Standards and Interoperability: Data underpins digital modernization and is the fuel of the decision-making process within the DoD. The DoD Data Strategy describes an ambitious approach for transforming the Department into a data-driven organization. The Total Learning Architecture (TLA), a framework that defines a uniform approach for integrating current and emerging learning technologies into a learning services ecosystem, aligns the DoD’s training and education community with the broader DoD Data Strategy and other defense-wide initiatives. This enables both a comprehensive strategy for protecting the privacy and security of learner data and continuous process improvements throughout the continuum of lifelong learning, while establishing a federated data strategy across the human capital supply chain.

  • Educational Technology: Advances in technology create new opportunities for learning and performance, whether through the migration and modernization of legacy systems; integration of modeling, simulation, and live exercises; or through the application of artificial intelligence, machine learning, or other innovations. This focus area includes topics such as data science, competency management, credentialing, learner profiles, visualizations, open/social learner models, and ensuring privacy and information security. Instructional content needs to be agile, adaptable to rapidly evolving conditions, and able to incorporate data-driven methods for optimizing human performance.

  • Improving Learning Efficiency: The data-driven ecosystem concept enables new strategies for optimizing performance, and ultimately maximizing the operational impact of personnel. This is accomplished by integrating a social and data science-based program of instruction through a modernized learning and development pipeline that enables a comprehensive hire to retire (or, more accurately, accession to transition) continuum of lifelong learning. This ecosystem will eventually consist of connected activities working together to deliver a sequenced, nonlinear program of instruction as well as just-in-time support aligned to individuals’ competencies, contexts, and evolving mission conditions.

R&D Outcomes

Technology Readiness Level (TRL) chart shows 9 steps from, 1 Basic Principles Observed, 2 Technology Concept Forumlated, 3 Experimental proof of concept, 4 Technology validated in the lab, 5 Technology validated in relavant environment, 6 Prototype demonstrated in relevant environment, 7 Prototype implementation in real environment, 8 Release version compelete 'flight qualified', 9 Extensive implementation 'flight proven'

As a DoD organization, the ADL Initiative has a responsibility to ensure its research benefits the public. Wherever possible, the results of ADL Initiative R&D efforts are published or posted, e.g., to the ADL Initiative website on respective project pages, Defense Technical Information Center or GitHub. Results are also disseminated through webinars, scholarly publications, and government-only venues.

All ADL Initiative research is conducted in collaboration with key experts throughout the world to accelerate the science & technology required to support of defense-wide modernization. The ADL Initiative research projects include one or more DoD stakeholders who help inform requirements, attend reviews to monitor progress, and evaluate deliverables at key milestones. The Defense ADL Advisory Committee (DADLAC) also plays a key role in validating and shaping the ADL Initiative’s research goals.

R&D projects are managed by a team of in-house scientists and engineers, often working alongside external vendors. ADL projects use agile development methodologies to continuously mature critical technology elements within each focus area. Each technology project is evaluated against the parameters for each technology level and is then assigned a Technology Readiness Levels(TRL) rating based on the project’s progress. Pilot testing and evaluation is supported by the stakeholders of each project, who often provide access to testing site and testing populations.

As new technologies are 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 testingdemonstrations during military exercises, and other evidence-based evaluation of each project.

Transitioning to Operational Use

Learning applications developed from the ADL Initiative’s R&D efforts are hardened through a DevSecOps pipeline and made available to DoD and other Federal Government users in the Learning Technology Warehouse (LTW) which is a component of the DoD Learning Enclave. The LTW serves as a bridge to make it easier for government customers to use DoD R&D technology products. Vetted matured software that can be readily deployed, along with demonstrations and related documentation, are made available via this portal. Federal users can create a portal account to test and acquire education and training applications for integration with their systems.