Magazine article National Defense

'Plngfests' Help Standardize Online Learning Technology

Magazine article National Defense

'Plngfests' Help Standardize Online Learning Technology

Article excerpt

The Defense Department administers *appoximately 30,000 training courses per year to address the needs of its 2.5 million personnel. It costs about $15 billion annually to maintain and operate military training installations.

In light of growing needs to provide both basic and advanced training, Pentagon officials in recent years have been working on ways to make education less costly and more efficient.

One of the most high-profile initiatives is called Advanced Distributed Learning. ADL is a collaborative effort to digitize the training environment by making training courses available online.

The ADL initiative was endorsed by the White House in 1997, and in 1999, President Clinton created a federal training technology task force.

After the technology task force delivered its strategic plan to Congress in 1999, the ADL was funded through the fiscal year 2000 Defense Department Authorization Act. It is managed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, with additional funding provided through the National Guard and the Department of Labor.

Using the Internet as a vehicle for bringing training to the troops chives down the costs significantly, according to Mark Oehlert, ADL's deputy communications director. If a course can be provided online, rather than at fixed classrooms, the government entity will save costs on travel, in addition to reducing the amount of time the employee must be out of the office. ADL program officials claim that this technology reduces the cost of instruction by about one third. For example, with a traditional training program, federal employees spend nine days in class, with two days set aside for travel. A Web-based training class can reduce the rime spent in training to 25 online hours,

Oehlert explained that the value of distributed learning grows as more courses are added to the network. This is known as the "law of increasing returns," an idea coined by Kevin Kelly, the senior editor of Wired Magazine. "A network of one is worth almost nothing," said Oehlert. "But a network of a million is worth much more than the sum of its parts.*

With traditional training sessions, about 3,700 federal government employees have graduated annually from various programs. But with the availability of more courses on line, by fiscal year 2000, 8,750 had graduated from online programs in that year.

The success of ADL, said Oehlerr*, is not just measured in terms of how many people are able to finish a training program. ADL also provides "interoperabiity* tools," he said, so government workers can "leverage the work of others."

The ADL vision is "to provide access to the highest quality education and training, tailored to individual needs, delivered cost-effectively, anywhere and anytime," Oehlert said. He argued that, on average, a tutored student learns more than 98 percent of classroom students. "Online training provides the kind of one-on-one experience that is comparable with a tutoring experience," he said.

"What is desired, in terms of the ADL initiative and the follow-on infrastructure that will be developed, is that courseware (training and educational information) on the Web can be interchangeable, mined and harvested," said retired Navy Rear Adm. Fred Lewis, executive director of the National Training Systems Association.

ADL's strategy is to take advantage of existing network-based technologies with a common framework to create platform neutral, reusable courseware and content.

Bob Glennon, senior program manager for interactive media instruction and distance learning programs at Link Simulation and Training in Herndon, Va., explained how the advent of new standards for Web-based training is changing the landscape of government training. "Customers, for the past 15 years or so, have been developing Web-based training for their own organizations. Reusability has been limited at best. Even though equipment might be identical, there was a lack of standards across the Defense Department," said Glennon. …

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