Distance Learning in the U. S. Army:
Meeting the Readiness Needs
Michael W. Freeman
Computer Sciences Corporation
The United States Army has a well-earned reputation as the premier training organization in the world. The Army has also long been a proponent of training innovations to foster improved effectiveness and efficiency of providing ready soldiers and units. Army doctrine considers training to be the linchpin of organizational performance as evidenced by the following quote from Army regulations:
Good training is the key to soldier morale, job satisfaction, confidence, pride, unit cohesion, esprit de corps, and combat effectiveness. (Department of the Army, 1981)
Distance education has the potential to dramatically enhance Army organizational performance by increasing personnel qualifications in the unit and reducing the impact of skill decay by making training available when and where required. It is widely recognized as the method of choice for reducing costs, increasing flexibility, increasing access, and increasing the number of learners reached. The potential for savings to the military services is tremendous, with the Army providing training to over 335,000 students annually in residence (Program Management Office, The Army Distance Learning Program, 1999).
The current Army training concept has its roots in the traumatic post-Vietnam downsizing of the Army, the accompanying reductions in defense budgets, and the end of the draft in the 1970s. Those daunting challenges required soldiers to be more highly skilled while the systems became more cost-effective.
In response to these challenges, the Army adopted a philosophy of tightly integrating institutional and unit training with the primary goal of improving effectiveness on the job. This systems approach to training was used to focus training on successful performance to job standard and to decentralize execution to the units. The performance orientation placed emphasis on soldiers being able to do the tasks required to established standards.