The U.S. Army's Impact on the History of Distance Education
Duncan, Steve, Quarterly Review of Distance Education
One of the most significant events that heralded the Department of Defense's commitment to distance education was the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL, 2004) Initiative, which held its kickoff meeting in Washington, DC in 1997. This meeting provided the army and other military services the endorsement that had been lacking relative to implementing distance learning as a means of distributing education and training to the forces. The ADL movement became the voice of change for distance learning, which moved from a primarily paper-based and television delivery format to one that would include the value and benefit of the emerging training technologies, including the Internet. The ADL initiative was undertaken by the Department of Defense, in partnership with the White House Office of Science and Technology (Fletcher & Tobias, 2003). However, just as many people did not know that ARPANET, forerunner to the modern day Internet, grew out of scientific research from the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense, many also did not know that one of the most prominent leaders for modern day technology-based distance education was the Department of Defense (Fletcher & Tobias, 2003).
The concept of distance education was not new to the U.S. armed services. They had for years run large correspondence course programs teaching new skills to service members and civilians, both in the United States and overseas. Resident government courses changed slightly over the years and some of the traditional classroom lecture-based instruction had moved into the form of programmed text. Computers were not nearly as prevalent as they are today, and the military ran printbased programs that enrolled, trained, tested, and documented the education of thousands of service members. The U.S. Army's correspondence course program has been managed centrally at the U.S. Army Training Support Center (ATSC), Fort Eustis, Virginia, since 1976. At that time, training materials consisted of correspondence courses that were used for additional skill training, cross-training into other specialties, or receiving credit for promotion. This program annually enrolls over 100,000 soldiers and continues to be one of the most successful ways for the army to train the force. Since 1996, the ATSC has provided for online enrollment and testing, and has been working to put most of the course materials online.
As technology began to mature and computers became viewed as something affordable for the masses, new training concepts began to emerge from multiple sources. Terms such as classrooms without walls, distance education/training/learning, distance courseware, or remote instruction were introduced more quickly than the community of users could define the terms and determine application taxonomies. The original concept behind distributed training, as it was initially called, was to put instructional materials that were in printed form onto compact discs which were cheaper to produce, and saved printing, storage, and mailing costs. The original goal of the U.S. Army Training & Doctrine Command, expressed in the early 1990s, was to place up to 50% of resident training into deployed units by the year 2007. The desire to move forward with distance learning was based almost exclusively on saving training dollars. By the late 1980s, military training planners had already adopted the view that it would be cheaper to send instruction to people who could study in their own home than it would be to pay per diem and travel to bring these personnel to a central location. The historical events of the time also described a situation in which the Soviet Union was no longer an all-consuming adversary, the cold war was declared over, and the government budgeters were looking to pay the country's bills with the windfall expected from defense cutbacks. So while training was still considered important, it was determined that where it did not make fiscal sense to bring people to training, those in charge would turn their focus to taking training to people. …