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2020 Year in Review

January 22, 2021

Across the world, 2020 was filled with unprecedented challenges, but from crisis came opportunities—opportunities to reinvent the reputation, agility, and purpose of distributed learning. Across the Department of Defense and beyond, organizations accelerated and expanded their efforts by orders of magnitude. Similarly, the ADL Initiative pivoted in response to the pandemic, adapting research and coordination to virtual modes and answering a range of emerging questions on how to best deliver online learning. The program also made notable progress on its research, development, and coordination efforts. Here’s a summary of key 2020 ADL Initiative accomplishments.

DoD Enterprise Architecture for Learning Systems

Under the Total Learning Architecture (TLA) project, the ADL Initiative matured the design for the enterprise architecture meant to serve as the core of the DoD learning ecosystem. This architecture includes requirements and specifications for technologies, policies, and business practices that will enable interoperability across education and training systems. Already, the documentation is being integrated into DoD systems through collaborations with organizations such as the Defense Health Agency and Defense Acquisition University.

Learning 100! Top Learning Organization 2020 artwork

In July 2020, the ADL Initiative was recognized as one of the top 25 organizations nationwide for excellence in learning development for its work on the TLA. Similarly, the ADL Initiative’s close collaborators at the Office of Personnel Management’s USALearning program also ranked among the top 25 for their promotion and distribution of TLA-compliant learning technologies for federal workforce education and training.

As part of this work, the ADL Initiative advanced several data standards in 2020. Much of this was performed in collaboration with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC), to include standardization of the following:

  • Runtime Learning Activity Data (xAPI v2.0)DoD Instruction 1322.26 includes guidance for DoD to use xAPI as the primary standard for encoding and exchanging interoperable learner-performance data. In collaboration with the IEEE LTSC, xAPI standard, version 2.0 was drafted and disseminated for approval. Throughout 2020, the ADL Initiative successfully shepherded this latest version of xAPI through the approval process, and its final issuance is expected in early 2021.

  • Learning Content Metadata – In collaboration with the Standard for Learning Metadata working group, the ADL Initiative championed a new standard for Learning Content Metadata (IEEE P2881). This work modernizes legacy standards, such as the Learning Object Metadata standard (IEEE 1484.12.1), which was promulgated nearly a decade ago and no longer adequately addresses the expanding variety of modern learning activities.

  • Competency Definitions Standard – In DoD (and beyond), education and training organizations are embracing competency-based learning and management. This involves defining components (e.g., knowledge, skills, behaviors) needed to successfully complete tasks, jobs, and learning activities as well as establishing relationships among elements. From a data perspective, competencies are important because they are the “Rosetta Stone” across other talent management data sets. In other words, they let different organizations and platforms develop shared meaning (semantic interoperability). In 2020, the ADL Initiative coordinated with the IEEE LTSC to establish a new standard for Reusable Competency Definitions (IEEE 1484.20.1). This standard is expected to be adopted in 2021.

  • Interoperable Learning Records – The ADL Initiative also participated in several working groups related to interoperable learner records. This included active coordination with the IEEE LTSC on the new Integrated Learner Record standard (IEEE 1484.2). This standard aims to define best practices for learner records related to identity and trust, open ontology references, verifiable assertions, and integrated learner record payloads supporting the spectrum of formal to informal education and workplace learning, including for military learning records.

DoD Enterprise Digital Learning Modernization

Hon. Lisa Hershman
Ms. Hershman delivers a virtual Keynote Address for iFEST 2020.

The enterprise architecture described above is the enabling technical infrastructure to modernize digital learning across DoD. Building on that work, the ADL Initiative actively supported DoD’s Enterprise Digital Learning Modernization (EDLM) reform in 2020. This reform was also recognized by the DoD Chief Management Officer (CMO), Hon. Lisa Hershman, in her keynote at the 2020 iFEST conference in August.

  • Enterprise Course Catalog – The ADL Initiative completed the pre-alpha prototype of the EDLM Enterprise Course Catalog and kicked off the next phase of its development. This capability will federate local course catalog data from across DoD into a single searchable portal. A prototype with metadata from over 50,000 courses was developed in 2020, and it’s now running in the ADL Initiative’s sandbox environment on USALearning servers. The next phase of the project is underway, with developmental testing planned in 2021.

  • Enterprise Learner Record Repository – The Enterprise Learner Record Repository is a distributed framework of learner records from diverse sources. These records will be career-long profiles designed to help optimize individuals’ learning and development. In September 2020, the ADL Initiative kicked off a project to develop a functional prototype, building on requirements from the TLA project and executed in collaboration with the Naval Education and Training Command’s MyNavy Learning effort.

Enabling Enterprise Data Services for Digital Learning

To support implementation of broad data standards and enterprise systems, the ADL Initiative also invested in enterprise data applications in 2020.

Screenshot of xAPI Profile Server showing profiles and SCORM Profile
The xAPI Profile Server will offer user-friendly tools for developing and sharing conformant profiles.
  • xAPI Profile Server – The ADL Initiative completed an alpha prototype of its new xAPI Profile Server, with plans to release a beta version for user testing in 2021. This web application supports the authoring, management, and publishing of xAPI Profiles. It’s also designed to help instructional developers implement xAPI Profiles while maintaining conformance to the xAPI Profile Specification.

  • Competency-Based Learning System – The ADL Initiative has sponsored research on competency-based learning tools for several years, to include work on the Competency and Skills System (CaSS). It’s an open-source application designed to help integrate and manage workforce competencies. In 2020, the ADL Initiative refined the software to meet DoD cybersecurity requirements; this is an important step forward in its maturation and eventual transition into operational DoD systems.

  • Screenshot of Learning Technology Warehouse showing PeBL and PERLS products
    The Learning Technology Warehouse provides easy access to education/training resources.

    DevSecOps Pipeline and End-User Portal – The ADL Initiative implemented a DevSecOps (Development, Security, Operations) process for its software projects, to include future plans to integrate this with the DoD Learning Enclave under development with USALearning. In addition to improving internal software development processes, the DevSecOps pipeline includes a limited-access portal designed to streamline access to vetted software for DoD stakeholders. In 2020, prototype applications including the Personalized eBook for Learning (PeBL) and Perceptual and Adaptive Learning Modules (PALMs) were made available through the portal.

Learning Science in Action

Beyond technology and data, some ADL Initiative projects focus on transitioning best practices in learning science into operational military use. In 2020, several of these applied digital learning efforts stood out:

ADL CMM Technical Report cover page
Download the DL-CMM report
  • Distributed Learning Capability Maturity Model – As more DoD organizations seek to modernize their digital learning systems, it can be difficult to identify and prioritize the needed improvements. In 2020, the ADL Initiative completed a capability maturity model (essentially, a rubric) to appraise an organization’s distributed learning maturity. This helps them take a total inventory of their technology, data, pedagogical and organizational processes, and to plan for future advancements more strategically.

  • Operationalizing Advanced e-Books – In 2020, the ADL Initiative began transitioning the PeBL e-book platform into operational use. In collaboration with the US Marine Corps, it was put into the hands of 187,000 Marines, starting with Doctrinal Publication #7: Learning. The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Strategic Education Office also began deploying interactive PeBL e-books to support their STEM education efforts.

  • "The MADLx project has allowed Ukraine's Scientific ADL Center to integrate new learning technologies into our exercises, like xAPI-enabled analytics and interactive e-books. These will improve our readiness for future joint operations."
    — Lieutenant Colonel Maksym Tyschenko, Chief of the Scientific ADL Center at the Ivan Cherniakhovskyi National Defence University of Ukraine

    ADL in Exercises – Under the Maturing ADL in Exercises (MADLx) project, distributed learning technologies and learning analytics were added to joint and international military exercises, including the Ukrainian Brigade Exercise 20.1 and BoldQuest 20.2. The ADL Initiative also worked with the NATO Training Group to incorporate best practices from this work into the NATO ADL Handbook.

Coordination and Partnership

“The value of DADLAC participation is being a part of a forward leaning community of experts and problem-solvers that knowledge-share and team on complex tasks. We collaborate to solve pieces of the puzzle for big picture efforts like greater personalization for learners, xAPI Profiles Development, Total Learning Architecture, and EDLM.”
— Shawn Miller, Defense Acquisition University

The ADL Initiative invests in collaboration across DoD, including via the Defense ADL Advisory Committee (DADLAC), and we collaborate with the international community through venues like the ADL Global Partnership network, the NATO Individual Training and Educational Developments task group, The Technical Cooperation Program (Human Resources and Performance Group), and the Partnership for Peace ADL working group.

Screenshot of ADL Global Partnership members in an online meeting
Members of the ADL Initiative Global Partnership meet in December 2020.
  • Global Partnership Network – The ADL Initiative’s Global Partnership Network maintained strong ties among allied militaries to advance shared interests, including lessons learned in overcoming the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The network’s December 2020 meeting attracted representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Romania, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the USA.

  • Community Working Groups – ADL Initiative personnel, as subject-matter experts in distributed learning, are regular participants in community working groups. In 2020, the ADL Initiative supported several professional groups, including the IEEE LTSC data standards groups (mentioned earlier) and DoD communities such as the DoD Chief Data Officer Council’s Data Services working group and the DoD Human Systems Community of Interest.

  • "The Flash working group really focused its members toward tackling a serious DoD IT challenge. Instead of taking a piecemeal approach we were able to work as a community to identify common solutions to meet the Flash deprecation deadline."
    — Dan Erickson (CTR), DoD Office of the Chief Information Officer

    Flash® Deprecation Planning – The ADL Initiative led a DoD-wide effort to understand and mitigate the impacts of the Flash software end of life. At the beginning of this effort, thousands of hours of DoD online courseware relied on Flash functionality. The effort provided a forum for sharing best practices for risk mitigation, and it spurred planning by content managers and developers to replace Flash content.

  • Screenshot of iFEST 2020 presenters
    iFEST 2020 Snapshot. "Working Out What Works: Practical Innovation Panel"

    Virtual iFEST – The annual Federal E-learning Science & Technology (iFEST) conference in August was forced online. However, it was a fitting venue for an event dedicated to digital education and training. Through the hard work of partners like the National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA), the 2020 iFEST set records despite the pandemic. Registrations outpaced those of 2019 by 25%, and this year’s 21 hours of live sessions and prerecorded content surpassed the amount of content offered last year by 25%.

In Closing…

Looking forward into 2021, the ADL Initiative will continue its efforts to bridge the research-to-practice gap on the path toward building a modern, DoD-wide digital learning ecosystem. The improvements to DoD’s learning enterprise enabled by these technologies will include a more efficient use of education/training time and resources, more cross-Department coordination, greater workforce mobility within DoD, reduced education/training costs, and increased force readiness. If you have any questions or want more information about these 2020 projects contact us and request to be added to the mailing list.