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I/ITSEC 2021: Rapid Advances in Education/Training Tech Highlight DoD's Challenges for Big Data Management and Interoperability

January 24, 2022

The 2021 Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) brought over 13,000 people to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. The world’s largest modeling, simulation, and training event featured hundreds of technical papers, technology tutorials, expert panels, and exhibits. It showcased innovative education and training technologies, including virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), synthetic training environments, mobile and micro-learning systems, and other anytime/anywhere applications. However, it was clear during I/ITSEC that these technologies now also present major challenges for data management and interoperability. The ADL Initiative’s presence at I/ITSEC 2021 largely focused on promoting solutions to those challenges.

I/ITSEC 2021 Conference artwork with 3-d computerized person running

Global Partnership Network

The ADL Initiative kicked off I/ITSEC with a preconference meeting of the ADL Global Partnership Network on 28 November. Forty-five participants from military, civilian, and academic organizations attended, including representatives from NATO organizations, Canada, Denmark, Georgia, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Ukraine, the United States, and multiple institutes and universities.

People representing the ADL Global Partnership Network
ADL Global Partnership Network meeting participants pose outside the Orange County Convention Center.

A theme of this meeting was enabling cross-border interoperability for learning activities and the data they generate. The challenges and opportunities for stronger cooperation were highlighted by multiple General and Flag Officers representing allied militaries, and in presentations by NATO officials on their distributed-learning programs. Other presentations focused on ADL technologies in joint training exercises, and progress with testing and deployment of new ADL applications. The ADL Initiative offered its continued assistance to the international partners through the use of its sandbox resources for learning-application testing and evaluation, as was done with NATO ACT with its development of the NeNA mobile learning app. A highlight of the meeting was the announcement of two new translations of Modernizing Learning book, which lays out the vision for a digital learning ecosystem. It’s now available in Polish and Ukrainian.

I/ITSEC Technical Papers and Tutorials

Collecting, securing, and sharing data from learning experiences at scale was a popular topic at I/ITSEC 2021, and the tools for enabling such experiences were the focus of several ADL Initiative papers and presentations.

Andy Johnson (contractor), the ADL Initiative’s Standards and Specifications Manager, presented a tutorial on the Experience Application Programming Interface (xAPI) specification, the development of xAPI profiles, and use of the cmi5 specification for e-learning metadata. He was joined by subject-matter experts from RISC Inc. and Eduworks, two companies deeply involved in xAPI and cmi5 applications.

In collaboration with officials from Rustici Software, Mr. Johnson also delivered a technical paper titled Bridging the SCORM® and xAPI Gap: The Role of cmi5. It describes the diminishing role that the Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM®) will play in future e-learning systems, and how cmi5, with its native xAPI capabilities and SCORM-like functionality, will facilitate the transition.

Photo of Andy Johnson presenting at IITSEC
Andy Johnson (SETA CTR) presents his paper on Bridging the SCORM and xAPI Gap.

The cmi5 specification provides a more flexible, adaptable, and robust alternative to SCORM. cmi5 defines specific uses of xAPI within the context of traditional web-based content and Learning Management Systems (LMSs), and it also opens possibilities for tracking distributed learning activities beyond progress and scores—and beyond LMS-based courseware.

The ADL Initiative is developing a suite of tools to assist e-learning developers in using cmi5, including an open-source cmi5 content player and conformance test suite for use by DoD stakeholders and e-learning vendors. Templates and best-practice instructions are also available to help organizations convert legacy courseware to use the cmi5 specification.

ADL Initiative R&D Principal Brent Smith (contractor) and Director Sae Schatz, Ph.D., collaborated with John Turner, senior advisor to DoD’s Chief Data Officer, to write a paper titled Total Learning Architecture (TLA) Data Model for Analytics and Adaptation. It describes how the vision for a modernized DoD digital learning environment is made possible by the TLA, with the use of new data standards and specifications such as xAPI, the standard for Enterprise Learner Records, the standard for Learning Activity Metadata, and the standard for Sharable Competency Definitions.

Photo of Brent Smith presenting at IITSEC
Brent Smith (SETA CTR) presents his paper on the TLA Data Model for Analytics and Adaptation.

The TLA is a policy-driven architecture, not requiring mandatory components; there are only required functions, organized into microservices and data. Each functional area must be exposed through common interfaces, asynchronous services, and standard data formats for communicating and storing data. The TLA is essential for modernizing digital learning to a learning ecosystem paradigm where diverse technologies are able to operate as an integrated, lifelong system of systems. This capability is foundational for DoD’s Enterprise Digital Learning Modernization effort.

VIP Panel Special Events

Dr. Schatz organized and moderated two senior-leader discussion panels focused on DoD’s use of big data: Chief Data Officer (CDO) Roundtable and Talent Data.

The CDO panel brought together Tom Sasala, SES, Chief Data Officer at the Department of the Navy; Colonel Ryan Kehoe, Deputy Chief Data Officer at the Department of the Air Force; Erica Dretzka, Director of Data Management and Analytic Infrastructure at the DoD Chief Data Office; and Portia Crowe, Ph.D., formerly the Chief Data Officer of Army Futures Command and now the Chief Data Strategist at Accenture Federal Services.

These panelists shared their conviction that the DoD has a growing need to transition into an agile, data-centric organization. They discussed the need for accelerating the development of advanced capabilities for data analytics, algorithms, and AI, pointing to a report by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence that raised alarms about our investments in these areas.

“We’re making great advances, but I think that there is a lot more room to grow together by 2025,” said Dr. Crowe. “We’ve got to move a little bit faster.”

Dr. Schatz with CDO Executive Roundtable
Dr. Schatz moderated this Chief Data Officer (CDO) Executive Roundtable.

The Talent Data panel featured Ms. Lora Muchmore, SES, Chief Innovation Officer in the DoD Office of the Chief Information Officer Information Enterprise; Mr. Jason Weiss, DoD Chief Software Officer; Chief Master Sergeant Erik Thompson, Command Chief Master Sergeant, Headquarters Air Education and Training Command; Lt. Colonel Kristin Saling, the US Army’s Chief Analytics Officer; and Naomi Szekeres, a former Transformation Strategy Consultant for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Together with Dr. Schatz, these panelists discussed the expanding types of missions assigned to our military, the increasingly complex threats they must prepare for, and the solutions possible with the creation of a ubiquitous data-driven education and training ecosystem.

The DoD Data Strategy, and its Personnel and Readiness Strategy for 2030, emphasize a data-centric approach for educating and managing civilian and military DoD personnel. Consistent with these strategies, the panelists agreed the benefits of a smartly designed learning data architecture can extend beyond education and training to include competence management and overall military lethality. A uniform approach to collecting and analyzing education and training data can enable adaptive systems that optimize career field management, workforce planning, and other functions that promote military readiness.

Dr. Schatz and her panel on Talent Data
Dr. Schatz and her panel on Talent Data.
ADL Exhibit at IITSEC 2021
With over 13,000 people participating at I/ITSEC 2021, the ADL Initiative's exhibit hall presence allowed hundreds of contacts with visitors from industry, academic, military, government, and international organizations.


Hernandez, M., Johnson, A., Hernandez, M. (2021). Overview and application of xAPI, cmi5, and xAPI profiles [PowerPoint slides]. In Volume 2021 (Eds.), Proceedings of the 2021 Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference (I/ITSEC). Arlington, VA: National Training and Simulation Association.

Johnson, A., Miller, B., Pack, A., Rutherford, T. (2021). Bridging the SCORM and xAPI gap: The role of cmi5 [Paper presentation]. In Volume 2021 (Eds.), Proceedings of the 2021 Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference (I/ITSEC). Arlington, VA: National Training and Simulation Association.