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PERvasive Learning System (PERLS) – Microlearning Mobile Platform

PERLS mobile photo

Provide an open-source DoD-wide mobile microlearning platform for organizations to make the most of the “white space” outside of formal education activities by recommending content-on-demand to learners whenever and wherever they have available spare time.

The Challenge

Mobile devices have become indispensable in everyday life; we use these devices more and more to connect with others and to find and share information. However, despite their potential for supporting education and training, mobile devices have not gained momentum in the e-learning world. Specifically, within DoD, mobile learning applications that are not only compatible with learners’ daily activities and schedules, but also allow learners to take advantage of free time to enhance and reinforce learning, have yet to be fully adopted. This is due to challenges associated with security, and applying traditional learning paradigms when using mobile devices for learning. Efficient use of mobile devices for learning requires an understanding of learners’ goals and expressed interests, expertise, schedules, media preferences, and behaviors.

The Solution

PERLS is a mobile-based microlearning platform that uses short-term strategies specifically designed for skills-based learning anytime and anywhere, taking advantage of unplanned time during a learner’s daily schedule to enhance and reinforce learning. The learner is empowered to select the learning content that they need, when and where they have time—leading to increased exposure (i.e., time on task) to learning content. This leads to improved training outcomes, greater personnel readiness, and improved training sustainment.

About the Project

The PERLS prototype is a government-owned platform that uses advanced algorithms to provide tailored learning recommendations to personnel based on their characteristics, learning history, training requirements, and context. This allows distributed, self-regulated, context-aware, personalized learning.

The PERLS platform has both a mobile application front-end and a back-end content management software. The mobile application presents itself as a recommendation tool, providing the learner with different forms of content – reading content, videos, flash cards, knowledge checks, and more. While the learner chooses how to navigate through the material, the PERLS platform adapts to the learner’s preferences, competency, and level of effort. The back-end software allows authors to create, attach, curate and tag these materials, creating a pool of content to be served to the learner.

The body of content in PERLS can be built over time and can use approved crowdsourcing methods to maintain currency and relevance. Learning content is either created natively within PERLS, autogenerated by PERLS through an external Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed, or developed through integration with other local or web applications that provide recommendations to PERLS. PERLS also uses the Experience Application Programming Interface (xAPI) data specification, which enables interoperability among diverse education and training systems, to run analytics on the data created by xAPI-compliant software, and generate visuals and other reports or outputs as a result of the analytics. Because the PERLS platform is xAPI compliant, it is also fully compatible with the Total Learning Architecture (TLA).

The initial PERLS R&D development project spanned fiscal years 2013–2017. It included development of the PERLS software prototype and corresponding field testing with three DoD stakeholder groups: Fort Bragg Special Operators; DoD’s U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) trainees; and Defense Language students. The results of the 2017 NORTHCOM testing suggest PERLS may offer an efficient alternative to other forms of education and training, such as time-blocked e-learning, leading to greater efficiency across the DoD training portfolio.

More recent work on PERLS, now referred to as PERLS 2.0, focuses on transitioning the PERLS platform to operational use by rebuilding the original research prototype to meet DoD cybersecurity regulations and support e-learning at-scale. This includes independent testing that consists of a summative controlled empirical trial. The PERLS 2.0 development and transition project, spanning fiscal years 2019-2022, is divided into three integrated sub-projects:

  1. PERLS 2.0 software development of the mobile and web-based application, the Content Management System (CMS), and author-supporting documents including requirements, reports, manuals, and guides.
  2. Independent verification and validation of three PERLS components: the PERLS software, the user experience (UI/UX), and PERLS documentation.
  3. The transition of PERLS into the ADL Initiative Learning Technology Warehouse, including hosting and implementing cybersecurity processes and controls made available to operations and maintenance performers.

Currently stakeholders recruited from the DoD services are evaluating the latest version of PERLS and testing instances in their own environments. The expected outcome of PERLS 2.0 is a mobile learning technology system that is content agnostic, stable, and scalable for deployment across the DoD.


A Mobile Strategy for Self-Directed Learning in the Workplace
Freed, M.; Yarnall, L.; Spaulding, A.; Gervasio, M.
2017, IITSEC

More Than the Sum of Their Parts: Case Study and General Approach for Integrating Learning Applications
Freed, M.; Folsom-Kovarik, J.T.; Schatz, S., Ph.D.
2017, MODSIM

Project Details

Period of Performance

PERLS 1.0: FY13-FY17
PERLS 2.0: FY19-FY22


Float LLC (2019-current)
Arizona State University (2019-current)
Power Train (2020-current)
SRI International (2013-2017)


Joint Staff J7/Joint Knowledge Online
Defense Language and National Security Education Office
Defense Health Agency
Defense Acquisition University
Army Distributed Learning Program
Canada ADL Partnership
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Learning Technology Warehouse portal
(Please note: Setting up an account is required to access PERLS information on the LTW portal)