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PERvasive Learning Systems

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

DoD has directed enhanced readiness across the Services, but personnel have no time for additional training events or classroom courses. However, DoD can use smartphone-based microlearning to capitalize on the “white space” outside of formal learning activities, such as when individuals have 5 minutes (e.g., waiting in line), 20 minutes (e.g., in transit to the range), or need just-in-time support (e.g., on the job, when a problem arises).

The Solution

A smartphone-based micro-learning application, delivered as a mobile app or via a web browser, that enables the Services/Joint Staff to deliver the right training, in the right way (“bite sized”), at the right time—leading to increased exposure (i.e., time on task) to learning content, improved training outcomes, greater personnel readiness, and improved training sustainment. The platform offers iOS and Android front ends and a web-based content management (CMS) software back-end. The platform uses short-term strategies specifically designed for skills-based learning anytime and anywhere and is designed to take advantage of unplanned time during a learner’s daily schedule to enhance and reinforce learning.

About the Project

PERLS is a government-owned platform that provides tailored learning recommendations based on factors such as learner characteristics, learning history, training requirements, and content engagement. Learners are empowered to select content that is needed, when and where they have time—leading to increased exposure to content (i.e., time on task) to improve training outcomes and sustainment in support of greater personnel readiness.

PERLS provides customized content for a unique, self-directed learning experience. The body of content in PERLS can be built over time and uses open-source 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 imported through a SCORM API integration. PERLS supports performance measurement, through flash cards and quizzes, all serviced with a backend content management system for building and maintaining content.

  • Content authors can create, preview, tag, and group content, and manage revisions using the back-end web application, creating a pool of content to be served to the learner.

  • Learners can use the PERLS mobile interface to access newly published content, trending content, and recommended content in the form of thoughtfully crafted courses consisting of reading materials, videos, podcasts, flash cards, tip cards, quizzes, and tests.

  • Learning activities that are external to PERLS can be uploaded as PERLS activities (e.g., podcasts, YouTube videos, documents).

PERLS uses the Experience Application Programming Interface (xAPI) data standard to enable self-regulated and context-aware learning. As the learner navigates the PERLS interface, the platform uses xAPI-based data to present personalized content based on the learner’s preferences, competency, needs, and level of effort. Learning data generated by xAPI can be used for analytics in the form of visualizations, reports or other outputs using the PERLS dashboard.

PERLS 1.0, undertaken 2013–2017, focused on the development of a prototype and corresponding field testing with three DoD stakeholder groups: Fort Bragg Special Operators, DoD’s U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) trainees, and DoD 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 which leverages time management techniques, leading to greater efficiency across the DoD training portfolio.

PERLS 2.0 focused on transitioning the PERLS platform to operational use by rebuilding the original research prototype to meet DoD cybersecurity regulations and to support e-learning at-scale. This effort included operational testing with the Sabalauski Air Assault School in Fort Campbell, Kentucky along with a corresponding learning impacts publication. Results indicate a positive impact of PERLS use on Air Assault School test scores and attrition rates, student self-efficacy, and Self-Regulated Learning (SRL) behavior. Soldiers who used PERLS:

  • Earned higher Phase I test grades

  • Outperformed peers on Phase II hands-on test grades

  • Showed a 25% reduction in attrition as compared to peers

PERLS 3.0 was delivered in February 2022. That work concluded the development of the PERLS Initial Operational Capability (IOC). PERLS 3.0 provides the basic capabilities for authoring, managing, and delivering a wide range of instructional content. The expected outcome of PERLS 3.0 is a mobile learning technology system that is content agnostic, stable, and scalable for deployment across the DoD, and also fully compatible with the Total Learning Architecture (TLA).


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


Arizona State University (2019-2022)
Float LLC (2019-2022)
Power Train (2020-2022)
SRI International (2013-2017)


Army Distributed Learning Program
Army University
Defense Acquisition University
Defense Language and National Security Education Office
Joint Staff J7/Joint Knowledge Online
US Marine Corps