DOD sets e-learning course

ADL program

An agreement signed by the National Guard Bureau and the Defense Department's Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative may someday extend e-learning all the way to the foxhole.

The groups have agreed to establish the first-ever e-learning partnership laboratory with an international partner. The co-laboratory will focus on advancing global e-learning standards so that international groups will be able to share content, courseware modules and lessons learned.

A working agreement has been reached between the United States and the United Kingdom to establish a co-laboratory at the University of Wolverhampton in England, said Maureen Lischke, the Guard's chief information officer and program executive officer for information systems.

A co-lab is an open, collaborative test bed environment for sharing learning technology research, development and assessments.

"These people can do and are willing to do research for us," Lischke said. "The National Guard can take advantage of the modules they're developing, and we don't have to reinvent certain courseware."

The National Guard has more than 450,000 personnel at 3,500 sites in 54 states and territories, making global, enhanced e-learning capabilities a critical addition to traditional training methods, Lischke said.

The foundation of the collaboration will be the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), a software specification that sets guidelines for developing online course material and makes Web-based training materials interoperable and easily shared.

SCORM is the basis for ADL's vision of reliable, affordable, Web-accessible and reusable training courseware, said Nancy Teich, ADL's program integrator. The standard is gaining acceptance in the United Kingdom as well as other NATO Partnership for Peace nations, she said.

"We embraced this relationship because they have a lot to offer across the military, industry and academia," Teich said. "That's what we look for and that's why the initiative is effective."

Lloyd Korhonen, professor and director of the Center for Distance Learning Research at Texas A&M University, said ADL's "current partnerships are with solid institutions that have good reputations in technology" and that the international reach was the next logical step.

Anything the e-learning community can do to make potential buyers and users aware of developing standards, such as SCORM, is a step in the right direction, said Michael Brennan, a senior analyst at IDC.

"Most potential buyers that know what learning standards are feel it's important that vendors comply, but the problem is many buyers don't know what learning standards are available," Brennan said. "And now with distance learning being taken globally, you're going to need global standards."

U.S. officials first began discussing the co-lab agreement with their U.K. counterparts in August 2001, said Lischke, who also heads the bureau's Distributive Training and Technology Project, a federal training project that offers e-learning programs to Guard members in classrooms nationwide.

By the end of April, Lischke said U.S. and U.K. officials would sign a formal memorandum of understanding, which will spell out the focus areas for the distance-learning research. The partnership will cost the National Guard nothing.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), which oversees the ADL program, and the National Guard together established various e-learning initiatives for the Wolverhampton lab to work on, including:

* Establishing a "plugfest" in the United Kingdom — similar to those at domestic ADL co-labs — that will enable vendors and European governments to test their products in a SCORM environment.

* Extending distance-learning offerings to deployed troops through wireless capabilities.

Co-labs also double as command and control facilities for use during emergencies, including natural disasters and the events of Sept. 11, Lischke said, adding that enhancing those capabilities is another goal of the program.

The Guard, OSD and more than 200 industry and academic partners support co-labs in Madison, Wis.; Alexandria, Va.; and Orlando, Fla., by providing staffing, equipment and other resources, Lischke said.

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The case for e-learning

Maureen Lischke, the National Guard Bureau's chief information officer and program executive officer for information systems, said distance learning makes economic and practical sense. She pointed to statistics that compared a resident course for Army clerks to its electronic counterpart. The survey found:

* The resident course took 40 people 13 days to complete at a cost of $54,000. 85 percent passed.

* The distance-learning version took 15.5 days for 88 people — and could have accommodated up to 100 — at a cost of $5,000. 92 percent passed.

"People do at least as well and usually better through distance learning," Lischke said. "People can work at their own pace. The student takes the initiative, and if they start to drift, they can just quit and come back when they're ready."

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