GAO says DOD's distance learning programs make progress, but many challenges remain
The Defense Department is committed to transforming every facet of how it wages war and conducts business, and using distance learning to educate DOD employees worldwide is already paying dividends, according to a recent General Accounting Office report. But steep challenges remain, GAO warned.
DOD spends more than $17 billion annually for military schools that offer nearly 30,000 training courses to almost 3 million military personnel and DOD civilians. The department's training transformation strategy emphasizes the use of advanced distributed learning (ADL) programs, including Internet-based training.
But numerous challenges in four areas — cultural, financial, policy and technological — must be overcome before the ADL programs' effectiveness can truly be measured, according to GAO's report.
The report, "Progress and Challenges for DOD's Advanced Distributed Learning Programs," which was released late last month, identifies challenges in each of the four areas, including the following:
* Organizational culture is resistant to change.
* Senior leadership commitment varies and many still prefer the more traditional schoolhouse-focused learning.
* Service schoolhouses are reluctant to change because funding and infrastructure are closely tied to numbers of in-resident students.
* Bandwidth issues and network security concerns hinder the programs' usefulness.
* The development of, fielding of and access to military skills-related content is more difficult and costly than anticipated.
* Some of the military services' and DOD agencies' training and education regulations are outdated, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) is in the early stages of formulating policy that specifically addresses the use of ADL programs.
* DOD allocated funding at about $431 million for ADL programs — less than 1.3 percent of its training budget for fiscal years 1999 through 2002 — which did not always meet requirements.
*ADL programs' projected budget needs are about $2.2 billion for fiscal years 2003 through 2007 — about $600 million more than is funded.
The GAO report acknowledged that DOD, the military services and the Joint Staff are "generally in the early stages of implementing their ADL programs and have made progress in several areas," including:
* OSD's establishment of three ADL co-laboratories.
* The services and Joint Staff's selecting the Sharable Content Object Reference Model software specification that sets guidelines for developing online course material and makes Web-based training materials interoperable and easily shared.
* Promoting experimentation with new technology through collaboration with the private sector.
But GAO concluded "it is too early to fully assess the extent of each program's effectiveness."
A draft copy of the report was delivered to Paul Mayberry, deputy undersecretary of Defense for readiness, in late January. In a Feb. 20 letter to GAO, Mayberry wrote that DOD agreed with the report's findings, but also noted that that ADL is an "evolving program" and reiterated that it is a "critical enabler for transforming DOD training."
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