The Google Plus logo

ITEC 2012 Part One: Hot times in Acronym City

John Helmer visits ITEC, UK Defence’s leading training event, held this year in Docklands: there follows a layman’s guide to TLCM, DLOD, AOF, V&V, SISO, AR, COTS, SDSR, etc. etc.

The combination of Spring heatwave and meltdown on the Jubilee Line might have caused some sweaty conditions in the world outside, but ITEC’s doughty audience of Defence training practitioners seemed in no danger of losing their collective cool – especially those clearly dressed for warmer climes. Uniforms are encouraged at ITEC, making for a welcome change from the drab subfusc of business garb on show at civilian trade shows. Also missing are the laminated shopping bags in bright colours that organisers of other shows dispense for the collection of vendor literature. It’s just not the military way.
Greater tests of sang froid than freakishly good weather were corrugating brows within the great shed of ExCeL this year, for sure. Chief among these had to be the continuing crapness of the economy; double-dip recession resulting in ever-deepening cuts and a continuing demand to do more with less.
Technology seems to offer a helping hand – but how to make that work …
LINE participated in two seminars at ITEC this year within the conference stream, ‘Designing & Acquiring The Best Training Solution’, as well as attending numerous others. Reporting on those sessions gives us the chance to take the temperature of Defence learning but also, given that some of the most cutting edge stuff in learning technologies comes out of Defence, to say something broader about the state of innovation in our industry.

Defence and the new learning

Learning innovation in UK Defence is a bit of a curate’s egg. It is true, as I just said, that some of the most innovative work in e-learning is seen in Defence but, from a technologist’s perspective at least, the sector as a whole has an extremely conservative training culture. Decision-making is deliberate, the pace of change slow; glacial, even, in some areas.
Nevertheless, technology innovation is at the heart of military activity, and always has been.
Since the time when stone-age warriors were hacking flints out of the cliffs on the South Downs to make arrowheads, war has been an accelerator of technological development. Science happens because people are curious about the world; but technology requires a pressing material need to get it motoring, such as that provided by armed conflict. The more urgent the need – the more closely it concerns our physical survival, as in the case of Defence – the faster technology can be made to move.
Defence has a huge training need: it’s a truism that when combatants aren’t fighting they’re training. UK Defence also has a very pressing need, at this particular moment, to do its training in a more efficient way, due to vanishing budgets. This is where technology seems to offer all sorts of new options. Mobile technology gives the possibility of using downtime, of which service personnel in theatre have a significant amount, in which to do training. Further, it can bring training closer to the point of knowledge application, in the form of performance support, cutting out the need for a lot of rote learning, remembering, and the cunning instructional design needed to make things stay in people’s leaky memories. Virtual battlespaces can provide a low cost, safe way of practicing difficult and dangerous routines. At a very simple level, putting training documentation onto iPads saves a lot of printing costs. All of these things have the potential to save money.
In order to realise these cost-saving benefits, however, at the scale on which UK Defence operates, it is necessary to design, procure and implement the technologies and services involved correctly – or savings (at least in the short term) can simply disappear. There are also the more abstract, less strictly procedural difficulties involved in moving to a new training model; and here is perhaps the greater challenge. Because technology doesn’t just give us a way to do things more efficiently that we already do. It wants us to do things differently, and also to do different things, in order to realise the greater opportunities that it has on offer.
Take just one of the examples given above; the ostensibly simple move from providing instruction in a given procedure – say, fixing a truck – at a training centre, using a human trainer, to a situation where the knowledge of how to fix that truck is accessed in the field, via a personal device. How will the software and hardware for the latter be specified, designed and procured? How will the initiative be managed and measured? The military has some heavyweight standards and procedures for all these activities, but are they really relevant to the job at hand? And are the current processes for training really relevant to this type of solution – when there is a big question about whether it is training at all?
These were the sort of questions raised when LINE’s senior consultant, Steve Barden, participated in a seminar on just this subject.
‘Requirements to Achieve V&V’
‘TNA is Dead; Long Live the Training DLOD’
Speaker: Lieutenant Commander Paul Pine, RN TNA Lead, Royal Navy
‘Training Evaluation – Ensuring Continuous Improvement’
Speaker: Peter Moody, Executive Chairman, PDM Training and Consultancy Ltd
‘Do Better, Do Quicker’
Speaker: Steve Barden, Lead Learning Consultant, LINE Communications
V&V stands for ‘verification and validation’, which are vital parts of acquiring and designing training solutions. To put it simply, validation asks the question, ‘are we building the right thing?’ while verification asks whether we’re building it right.
Lieutenant Commander Paul Pine outlined proposed changes to the model of Training Needs Analysis (TNA) model as described under DSAT, necessary, he argued, because the scope of modern complex acquisition programmes is broadening. It’s not just a matter, any more, of putting people through human-delivered courses. With more variety in the delivery method of training – and more diversity within training itself – TNA analysts now need to know as much about acquisition as they do about training.
It is hoped the proposed TNA should be useful in defining the fidelity and capacity of systems they need. But it is not only the needs evaluation process that is changing but the evaluation end too, with a move to measuring key outputs, rather than the traditional measures.
Peter Moody, Executive Chairman of PDM Training and Consultancy Ltd, described how a largely traditional training operation working in Defence uses the ISO process to evaluate and regulate its services. This was useful, among other things, in pointing up how much simpler in many respects is the world we have moved away from than the world Lieutenant Commander Pine and his TNA analysts are changing their systems to accommodate.
It was against this background that LINE’s Steve Barden took the podium.
LINE, operating as it does at the cutting edge of learning technologies, participates in many of these
more complex, broader training initiatives. Steve’s presentation covered the move to a new learning paradigm, with a particular focus on how you create and design modern learning programmes that fit the needs of 21st Century learners. Doing more for less is not a myth, and neither is it the case that 70/20/10 doesn’t apply in the military situation. Harmonising the way that people, processes, technology and content work together is what creates effective 21st Century blended learning solutions that get results.
This is all about:
  • Learner-centred design and delivery
  • Balancing know-how with know-where
  • Re-engaging with instructors to help them become more facilitative and learner-journey aware
As evidence that greater maturity in the use of this new type of learning can really get results, Steve cited the work of Towards Maturity which has been widely quoted on these page and elsewhere.
Less well known, perhaps, were a couple of the academic sources on learning theory that he cited.
Charles Reigeluth’s Elaboration Theory is an instructional model that reacts to the paradigm shift from teacher-centric to learner-centred instruction, and gives help in sequencing learning journeys, particularly in the context of the move to more just-in-time learning and performance support made possible by the growth of mobile learning.
The Community of Inquiry (COI) framework (Garrison, Anderson and Archer, 2000) is about understanding how people interact in collaborative environments. It describes a collaborative-constructivist learning experience defined by three interdependent elements:
  • Social presence
  • Teaching presence
  • Cognitive presence
At the same time, Steve counselled a healthy scepticism about models in general!
These principles form the background to LINE’s ground-breaking work in Defence, about which Steve shared some news and results.
In the year since LINE launched Fire Control Orders for iPad at ITEC 2010, the programme has generated widespread interest and won awards. Perhaps more significantly, the first time pass rate has gone up, and simply by putting on the iPad training manuals that were previously printed, the cost of development has been recouped within a year.
The programme effectively tackled the issues of skills fade and poor entry standards, with technology as enabler and attractor – allowing the learners to play different roles in the process and introducing an edge of competition, where previously there had been low engagement. Trainees would stand and watch as three people only got to perform the scenario.
Steve also showed a movie of the step-in-step-out concept LINE has pioneered for Electronic Counter Measures (ECM). This programme combines 2D and 3D e-learning seamlessly, allowing learners to step in and out of an immersive 3D VBSWorlds environment to deliver highly interactive and engaging intelligence gathering training through the use of realistic scenarios.
And this year has seen LINE adding Augmented Reality (AR) to the mix, a development that was explored in more detail during a presentation given on the following day of the conference by LINE’s Charlotte Marshall and Roy Evans.