A great deal of interest has been generated within the defence sector by the UK Army’s recent unveiling of a LINE-developed learning app for iPad (see British Army takes the lead with new application for Apple iPad). A recent defence conference provided an opportunity for LINE, together with two members of the Royal Artillery Training Development Team who commissioned the piece, to show more of this innovative learning programme – and to place it within the context of LINE’s wider work with Defence colleges in training transformation.
The event was the RSME Training Transformation Symposium: Lifelong Learning: Enhancing the Military learning experience within and beyond the classroom. It took place on the RSME site at Chatham, and attendees were RSME staff, Engineer-in-Chief staff, Defence training organisations and external organisations.
Introducing the afternoon’s session for LINE, Steve Barden, lead consultant, spoke to the transformation agenda in the MoD.
LINE and its partners have carried out extensive consulting work within defence as part of the Defence Training Review (DTR), focusing latterly on the logistics, personnel and admin colleges with a wide-ranging brief.
With the operational tempo increasing all the time, Defence training colleges face the dilemma of how to fulfil training requirements better, faster and more cheaply. Barden charted a four-step path to a more agile approach to suit 21st Century learning; learning which is geared to modern learners, uses technology as part of a blended delivery model and ensures a more effective and more efficient solution.
These steps lead to an organisation that is geared to learning in the 21st century.
The methodology that LINE uses in helping confirm a client’s route towards this goal is called the LINE HealthCheck. This flexible and powerful methodology is widely used in LINE’s work with defence to ensure a shared vision of how learning will evolve linked to business strategy and goals and by identifying practical work streams that will realise clear benefits.
An important focus for change coming out of the HealthCheck has been modernising the learning model. Whilst defence training typically has been about periodic learning – i.e. a course-based model in which students are instructed and assessed and then have no further relationship with learning for their period of operational deployment – a more modern approach is to make the learning more granular and focused on the time and place of need.
Two main modernisation objectives were identified to change this:
1. move to a blend of face-to-face instruction and online teaching techniques
2. introduce tools to enable lifelong learning support
This change has been seen as vital to improve the speed to competence and in helping to address the skill fade that inevitably happens when students move into operational theatres. It is also a vital part of underpinning professional development throughout students’ subsequent careers in defence and beyond.
Exacerbating the problems associated with achieving a more flexible learning delivery has been the lack of an administration infrastructure with the required agility. In order to achieve a more responsive approach to managing the pipeline under the SOTR system – where statements of training requirements are issued to the schools every 12 months – a system is needed that that results in greater scheduling flexibility and delivering learning on a more granular level. This is a multi-faceted issue but one that provides the opportunity to drive significant efficiencies into the system.
To help with this problem, LINE offers the IGNITE sandbox – an online Software-As-A-Service (SAAS) environment that provides an integrated suite of administration and management tools (LMS, LCMS, online assessment, accreditation, scheduling, management reporting system, etc.)
LINE and its associates have put together this environment as a way for defence clients to trial new administration processes at low cost, low risk and with no impact on business as usual. Once the benefits of the refined approach are proven, the system can be procured in the knowledge that the precise requirements will be delivered.
Creating effective blended learning
Julie Read, Defence Learning Consultant at LINE, spoke on what it takes to create effective blended learning at scale for Defence.
On the design front, things are moving rapidly due to the advances in the field of brain science, providing new insights for learning designers, who no longer have to lean so heavily on academic models, which are often outdated and in some cases flawed. LINE, like many others, has been influenced by the ideas of Itiel Dror in using technology to enhance learning.
Dror says that ‘it’s not what you teach that matters but what they learn.’
Read went on to outline Dror’s ‘Three C’s’.
• Control – you should give the learner as much control over their learning as possible
• Challenge – the learner must be challenged to think and reflect, to solve problems, to become aware of their own strengths and failings and to set their own goals whilst receiving feedback and an indication of their progress
• Commitment – this more personal and interactive approach will result in greater commitment to their own learning
Just because face-to-face instruction has always been the way things have been done doesn’t mean it is necessarily the best means of learning.
Blending traditional methods with a full range of technology-enabled learning throughout the lifelong learning continuum is the key to balancing efficiency and effectiveness, (see diagram).
With this question of the balance of efficiency and effectiveness in mind, discussion moved to rapid e-learning, one the fastest-growing categories of online training over recent years.
While rapid e-learning, often authored directly by SMEs, is clearly the most efficient route in some cases, thought must also be given to effectiveness. The danger is that more ineffective learning is delivered to more people! Focusing exclusively on the software tools to be used, at the expense of process and design, is not the route to success.
Learning design must be acknowledged as a critical discipline (more so with online than with face-to-face training) and help sought either from internal personnel or from external suppliers who have this expertise.
LINE can cite numerous examples where we have worked with clients to skill up a rapid production effort that can then continue to function more or less autonomously. This goes beyond simple capability building.
LINE has supported the BBC and other clients in using rapid tools with what they call learning ‘patterns’ (put simply, defined sequences of templates) – giving a structure for learning. These patterns encode the knowledge LINE has gathered over the years about what works in online learning from its custom development practice, and allows the client to leverage that knowledge through their in-house rapid production.
Read went on to talk about how Mobile and serious games are rapidly becoming an important part of the learning and communications mix within Defence. LINE showed a considerable and growing body of work in these areas, including not only the iPad Fire Control Orders programme for the Royal Artillery, but also an innovative EPSS vehicle maintenance programme for iTouch, Cultural Awareness programmes for service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, now available on iPhone.
Fire Control Orders: case study
WO1 Neil Fowler and WO2 Charlie Lewis from RA TDT presented the Fire Control Orders programme created by the Royal Artillery in partnership with LINE, and gave some background to its development.
The project benefited from a degree of serendipity in its timing. An existing desire to improve on the training for fire control orders – which at the time required six weeks in the classroom, where learners were subjected to a fairly relentless barrage of PowerPoints – coincided with an interest at higher levels to trial blended learning solutions. The Army’s Learning Technologies Policy Unit offered the team funding to pilot a more relevant scenario-based training approach involving technology innovation. The project was put out to tender, and LINE won.
The challenge presented to them was catering for the learning needs of a diverse team comprising different roles and skill sets, the majority of them drawn from ‘the iPod generation’, who have been found not to respond well to PowerPoint-based training. Learners had to understand the language in which Fire Orders are communicated, and how to apply them in different scenarios. It was decided to deploy a gaming element to increase learner commitment, with two players going head to head.
Finding the right hardware platform for the learning was also challenge. Several options were reviewed, including Nintendo DS, ultramobile PC and others. Then, again serendipitously, the iPad was launched, which it was finally decided provided the optimum delivery device for the learning, not least because of the security provided by its high levels of encryption.
The team committed to putting all documentation on the device, as well as the learning. At the start of a course, every soldier gets an iPad, which is used in the initial training sessions and afterwards, and the same app is going out via the MOD’s Defence Learning Portal (DLP) for remote use, revision training, and as a refresher, enabling the agile solution to reach as far as the frontline.
Re-teach burden is curtailed, classroom time is reduced, and instructors are able to focus their time on correcting errors in exercises and dealing with specific training requirements. The PowerPoints have reduced and the students are now more empowered and in control.
The programme is currently being assessed in user-acceptance trials.
LINE’s contribution to the day was well received by the audience and generated several questions and comments about the challenges presented. The case study from the Royal School of Artillery also garnered a lot of interest. It was particularly heartening to hear how the RA TDT team, who were originally instructors at the school, without any experience of blended learning, have become enthusiastic advocates for the use of technology to support learning and were so open to sharing their knowledge gained through development of this programme.