Pentagon moves to revamp online education systems

As the pandemic increases the need for online learning, the Defense Department's chief management officer pushes change.

The Defense Department wants to make online learning and continuous education easier for military and civilian personnel. So it's starting with a pilot effort to give personnel a mega-searchable course catalogue that's expected to be fielded in 2022.

"We're looking for critical thinking skills. And so the way to enhance that is by exposing them to new learnings and teachings and methods and strategies," DOD's chief management officer, Lisa Hershman, said during the keynote at the National Training and Simulation Association's iFEST event Aug. 17.

"All that does is sharpen those critical thinking skills and that's exactly how we go from a skillset and developing it into talent."

Hershman said modernizing the underlying IT infrastructure, streamlining and boosting online education is needed to enhance readiness and develop talent to better match "competencies with tasks." To do that, DOD has to modernize the underlying IT infrastructure, and consolidate and aggregate data sources.

Enterprise Digital Modernization Learning reform started in 2018 with cooperation from the Office of Personnel Management, aiming to improve how DOD buys and maintains its digital learning software and services, while modernizing relevant systems.

DOD has since been consolidating enterprise course catalogues so personnel can search every course available across the department in one place. (That will also make it easier for DOD to find and eliminate duplicate courses offered and identify trends in online learning, the CMO said.)

The catalog prototype is live with 50,000 courses and should move to developmental testing in fiscal 2021 with an initial operating capability in fiscal 2022, Hershman said.

"Building these kinds of systems takes time in part because we're taking all those disparate systems and consolidating into the DOD-wide data fabric," Hershman said. "We're not just building a new database."

DOD is also working on an Enterprise Learner Record Repository, which consolidates personnel training files that exist on different systems in different formats. As is, the system "cannot fully benefit from enterprise level analytics," Hershman said, and the overall effort is complicated by privacy and identity and access management issues but is being developed iteratively.

The goal, Hershman said, is for the repository to house tools and data to better track training efforts and use data to develop the workforce. Once completed, personnel could access their records as if they were from a single source with data from profiles and performance and training records.

Hershman said the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has led to an uptick in online learning among personnel, their families, and dependents -- a trend she hopes will continue.

"This is not just a course or a series of courses," Herman said, it's "a lifelong learning journey."

This article first appeared on FCW, a sibling site to Defense Systems.

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