Group Editor Marty Kauchak examines the learning technologies and other forces that are changing the requirement and purpose of two US military services’ classrooms.

The military classroom will continue to be a venue to train and educate individuals, units and staffs well into the future. Its purpose and attributes will evolve – even as service training community leaders overcome tradition and other well-entrenched Pentagon management paradigms.

USAF: Getting Learners ‘Into Flow’

Matthew Stafford, PhD, vice president for Academic Affairs at the Air University located at Maxwell Air Force Base (AFB), Alabama, commented on two challenges in the contemporary Department of Defense learning portfolio. The first is funding. “Traditional learning creates very convenient funding parameters. The number of students drives the number of teachers and number of classrooms. Add in the curriculum-development and assessment costs, then use the curriculum to determine duration, and you have a very logical formula for calculating learning costs.” He added, “Since budgets drive virtually every aspect of governmental operations, you can easily see how this approach can lock one into a traditional learning paradigm.”

Stafford, who was also on temporary assignment as the Chief Learning Officer for Air Education and Training Command (AETC), Randolph AFB, Texas, when this issue was published, opined the second challenge is strictly temporal. “If I need so many specialists one year from now, and have a firm understanding of developmental time, I can backtrack through the calendar to figure out how many airmen I need to recruit and when they need to be available. I can set up transportation from base to base, class start and graduation dates. Predictability makes managing this force-development work so much easier.”

The service training leader highlighted the unintended consequences with the traditional approach, including beginning to reconceptualize learning as something less than a unique, cognitive experience and more as a “pipeline” or “assembly line.” He noted, “As we do so, we tend to adjust the speed of that assembly line to maximize efficiencies and minimize losses. That speed may be statistically perfect but is seldom perfect for the individual learners; some of which want to move much faster and some who wish to move more slowly through their learning experiences. Yet individualizing learning significantly complicates human capital management challenges. Managers want predictability!”

Moving beyond tradition and predictability, Lieutenant Colonel Eric Frahm, the Training and Education Program manager at the Air Force’s Strategic Developmental Planning and Experimentation office, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, pointed out that in-person, brick-and-mortar instruction will remain an effective way to impart knowledge, but how his service uses brick-and-mortar time, and its role within the educational toolset, will change. “Regardless, we must teach with the goal of reaching the learner’s ‘affective domain’; the zone we get in where we’re totally engrossed in what we’re learning and doing – often called a ‘state of flow’.”

Frahm, who through a partnership with AETC, is also director at the command’s Technology Integration Detachment, overseeing innovation efforts for the 61,000-person command, provided a glimpse of two trends emerging in his service’s classroom.

The Air Force is focused on two opportunities it thinks will impact classroom learning and get its learners “into flow.” “First, we think immersive technologies such as augmented and virtual reality are ideal to immerse a student in an environment. Second, we think data analytics can help us measure and improve the performance of our learners, instructors, learning sites and learning systems – showing us conclusively when our methods are most effective,” the service training expert stated.

In one current service activity helping to redefine the purpose of a classroom, the Pilot Training Next project has combined research from Air University, Air Force Institute of Technology and Air Force Research Lab to experiment with methods of mixing VR and classroom instruction. Frahm explained, “For example, our instructors designed a new academics course to teach aerodynamics. The students sat in our VR flight simulators and rapidly alternated between classroom and VR training. The instructor taught a principle, then students experimented with it in VR.”

Cubic's Littoral Combat Ship training continuum
Cubic's Littoral Combat Ship training continuum is designed to meet the US Navy’s objective of “Train to Qualify” (T2Q), an individual measure of proficiency to “stand the watch,” and “Train to Certify” (T2C), a metric for watch team performance. Image credit: Cubic.

Navy: Computers Everywhere

There’s a pattern in the contemporary learning domain: the US Navy will also have a need for traditional brick-and-mortar schoolhouse learning environments, even as it meets a growing demand for the types of technology and learning experiences that many of its sailors today have grown up with. RADM Kyle Cozad, the commander at Naval Education and Training Command (NETC), explained that technically, a vast majority of his service’s training involves the use of computers, whether PowerPoint, instructor-led “computer aided” instruction or a lesson on a self-guided computer course (example, Navy E-learning). “Almost all training involves computer assets to either deliver or assist in the delivery of instruction. Even ‘hands on’ lab events are transitioning to computer-aided instruction,” the Navy leader remarked.

Readers of MS&T will recall Ready, Relevant Learning (RRL) as one of the Navy's Sailor 2025 key initiatives with a focus on providing sailors the right training at the right time throughout their career. Against this background, the service flag officer also cautioned that typically, when most people hear the words computer-based training, they think PowerPoint. However, Ready, Relevant Learning is not computer-based learning.

The NETC commander continued, “In actuality there are many different levels of computer-based training from highly technical, ‘hands on’ type presentations to the type of training you would receive in a lab environment. We are focused on categorizing our training into the following delivery methods to meet the future needs of our sailors: instructor-facilitated interactive training, self-directed interactive training, structured on-the-job training and performance support.”

Of special significance, Cozad emphasized his service also wants to take advantage of all types of training technology and tools that are available to it, including immersive simulators and virtual trainers, in addition to the simple tools used every day. He added, “Refocusing the training approach from a traditional ‘knowledge based’ approach, in which a student is expected to demonstrate an appropriate level of book knowledge versus ‘performance based’ training in which that same fundamental knowledge is demonstrated in hands-on application – actually ‘doing’ a given task – will provide a sailor who is more technically proficient with the likelihood of greater retention of what he or she has learned in the combined classroom/lab environment.”

Similar to the Pilot Training Next project, learning technologies are enhancing the Navy classroom learning experience – and creating the option for learning to occur in other venues.

One high profile Navy effort to expand its technology portfolio for schoolhouse-based learning is Cubic Global Defense*-furnished learning technologies which are an “anchor” for training crews of both variants, Freedom and Independence, of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) at the LCS Training Facility (LTF) on Naval Base San Diego, California. These technologies serve as a core component of the overall LCS training continuum and are designed to meet the Navy’s objective of “Train to Qualify” (T2Q), an individual measure of proficiency to “stand the watch” and “Train to Certify” (T2C), a metric for watch team performance. A second LTF is currently under construction on the east coast at Naval Base Mayport, Florida, and the same technologies will be fielded to that location as well.

What’s more significant about the Cubic offerings is the blend of technologies that are being introduced into the classroom.

Andre Balta, a vice president and Chief Technology Officer at Cubic, and John Freeman, a senior program director at the same entity, explained these technologies primarily include the LCS Immersive Virtual Ship Environment (IVSE) and the LCS Mission Bay Trainer (MBT). “The IVSE is a high-fidelity, 3D, game-based learning virtual environment that allows the trainee to learn, practice and maximize procedurally compliant ‘reps and sets’ in accordance with Navy Personnel Qualification Standards (PQS).” They added, “As guided by the PQS, Cubic’s LCS IVSE courseware is specifically designed and developed to meet the T2Q/T2C standards for individual and team performance. Over the last two years, courses of instruction (COIs) have been delivered to the LTF to meet the T2Q objective for the Engineering Plant Technician and Readiness Control Officer.”

Additional IVSE courseware is currently under development for Engineering Watch Team Training (EWTT), Deck Operations Team Training and Combat Systems/Information Technology Operations, Maintenance & Troubleshooting. The two subject matter experts remarked: “These COIs will be delivered and made Ready for Training over the next two years. EWTT [was to be] delivered/RFT this June and will represent a significant achievement for team training and certification in a virtual and immersive environment – a first for the Navy.”

Qube 4D's conceptual Station IX
Qube 4D's conceptual Station IX “classroom of the future” can best be described as the world’s largest VR headsets. Image credit: Qube 4D.

A New ‘Classroom’ Option?

During April’s WATS (World Aviation Training Summit) conference, hosted by MS&T’s sister publication, The Journal of Civil Aviation Training (CAT), this author noted with great interest a presentation about future classrooms. Fernando Petruzziello, president of Qube 4D Ventures (Dorval, Canada), revealed their conceptual Station IX “classroom of the future,” which, he offered, will support training in both civil aviation training organizations and the adjacent military space.

“The Station IX is a fully immersive high-resolution visualization device. It can be used to view large data sets, or it can become the ‘Virtual Classroom’ of the future, a fully immersive 3D environment,” the Québec corporate leader added.

Qube 4D has three versions of the Station IX: Immersive Work Station; Immersive Theatre; and Immersive Auditorium. Petruzziello pointed out, “These can best be described as the world’s largest VR headsets. The idea is that you do not wear them,” he emphasized. “Now, you are in them!”

The former co-founder of simulator manufacturer Mechtronix (sold to Textron in 2014) noted his new company is using virtual imaging techniques combined with special collimating optics to provide a viewable image that is geometrically correct. He said, “All objects in the scene are spatially and dimensionally correct.” Indeed, because the trainee is looking at geometrically correct images, “there are none of the problems that one expects with traditional VR headsets (eye fatigue, motion sickness, etc.).”

Preliminary specifications of the three current designs include:

  • Immersive Workstation: occupants: one; size: 12-ft diameter;
    field-of-view (FOV): 225 degrees horizontal x 36 degrees vertical; mirrors: glass; resolution: 5 channels (each HD - 1920 x 1800)
  • Immersive Theatre (Small Immersive Classroom): occupants: 2-3; size: 18-ft diameter; FOV: 215 or 300 degrees horizontal x 36 degrees vertical; mirrors: glass; resolution: 5 or 7 channels – (each WQXGA - 2560 x 1600)
  • Immersive Auditorium (Large Immersive Classroom): occupants: 6-8; size: 25-ft diameter; FOV: 215 or 300 degrees horizontal x 36 degrees vertical; mirrors: glass; resolution: 5 or 7 channels (each WQXGA - 2560 x 1600).

Petruzziello noted the units can be coupled via a peer-to-peer distributed communication network, with the units being either local or distributed around the world. “This implies that with dedicated Internet connections, combined with 5G wireless connectivity (becoming available 2018-2019), information can be viewed simultaneously on all units. The delays that are seen today when using internet connections will eventually disappear,” he predicted.

The technology industry veteran concluded: “Our vision is that the ‘Virtual Classroom’ is a fully immersive environment where instructors can now be centralized in one locality and learners can be located at multiple sites looking at a 3D image that is geometrically correct. We are presently setting up a demonstration center in Montréal where there will be two units that will show a fully immersive interactive environment. This will be fully operational third quarter of this year.”

Final Thought: It’s the Point of Need

As the military-industry team increases its efforts to deliver more capable learning technologies, it is worthy to note that these products and systems will support service men and women not only in the classroom, but increasingly at the point of need.

For instance, the Navy’s Cozad noted that RRL includes innovative technologies such as learning labs, complex personal simulation, mobile applications, 3D models and “how-to” videos. “It will allow sailors to get to the fleet faster, flexibility to adjust curriculum to meet the needs of the environment, and continued training throughout their careers. This training approach also seeks to deliver training content through a variety of delivery options – and, at the point of need, whether that is in a classroom, in the barracks or on a ship, submarine or hangar deck.”

Originally published in MS&T Issue 3, 2018.