Building the Right Learning Environment for Tomorrow’s Warfighter

Dr. Regan Patrick and Mr. Philippe Perey

Innovation, adaptive education, Virtual Reality (VR), and Big Data are terms used frequently, and often carelessly, when discussing 21st century technical training programs.  It is essential to clearly define and understand these concepts and capabilities – what they mean, how they best apply, and how to integrate them to achieve improved outcomes - when thinking about future learning ecosystems. Developing a plan to successfully blend advanced instructional methodology with leading edge educational technology requires a clear understanding of requirements. The goal is to achieve lasting improvements in learning efficiency, effectiveness, and affordability. Tomorrow’s learners will demand novel approaches and tools aligned to create an optimized environment to flourish and grow. To truly innovate – defined by Oxford as, “make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products” – requires instructional providers and their customers to work collaboratively in the design and integration of improved approaches to learning. This shared ‘Learning Journey’ partnership is the foundation of success in building end-to-end digital training ecosystems.  

Adaptive learning structures are a key element of training innovation. The concept of building flexible training systems centered on individual competencies rather than prescribed syllabi or production quotas is not new, but the tools and technology backbone to support this approach have only recently gained general acceptance in defense organizations. Competency-based education builds on a comprehensive understanding of human learning constructs and limitations. Programs must be built to quickly adjust to an individual learner’s needs, improve the speed with which they progress through a given course, and increase the knowledge and retention levels for the given content. The cumulative result is an increased capacity for greater student throughput and an improved evaluation process facilitating ongoing improvements in content and delivery.     

Individual student engagement is essential. Tomorrow’s learners face unprecedented challenges to which  training providers must respond. These students require updated approaches to learning as well as new tools to strengthen neuro-connections in deep, meaningful ways. Instructional designers must create new learning environments for students to conceptualize and safely experiment within, both individually and as a team.  Learners will also insist on working within distributed, mobile learning structures tailored to their needs, replacing traditional or industrial, production-oriented schoolhouse designs. These are radical changes to many existing training programs, and CAE has challenged its instructional design teams to find innovative ways to design, implement, and evaluate outcomes.  

Recent studies demonstrate surprisingly low retention rates following traditional slide-based computer-aided instruction. This passive approach is giving way to experiential learning programs, enabled by VR, low cost/high fidelity simulation systems and data analytics capabilities. 

Adaptive learning also relies on the targeted application of the latest developments in educational technology. To support learner-centric instructional methodologies, CAE has developed and integrated new tools designed to close the gap between student and content. One example is CAE Trax Academy, which combines these elements in an immersive, digitally connected training environment enabling students to learn, practice, and perform in innovative new ways.  Most importantly, these training environments are designed from the ground up with the student’s learning journey in mind. They can learn and review content at their own pace while using built-in assessment tools to validate their knowledge retention. Once ready, students use their own Immersive Training Device (ITD) to practice  a maneuver and be coached through their own skills development to the requisite level of proficiency. Throughout their learning journey, student progression is tracked and logged for individual and class progress. By analyzing this performance dataset, instructors are best able to tailor their one-on-one time with the student and use the data as part of their overall competency-based assessment. 

For maintenance training, CAE’s Immersive Maintenance Guide (IMG) utilizes a similar immersive VR approach to content delivery. Such highly immersive environments and flexible learning methodologies enable quantifiably accelerated skills acquisition. 

The CAE Trax Academy and CAE Immersive Maintenance Guide both rely on comprehensive data analytics strategies to evaluate performance, modify content, and ensure that individual student needs are understood and met. These examples represent a small sample of a global revolution in thought and practice in warfighter training and education.  

As the pace and tempo of change accelerates across battlespace domains, the need to create adaptive training systems, based on integrating solutions has never been greater. To help reconcile increasing requirements with ever-constrained resources, armed forces must establish partnerships with industry that span the continuum of the learning process. This ‘Learning Journey’ collaboration will jointly define problem sets, examine solutions and options, integrate and manage the chosen solution, evaluate outcomes, and adjust processes to deliver value and capability at the point and time of need. Industry is eager to bring forth innovation centered on the science of learning and harnessing the increasingly ubiquitous Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence and VR capabilities. 

Success in integrating instructional design and technological solutions will rely on tight partnerships, aligned visions, and a mutual commitment to excellence to assure victory on the battlefields of tomorrow.

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Want to connect on LinkedIn? View Dr. Regan Patrick's profile here and Mr. Philippe Perey's profile here.