E-Learning - DEFENCE MANAGEMENT JOURNAL, December 2004
A door to all our futures
Wing Commander Iain Harrison outlines the defence learning portal.
Ask someone to define e-learning and you will get several different interpretations. If you broaden, or perhaps narrow, the definition to Technology Based Training, you could get a different response. As SO1 e-Learning Defence Centre of Training Support (DCTS), I should be able to give you a definitive answer. The accompanying panel to this article gives the defence definition but it does not stop the debate. Why should a definition matter? Well, for the broad audience that reads this Journal, and for the wider audience of the defence community, there is a need to have a common reference point before I can talk about the Defence Learning Portal (DLP), which is the focus of this article.
There are differing views on what constitutes 'real e-learning'. Many of us have undertaken a computer-based training course but our experiences will have varied greatly. At its most basic, e-learning does encompass the simple page turning course that is little more than a book viewed via a computer. At the other end of the spectrum, however, are the simulated and synthetic training environments that are essential to individual training, from pilots to submariners. Somewhere in-between, we can include browsing the internet as a form of informal learning performed via technology. Having this broad view of what potentially constitutes e-learning is important if we are to grasp the full exploitation opportunity that DLP gives defence.
Not all readers of this article will be aware of the basic facts around the DLP. One of the Defence Training Review recommendations was to procure a single coherent and cost- effective method of delivering e-learning for defence. Director General Training & Education, on behalf of the MOD, has contracted with BT for 10 years to provide a Defence e-Learning Delivery and Management Capability (DELDMC); not an easy mnemonic, which, in part, explains why the overall package is called DLP. The capability comprises a Learning Management System (LMS) and a Learning Content Management System (LCMS), which, for the techies, is initially provided through the SumTotal products, Docent 6.5 and Aspen 2.5 software solutions. Embedded within the software are tools for the testing and development of e-learning content. Behind the software is the hardware. Secure servers using BT's proven ability in this area will allow access via the Defence Fixed Telecommunication Services Restricted LAN Interconnect (RLI) to courseware up to restricted classification and via the internet to a range of unclassified courses. The LCMS will provide an area where internal developers and approved external companies can share content objects, reducing development time and production costs.
The contract is valued at around £46m and is the largest of its type in Europe. It will see the user population grow at least as fast as 50,000 users a year, up to 300,000 MOD staff. We have over 50 courses/projects registered for DLP hosting over the next 18 months, including some major projects such as JPA, DII(F), BOWMAN, Type 45 and Military Knowledge. Over the next six months, we will be focusing on these projects and courses. However, if you are responsible for training in whatever capacity and believe that you can benefit from the capability of DLP, you should contact the DLP Business Support Team; their details are at the end of the article and, by the time this article is published, will be available on defence intranet and MOD internet sites.
The benefits of distributed learning, from a single platform to the whole of defence, are significant. We have already seen examples where a course that comprises five hours of
e-learning will save in excess of £30m per annum in cost avoidance and saved opportunity costs. However, each case differs and there may be a much smaller return of real cash savings in many instances. But in clear concordance with the DCTS mission, DLP is about cost-effective and efficient training support. If we can reduce time spent on training, whilst maintaining the effectiveness of the learning events, we add back significant value to the operational capability of the front line.
Enough of the facts; time for some words on our approach to implementing DLP. There is a significant amount of goodwill, encouragement and interest in DLP, from within defence and from industry. Additionally, other public sector organisations and academic institutions are watching to see if we can succeed where others have failed to deliver on this scale. We cannot rush or we are bound to trip up horribly. And yet there are programmes that are relying on our capability to be in place now. I do not propose to give fixed dates here as the discovery and detailed design work is ongoing. However, by the end of this year, we will have an 'interim capability' in place hosting ECDL and three other defence courses. This pilot programme, limited to 500 users, enables us to understand the issues and complexities of migrating courses onto the DELDMC platform. At the same time, we have to develop the internal business processes that enable emerging requirements, and courses currently under development, to become reality.
Drawing all the interested parties into a common approach to using DLP is complex. We cannot hope to meet every course sponsor's aspiration, and so we place significant emphasis on working with training designers and administrators to achieve an optimum solution. An essential component of DLP's success will be the content that we put on the system. e-Learning can be dull and we must avoid that route. With the globally recognised expertise of DefenceKnowledge Ltd, we are creating tools and guidance to reduce the time to produce and manage e-learning content by providing the right content. SCORM (see panel for description) is only a specification, not a true standard. Content developed for one LMS may not run another LMS, even though it is certified by the SCORM sponsoring body, the ADL programme. To maximise the benefits of DLP, we have to reduce production costs and ensure that any rework required to host courses on DELDMC is reduced to an absolute minimum. This requires a concerted effort, and we welcome feedback and contribution on the tools as they are issued. One group that we will reinvigorate is the Defence Technology Based Training Working Group, where specific development issues and standards can be addressed.
I mentioned earlier that there are many who wish to contribute to the debate over e-learning and particularly how defence should implement the DLP. To all those who have contributed, I send my thanks. Whether it is positive or negative, the comment or advice has relevance. Since the contract launch in June 2004, we have been working very hard with the partner to clarify the detailed design and operation of DELDMC. There is a great deal more to do over the coming months and, as we understand and then confirm the detail, we will increase the frequency of communication.
The final thought I wish to place in your minds is how DLP will change the lives of individual MOD personnel. A single learning record, accessed by the learner from the day they join the MOD until they leave, regardless of what unit they go to. A record that is linked to HR management information systems. A system that allows the learner to record not just the mandated training but additional courses they have taken, internal or external, formal or informal. A system that reminds the learner to complete mandatory training before it goes out-of-date. And a learning culture that reduces dramatically the time individuals have to spend away from their home on training courses and enables them to continue personal development when they are deployed away from their base. This vision is not fiction. It is the reality that DLP will provide.
Advanced Distributed Learning, sponsoring body of SCORM.
Defence e-Learning Centre. DELCs, formerly known as the Interactive Learning Facilities (ILFs). There are 29 main DELCs in the UK delivering online learning.
Defence e-Learning Delivery and Management Capability. The contracted capability provided by BT to support defence e-learning.
Defence e-Learning Instruction. DeLIs will be a formalised set of instructions to assist all those involved in DLP e-learning projects.
Defence Learning Portal. The collection of web-based services including DELDMC that supports defence distributed learning.
European Computer Driving Licence is a certificate that declares end-user competence in computer skills.
e-Learning Content Toolkit. Its purpose is to help project managers, content designers and developers make the right decisions concerning the production and deployment of SCORM conformant content on DLP.
e-Learning Decision Toolkit is an analytical toolkit designed to aide all training methods and media selection, specifically to support decisions concerning whether any form of e-learning is the appropriate solution.
Learning Content Management System is used by content developers and administrators to publish courseware to the LMS. The LCMS stores re-usable content that can be used many times in different courses to reduce training costs.
Learning Management System provides access to the catalogue of e-learning courseware, e-learning materials and mentoring capabilities. It automatically tracks the learner's progress through the courseware and provides access to management information. In many circumstances, it is used to manage training enrolment, as well as e-learning delivery.
Management Information System provides information to support decision-making. In this context, it provides information regarding courseware completion and learner scores.
Reusable Learning Object. Content is broken down into chunks called learning objects. These can be tagged with descriptors and stored in LCMS for re-use in other courses.
Sharable Content Object is a standardised form of re-usable learning object. A SCO is a small, self-contained unit of learning. A course should consist of a number of SCOs.
Sharable Content Object Reference Model is a framework used to define and access information about learning objects so they can be easily shared among different LMSs.
(DLP will support SCORM 1.2 configured content upon release, with the intent to move to a SCORM 2004 platform later in the service delivery)