DOD takes AI to school

The Defense Acquisition University and the Air Force are experimenting with new ways to speed up and improve learning.

The Defense Acquisition University, the organization that trains over 174,000 acquisition professionals in the Defense Department, is looking to move to an adaptive learning environment that responds in real time to student needs.

Acknowledging that the rapid pace of digital disruption and personalization are changing the way learners absorb and approach learning, DAU wants to transform its traditional learning processes to improve effectiveness and efficiency. The organization intends to award other transaction agreements (OTAs) for prototypes that use artificial intelligence-powered adaptive learning to speed the pace and mastery of content.

According to ADT Research, adaptive learning is defined as “technology-enabled personalized learning that uses algorithms and artificial intelligence to modify content to learners’ responses in real time.” It offers many advantages, including that it would be available on any device at any time, respond to learner needs -- based on AI analytics measuring performance and activity -- and accelerate learning, which would reduce overall training time, according to a presentation by DAU's South Region Dean Mark Lumb.

Per the request for information, solutions must leverage a variety of commercial out-of-the box, non-developmental or open source software solution products and incorporate AI adaptive learning technologies. Further, DAU wants a solution that exports modified courseware in an industry standard format. 

DAU will evaluate the solutions with the intent to competitively award one or multiple OTAs for prototype projects through the Training and Readiness Accelerator (TReX).

DAU has been experimenting with adaptive learning over the past few years. In November 2018, it wrapped up a 13-week adaptive AI-powered learning pilot to test whether students can learn more efficiently, retain learning longer and find value from an AI-enabled learning experience, according to a report in DAU News.  One group of acquisition staff took a course through the traditional DAU online method and the other through the AI-powered platform from Cerego, a learning delivery vendor specializing in AI-backed solutions. Results indicated that "78% of the post-course survey test group respondents felt they learned more using Cerego than those in the traditional DAU portal course and 90% agreed that Cerego improved their knowledge on the training topic. Additionally, the pilot uncovered several technical and user experience opportunities for improvement."

Tablets for trainees

In December, the Air Force launched an adaptive learning pilot, issuing tablets to 110 trainees with the 321st Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland instead of the hard-copy textbooks currently in use for basic military training. The solution includes Cerego's online adaptive learning platform and Microsoft Surface Pro tablets.  The entire BMT curriculum -- textbooks, lectures and video currently in use – were transferred to the test platform so trainees can access course material at any time.

The adaptive learning platform aims to boost  knowledge retention and gives instructors real-time feedback data and analysis of student progress, officials said.

“The technology being used will help focus instruction in academic areas identified as potentially weak for individual Airmen, really tailoring the experience in a learner-centric way where the knowledge gap is," said Staff Sgt. Samudra Thio, the BMT pilot project lead who came up with the idea to introduce technology into BMT.  "This hopefully will help airmen learn more efficiently.”

The digitization also saves time for the instructors, Thio said. "Tasks that have been done previously in a manual manner, such as grading academic tests, can be graded electronically and in real-time with the use of technology," he said. Additionally, the curriculum can be updated at any time.

The trainees are scheduled to graduate in early February, after which their performance will be analyzed and will form the basis for recommendations on value and return on investment, officials said.

This article first appeared on GCN, a partner site with Defense Systems.