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I/ITSEC showcases military educational technology, SCORM

The annual Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) is a large get-together that deals with the training and education of the -mainly US- military. Though a specialised sector -mass destruction simulations, anyone?-, it is one where learning technologies like SCORM are most widely deployed.

As the fact that ADL was mainly instigated by the US department of defense already indicates, the military has a fairly large influence in the elearning world. Because of the sheer numeric size of the forces, its skills based nature and constant new technology, it has a sizeable need for training. Any way in which this process can be made more efficient is likely to yield big returns. By way of illustration: the under secretary of defense for readiness estimated that just "training transformation will cost $1 billion between 2004 and 2009". That the US Army's new Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI) will emphasize interoperability will, therefore, matter.

Also, a jamboree like I/ITSEC provides an excellent opportunity to observe how SCORM is doing in its native habitat. The forces got it first, and have it in greatest numbers. On the whole, it seems that it just works there. People shift SCORM Sharable Content Objects from one system to another, and they interoperate more or less as expected. As with any new technology, though, there is room for improvement.

One issue is the emphatic need to train the trainers. A team from TNO (the Dutch applied research organisation) found that there were many more subject specialists than instructional technologists within the Dutch Army. One successful solution they researched was to make the subject specialists aware of the whys and wherefores of learning object re-use and metadata. The other, less encouraging, strategy was to use template based 'programmer-less' authoring tools. It appears that those tools simply aren't good enough yet. Researchers from the US Navy came across very much the same issue, but chose a different solution: the adoption of a fairly rigid, standardised SCO development model from CISCO. This also has the advantage that "if more organizations adopted the RLO strategy model ... repackaging and reuse issues would be reduced considerably."

The DSC corporation noted that other lessons learned include the realisation that SCOs are dynamic in nature. Or, as a project team from the University of Central Florida and Naval Air Systems Command put it, "We will need a mechanism to constantly update the [SCO] repository and standard metadata that is efficient for instructional purposes." As it was, the SCOs in their repositories required constant updating, which meant considerable effort was wasted in getting the SCO out, editing it, and putting it back in again with all the right metadata attached. The DSC corporation's night vision training project also found that, in order to support the dynamic or adaptive nature of SCOs, developers need to include a lot of metadata and have some well organised libraries of text and multimedia to re-create SCOs for new audiences. That also means that such re-creation needs to be properly budgeted for and that there is a team member who knows exactly which bits go where.

Apart from rather useful applied research, there was also some pushing of the envelope; like Boeing's demonstration of how performance data can be sent into and out of a SCORM SCO from a flight simulator. Finally, ADLnet announced that version 1.3 of SCORM would be released in March.

More information is available from the I/ITSEC website.

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