Resilience was the theme for ADL in 2021. Despite a host of pandemic-driven disruptions, the ADL Initiative was able to apply innovative technology-driven strategies across its portfolio of projects. The program’s researchers, project managers, outreach coordinators, and support staff matured elements of DoD’s future learning ecosystem, moving projects from concept to demonstration. Here’s a summary of key 2021 accomplishments.

DoD Focus on Big Data, Interoperability

With the backdrop of DoD’s growing commitment to interoperability among its Components, allies, and partners, the ADL Initiative made strides in advancing the Total Learning Architecture (TLA). The TLA is the interoperability backbone for data-driven learning at scale, defining an architecture that will enable a DoD-wide learning ecosystem. (This TLA Quick-Start Guide was finalized in 2021 for learning system developers and engineers.)

More technically, the TLA is a set of data and interface standards, other technical specifications, and business rules. Implementation of the TLA will permit the secure collection and sharing of education and training data at-scale across organizations.

Enterprise Digital Learning Modernization (EDLM)

Initiated in 2018, the EDLM reform is the corresponding Defense-directed project intended to realize the learning ecosystem vision enabled by the TLA. Under the EDLM effort, the ADL Initiative team is implementing the technical and organizational infrastructure to enable the career-long education and training continuum of learning. This system of systems will use digital learning technologies, driven by data, to provide more effective, equitable, and modern learning opportunities across military, civilian, and DoD intel personnel.

EDLM supports multiple DoD strategic directives, including the DoD Digital Modernization Strategy, the DoD Data Strategy, and the Personnel and Readiness Strategy. More precisely, EDLM supports priorities for upskilling and supporting the workforce, implementing enterprise shared services for information technology, and data-centric digital modernization. This work also provides the technology and data foundations needed to enable Defense-wide AI-supported talent management in the future.

In 2021, the ADL Initiative made significant progress toward implementing the DoD Learning Enclave, which will house the centralized shared services required to support EDLM. The DoD Learning Enclave is intended to be a cloud-based set of digital learning systems, conformant learning activities, and the data management infrastructure to support the DoD education and training community. The enclave will also include named lines of effort under EDLM, including an Enterprise Course Catalog and an Enterprise Learner Record Repository. Overall, the initial design calls for 11 applications to be implemented into a cloud-based Impact Level 4 (IL4) platform, using the Air Force’s Cloud One (cloud) and associated Platform One (DevSecOps) capabilities.

The Enterprise Course Catalog federates DoD’s scattered inventory of digital courses so that a comprehensive listing of them can be accessed through a single portal. The Enterprise Course Catalog brings interoperability to today’s siloed collections of course listings.

The Enterprise Learner Record Repository will support enterprise-wide improvements in the collection and sharing of learning outcome data. Using TLA-derived data standards, the Enterprise Learner Record Repository system of systems will enable learning technologies to gather, securely maintain, and aggregate more detailed data on learners’ education and training activities, conferred credentials, learning-relevant attributes, and personal preferences. It will one day enable a hire-to-retire transcript of a person’s learning and development accomplishments to assist individuals through their careers while also allowing DoD managers to more smartly deploy their training resources.

The ADL Initiative made notable progress in 2021 with the Enterprise Course Catalog and Enterprise Learner Record Repository projects. The Enterprise Course Catalog underwent developmental testing using metadata from over 50,000 courses, and a functional Enterprise Learner Record Repository prototype was finalized in cooperation with the US Navy.

In 2022, the ADL Initiative will continue to mature these EDLM elements and the DoD Learning Enclave, in which portions of their software components reside. Also, in the coming year, the ADL Initiative will work with Pentagon leaders to mature the organizational and business process needed for broader adoption of EDLM across the Department. This includes examining acquisition approaches, policies, organizational incentives, resourcing, staffing, and leadership coordination.

Standards and Specifications

Key to modernizing learning systems is the adoption of international data standards. The following standards are each part of the larger TLA. (Many of them are also described in detail in the Total Learning Architecture Data Model for Analytics and Adaptation by Brent Smith and colleagues or in this related TLA overview video.) In 2021, the ADL Initiative, in collaboration with voluntary consensus standards working groups from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), made progress on the following standards:

  • Experience Tracking: The Experience Application Programming Interface (xAPI) (IEEE P9274.1.1) allows the capture of granular and real-time learner performance data, generated from any learning technology, such as Learning Management Systems (LMSs) or training simulators, and the standard facilitates the storage, transport, and retrieval of those data. DoD Instruction 1322.26 includes guidance for DoD to use xAPI as the primary standard for this. The xAPI standard, version 2.0, is now on the cusp of final approval by IEEE. The IEEE xAPI Working Group contains several sub-groups that will be active through 2022 to expand on the base standard, developing multiple standards for xAPI profiles. Among these is cmi5, a profile that facilitates the use of xAPI as an alternative to the legacy SCORM standard for e-learning, and can be used within and outside of a traditional LMS.
  • Competency-Based Education: The Sharable Competency Definitions (IEEE 1484.20.1) standard defines a data model and usage patterns for competencies, competency frameworks, and competency associations (direct and indirect). The Competency Best Practices (IEEE 1484.20.2) standard provides a narrative description of how competencies are used in general. These standards can also be used in conjunction with the Competency and Skills System (CaSS), the ADL Initiative’s open-source Competency Management System that enables the collection, processing, and assertion of competences, including profile translation and xAPI data. CaSS can ingest multiple different competency frameworks and align the attributes of different competencies to one another, enabling semantic interoperability and providing a translation method across frameworks.
  • Learning Activity Metadata: The Standard for Learning Metadata (IEEE P2881) is intended to capture data about an organization’s education and training courses (and other learning assets). Specific application profiles for IEEE P2881 will eventually exist for various activity types. This standard is key to the Enterprise Course Catalog implementation, and more generally, its use will promote improved discoverability and shareability of learning opportunities.
  • Learner Profiles: The Enterprise Learner Record (IEEE P2997) standard encompasses a family of emerging standards that will define a data model and corresponding storage/retrieval elements associated with learning experience data, competencies, credentials, employment, and more. This standard supports the Enterprise Learner Record Repository project.

Partnerships to Bridge the Research-to-Practice Gap

In 2021, the ADL Initiative collaborated with members of the Defense ADL Advisory Committee (DADLAC) and conducted prototype testing in cooperation with various DoD collaborators, many of whom upgraded their own learning systems to embrace TLA standardization and interoperability. Examples include the following:

  • Army Distributed Learning Program (TADLP) manages the Army’s centralized contract for distributed learning product and courseware development and provides technical/instructional design support and guidance on content. As part of the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), TADLP is modernizing its courses and systems to leverage the TLA, an effort that will benefit from the ADL Initiative’s cmi5 Player and Test Suite capability. Also, in support of TRADOC’s Synthetic Training Environment Enhanced Learning for Readiness (STEEL-R) project, the ADL Initiative worked to integrate TLA with the Generalized Intelligent Framework for Tutoring (GIFT) system to facilitate the use of computer-based tutoring by the Army.
  • Naval Education and Training Command (NETC) is developing and managing the MyNavy Learning (MNL) system to provide customized training for Sailors. MNL is consistent with the TLA, and NETC is working with the ADL Initiative to develop a functional prototype of the Enterprise Learner Record Repository, to enable sharing and standardization of Navy (and DoD-wide) learner data. NETC has also been an active contributor to the ADL Initiative’s xAPI Profile Server effort.
  • Air Education and Training Command (AETC) is modernizing its distributed learning services to enable learning anywhere, anytime, and on any device. The Air Force’s myLearning platform will enhance the experience for learners, instructors, and managers, and it integrates with talent management and force development tools. In 2021, the Air Force delivered the AETC-managed learning system in an IL4 cloud environment to accommodate a learning data warehouse (Learning Record Store), analytics and dashboarding capabilities, and management of learning services, content delivery, and content development. The ADL Initiative also collaborated with AETC’s Air University Registrar on the Enterprise Course Catalog and Enterprise Learner Record Repository projects, and on working groups for the P2881 and P2997 data standards.
  • The Air Force’s 4th Training Squadron initiated the use of xAPI to support F-15E pilot training under a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project. Aircraft at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina were instrumented to measure and objectively grade pilot performance during training maneuvers, using xAPI and the TLA to demonstrate how data from operational systems can be used to support competency-based learning. This work will advance into 2022 to provide a real-time debrief and planning tool for advanced pilot training.
  • The Marine Corps’ Training and Education Command (TECOM), including its College of Distance Education and Training, is expanding the capabilities of MarineNet to provide a learning environment that supports the creation, distribution, and tracking of digital content and student performance. TECOM worked with the ADL Initiative in 2021 to become a more active user of xAPI profiles, particularly the video profile for MarineNet. MarineNet capabilities are being expanded to include podcasts and community software to support social networking for training.
  • The Joint Staff J7, Joint Knowledge Online (JKO) is a designated stakeholder for the ADL Initiative’s Enterprise Course Catalog effort and their course inventory has been federated into the prototype. JKO is also piloting the development of adaptive learning methodologies, including annual training requirements for force recertifications. The first phase of this development was a proof of concept using the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) annual recertification course to demonstrate benefits of the technique. JKO may use the ADL Initiative’s cmi5 Player and Test Suite capabilities in this modernization effort.
  • The Defense Acquisition University (DAU) has undertaken a comprehensive effort to modernize its distributed learning systems, aiming to position DAU as the definitive source for career progression education and training. In 2021, DAU experimented with TLA-compliant tools including the ADL Initiative’s PeBL open-source eBook platform. DAU adapted an existing course workbook as part of a PeBL pilot which was favorably received by both students and faculty. DAU’s TLA-based Innovation Sandbox, completed in collaboration with the ADL Initiative, was also recognized in December with a prestigious Brandon Hall Group Excellence Award (bronze-level) for the Best Advance in Business Strategy and Technology Innovation.
  • The NATO Allied Command Transformation (ACT) organization worked in 2021 with the ADL Initiative to test and add functionality to the PERvasive Learning System (PERLS) platform, which NATO has white-labeled as the NATO e-Learning Network Application, or NeNA. By using NeNA, NATO personnel will receive recommendations for on-demand mobile content consistent with their education/training goals, allowing them to make the most of their available time outside of formal learning activities.


The annual iFEST and I/ITSEC conferences are touchstone events. Held virtually in late August, iFEST attracted over 525 participants who joined the discussion to learn from policymakers, senior military officials, and technology leaders from industry, government, and academia. Featured speakers included Congressman Robert “Bobby” Scott; US Army Major General Donn Hill of the Army University; Dustin Brown (SES) of the Office of Management and Budget; Major General Andrea Tullos of AETC, Brigadier General Charles Lombardo of the Army Combined Arms Center; and Brigadier General Imars Lejins of NATO Allied Command Transformation.

ADL Initiative staff have attended I/ITSEC for over 20 years. The 2021, in-person event featured over 13,000 participants and included a well-attended ADL Initiative exhibit, three TLA-focused technical papers and tutorials, and two high-profile panels with VIP participants including Chief Innovation Officer for the Information Enterprise in the DoD Chief Information Office Lora Muchmore (SES), DoD Chief Software Officer Jason Weiss, DoD Director of Data Management and Analytic Infrastructure Erica Dretzka, Navy Chief Data Officer Tom Sasala (SES), and others.

Technical Webinars

Among the ADL Initiative’s most effective outreach tools are its technical webinars, hosted by Systems Engineering and Technical Assistance (SETA) contractor staff and key vendor and partner personnel. Below are links to the webinars hosted in 2021.

Leadership Shifts

In April 2021, the ADL Initiative was reorganized to report to the newly created Defense Support Services Center under the Defense Human Resources Activity. This move better aligns the program to support the long-term implementation of EDLM and its associated shared services. In 2021, the program also welcomed a new deputy director, Laura Milham, Ph.D., as well as senior SETA contractor staff, including Derrick Vincent serving as the Principal Program Manager, and Charles Listak, Ed.D. as the R&D Management Principal.

In Closing…

Looking forward into 2022, the DoD is likely to step-up its push for big-data interoperability. This is wholly consistent with the ADL Initiative mission, so continued growth in its portfolio is likely. More pathfinder, prototype, and demonstration projects are in development, all with an ultimate goal to improve DoD readiness while reducing costs.

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