By Theresa Bradley

ADL_Logo_2013-320X202To what extent are the outcomes of battles determined on the battlefield?

That question, if asked during WWI, would have had a definitive answer – mostly. Today, however, it is less clear due to the influence of advanced training strategies that provide information, access and opportunity for skill development at an unprecedented level to Warfighters. Our military is better prepared before deployment today because of these training technologies.

Warfighters obtain that knowledge, in part, due to the work of a government organization called the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative, which operates research labs in Alexandria, Virginia, and Orlando’s Research Park. The labs’ 32 personnel – mostly engineers – are charged with researching and developing technology and learning science methods that provide optimal conditions for Warfighters and others.

“Our goal is to help people develop a broader, more sophisticated set of competencies and enable them to refresh these skills in the most efficient manner possible,” said ADL Initiative Director, Dr. Sae Schatz.

“We’re moving closer to the knowledge-based economy, and we’re now more dependent on highly sophisticated competencies such as cognition, interpersonal skills, and emotional intelligence. Warfighters have to be proficient in a wider range of skills, from disaster relief to stabilizing, and then rebuilding a country. These requirements are in addition to the usual kinetic operations. Demands are greater and the pace of change more rapid. To keep up, there has to be an emphasis on continuous learning and growth.”

One major initiative that ADL has been working toward is a life-long training aide, called Personal Assistant Learner (PAL).

Your Next PAL May Not Be Human

PAL uses an artificial-intelligence (AI) assistant that evaluates a person’s need and then supplies training, performance aids, or information at appropriate times. It has implications for training in both the military and private sectors. The key to PAL is that it is highly customized to the individual. It bases its recommendations on an individual’s current knowledge levels, previous training, goals, current context, and other attributes.

Imagine you’re waiting in an office lobby for an interview when your PAL sends a text: “I see you’re about to begin the interview with Bob Jones from Great Company. The Orlando Sentinel posted an article just 15 minutes ago announcing he has won a business-leadership award. Read about this now.”

The interview gets off on a positive note when you congratulate Mr. Jones on his accomplishment.

As your personal life-long learning partner, PAL has been preparing you for this day by providing feedback on your resume; researching the organization; accessing employees’ public profiles, and providing insights into the organization’s strategies, culture, and challenges.

Would you be surprised to hear that you aced the interview?

The PAL understands your learning needs, tracks applicable training you’ve taken, assesses any gaps remaining, and provides the information you need to meet your goals.

Although PAL is still a concept, Schatz envisions the end result being a single component that links together many services and information sources. Currently, ADL is working to determine how to source all the data points that the PAL would need in one place – likely your smart phone or other personal device.

ADL’s Collaborative Mission

Schatz is cognizant of her team’s role in ensuring the U.S. military and workforce remain competitive in a rapidly changing, more globally connected world.

She views ADL’s primary functions as:
1. Supporting and advancing learning science and technologies
2. Showcasing the “art of the possible”
3. Connecting those who have a stake in learning technologies, as well as cross-pollinating learning applications across military branches, private sector and international partnership agencies

“We’re promoting a common vision within the industry and the community,” Schatz said. “The things we are working on, we can’t do alone. No one company or organization has the money or resources to deliver comprehensive, easy and efficient, anytime, anyplace learning in all modalities, and then keep that current.

“The age of single-source solutions has ended. What’s needed is an organic, integrated system made up of software services, open data, and shared protocols. Small and large businesses, the federal government, and universities are all important players in an integrated system. Collaboration, communication, and vision are essential for us to succeed.”

ADL Initiative: An Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Organization
The ADL Initiative is a research and development organization funded by OSD. It is charged with improving learning strategies for all branches of the military, the federal government, and the U.S. population overall. It makes its research available to the private sector through open-source development. Anyone can access the organization’s source code and use it in whatever application is needed. Contractors use it to execute on military contracts, while private industries may develop training tools for their employees.

“One of the benefits of being a government initiative is that ADL can make its work available to anyone,” Schatz said.
ADL is not an acquisition organization but does achieve part of its research goals through Broad Agency Announcements (BAAs). ADL encourages members of the learning science and technology community to submit relevant ideas year-round to the open solicitation.

New Leadership, New Enthusiasm
Schatz assumed her leadership role at ADL in June. She brings extensive experience in the digital arts and simulation-based training with background in academia and business.

Under Schatz’s leadership, the team will have a renewed focus on outreach to ensure engagement of stakeholders that can further advanced-learning strategies. ADL is planning a significant presence at the 2015 I/ITSEC Conference and will host a day-long seminar on its virtual world (VW) Sandbox, an online game engine that can be accessed and used by anyone. With the VW Sandbox, you can create a customized simulation for unique training challenges.

The VW Sandbox is easily accessible through a URL ( ) and does not require a download—that is, neither authors nor end-users require a plug-in or local software executable to run the 3D game engine.

Please visit to learn about other exciting ADL projects.

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