On 27 July 2023, The ADL Initiative held its second annual Total Learning Architecture (TLA) PlugFest at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Nearly 80 government and industry TLA stakeholders traveled from across the U.S. and Canada for the opportunity to participate in the free, one-day workshop to discuss TLA standards, implementation strategies, and other distributed learning topics. For the first time, this anticipated event aligned with the IEEE ICICLE conference, which occurred days prior in the same location. This provided a collaborative opportunity for the ADL Initiative and IEEE and for learning professionals the opportunity to participate in both events.


Dr. Laura Milham, Director of ADL Initiative, spoke about the importance of collecting actionable learner data through the Total Learning Architecture (TLA) standards and the benefits to defense-wide talent management decision-making. Dr. Milham emphasized the need to look at data from a different perspective and through different lenses to improve DoD’s ability to recruit, develop, and retain qualified personnel. While capturing individual learner data is important, it’s the aggregate of learner data that can be analyzed across time to improve workforce planning, enable merit-based promotions, identify upskilling opportunities, and support professional development to improve mobility of personnel across the DoD.


To support data interoperability and improve the quality of learner data being collected, the ADL Initiative team is collaborating with DoD and Government partners to foster adoption of TLA standards by removing roadblocks and addressing challenges through a range of different pilots and operational testing.


Brent Smith, ADL Initiative’s R&D Principal (SETA), provided an overview of the Enterprise Digital Learning Modernization (EDLM) reform and demonstrated how ADL’s Enterprise Data Management Services use the TLA standards to automatically collect, share, and interpret learner data across organizations, applications, and platforms, inside of the DoD Learning Enclave (DLE). Enterprise Data Services include the Enterprise Course Catalog (ECC), the Enterprise Competency & Credential Registry (ECCR), the Enterprise Learner Record Repository (ELRR), and the Linked Data and Schema Server (LDSS).


Andy Johnson, ADL Initiative’s Specifications and Standards Manager (SETA), provided updates on the TLA Standards. Learner performance is tracked using the xAPI. Learning activities are described using the IEEE P2881 Standard for Learning Metadata, IEEE Sharable Competency Definitions are used to align learning activities to manpower requirements, and IEEE’s P2997 Standard for Enterprise Learner Records is used to aggregate all individual learning experiences into a ledger of lifelong learning.


Cmi5 was also discussed as it is a set of “extra rules” to apply to xAPI addressing session management, reporting, and more. Mr. Johnson also announced that the IEEE 1484.20.3 Standard for Learning Technology–Data Model for Shareable Competency Definitions, was publicly released on 27 July 2023, and the xAPI 2.0 standard was also approved on March 30, 2023. Approvals inspire confidence in these standards in products, services, contractual requirements, and policy. An accompanying change to the DoD Information Technology Standards Registry (DISR) from emerging to mandated will also be pursued.


One of the highlights of the TLA PlugFest was the Plug and Play session, where participants were provided the opportunity to interact with each of the TLA-conformant products and services providers as they demonstrated their TLA capabilities.


Another highlight was the panel discussion, as each Panelist provided insights into their own experiences as they adopt TLA standards within their own organizations. Panelists included a diverse group of experts that discussed a wide range of acquisition and implementation challenges and solutions their organizations have encountered.


Panelists included:
  • Army: Jack Bowden, Office of the Vice Provost for Digital Education, Army University
  • Navy:
    • Loi Nguyen, NETC N73, Naval Education and Training Command (NETC)
    • Collene Armstrong, Naval Training Group HQ, Royal Canadian Navy
  • Air Force: Joi Spencer, HQ Air Education and Training Command A3G
  • Shawn Miller, Defense Acquisition University

Below are some insights shared during the panel discussion:
  • xAPI and other TLA Standards are a tool to improve learning, including the classroom, simulation & training, and live exercises, so that xAPI data can be collected and utilized across all training and education activities.
  • Organizations should work to develop a data strategy for how they will use xAPI. XAPI Profiles can guide the implementation of xAPI across applications, media types, and instructional domains.
  • Adoption can be facilitated by a more methodical focus on DoD requirements.
  • The Services are all moving towards the cmi5 profile. All the panelists discussed their plans for supporting cmi5, and many are already including cmi5 in their acquisition strategy.
  • Competencies are critical. Competencies are described differently and take on different meanings across different organizations. However, the panelists agreed that regardless of how you define competencies, there is an abundance of existing information available in each Service that describe the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other behaviors that are being addressed by each learning activity.
  • Industry should be adopting the P2881 metadata standard right now. Metadata needs to be integrated with Learning Management Systems, Learning Experience Platforms, and the full spectrum of learning resources used across the DoD. ADL Initiative is currently updating DoD Instruction (DoDI) 1322.26 and its references to support content authoring of learning resource development of instructional materials that use software to author learning activities. Each organization should plan and assess the ROI for TLA at both the agency and cross-DoD levels.

The event concluded with a group discussion on how to improve adoption of TLA standards across industry, academia, and government. Overwhelmingly, the TLA PlugFest participants concluded that the ADL Initiative needs to update DoDI 1322.26 to include more language to require xAPI/cmi5 adoption and to gradually phase out the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM). A major concern expressed by all participants was the need to describe the Return on Investment (ROI) for adopting these standards.


SCORM was an overwhelming force that needed to happen, but there is no threat that requires the shift to TLA standards. A key requirement for defining the ROI is to address ROI at every stage along the pathway to modernization using ‘baby steps’ that align with the TLA data strategy. Other topics included the need to align the learning engineering process with the TLA standards so that organizations can better understand how to adopt TLA standards.


The ADL Initiative was overwhelmed with the success of the event and is thankful to all our participants. We are looking forward to hopefully seeing everyone again next year!

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