A recent evaluation of the ADL Initiative’s PERLS Adaptive Learning System provides a glimpse into how microlearning can benefit personnel skills and readiness. PERLS was put through controlled testing with the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, with soldiers who used PERLS receiving higher test scores and showing higher completion rates.

The ADL Initiative collaborated with Arizona State University, Quantum Improvements Consulting, Army University, Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Soldier Center, and the Army’s Sabalauski Air Assault School (TSAAS) to evaluate the PERLS prototype with the 101st Airborne’s “Screaming Eagles” air assault teams.

The Screaming Eagles use rotary wing and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft to seize and hold difficult-to-reach terrain from enemy forces. TSAAS provides training in aircraft loading, airdrop procedures, rappelling techniques, aero-medical evacuation, and operation and maintenance of a large suite of specialty weapons and related equipment.

TSAAS used PERLS to take advantage of unplanned time during the soldiers’ daily schedules to enhance and reinforce their learning. As part of an instructor-led training program, TSAAS recruited students to participate in the study, with 108 using PERLS and 218 assigned to a control group. The results confirmed that PERLS and microlearning can be effective training tools: soldiers who used PERLS had a 25% higher course completion rate, higher test scores in one element of the TSAAS training, and outperformed their peers by 13% in another.

The project examined attrition rates, warfighter capability (performance on knowledge and performance tests, and confidence to perform air-assault tasks), and learning behavior generalizable to future learning opportunities. The PERLS students took advantage of anytime-accessible features allowing them to review content, watch videos, and self-assess through quizzes and flashcards designed to supplement the TSAAS classroom training.

The PERLS students were able to access the supplementary materials on their own time and initiative using their personal devices, including smartphones and tablets. The content was derived from their coursework, modified to best fit the PERLS microlearning format.

PERLS is more than just a microlearning app – it was designed specifically to support self-regulated learning and has adaptive training elements that recommend on-demand mobile content consistent with learners’ education/training goals. “The PERLS platform fills a gap in current Army Education by providing a polished mobile platform for soldiers to study and self-test outside of the classroom” said Shanda Lauer, Ph.D., a research psychologist with the Army University.

Developed by the ADL Initiative, the PERLS platform offers iOS and Android front-ends and a web-based content management back-end. Learners can use the PERLS mobile interface to access newly published and trending content, along with personalized recommended content in the form of reading materials, videos, podcasts, flash cards, quizzes, and practice tests.

According to Float LLC, a vendor supporting PERLS development for the ADL Initiative, the body of content available through PERLS can be built using a variety of tools and methods in order to maintain currency and relevance. Content can be created natively within PERLS, linked as external trackable weblinks, and can leverage rich media, videos and podcasts and much more. Robust support for courses instrumented with the Experience Application Programming Interface (xAPI) is also built in to maximize content author contributions. Content authors can create, preview, tag, group, and manage revisions using the back-end web application.

“While there is research supporting the effectiveness of self-regulated learning strategies, one thing we know is that people don’t tend to do it on their own,” said Jennifer Murphy, CEO of Quantum Improvements Consulting. “They need tools to teach them how to organize and manage their learning, and PERLS was designed specifically to support that process. The findings of this study show that when learners have the right tools, they can successfully improve how they learn, which will serve them far beyond the context of this course.”

“By empowering learners to select the learning content that they need, when and where they have time to access it, PERLS has the potential to greatly enhance education and training outcomes,” said Scotty Craig, Ph.D., director of the ASU ADL Partnership Laboratory and Associate Professor of Human Systems Engineering at Arizona State University. “Our user research and practical application has shown that PERLS has a user-friendly authoring system and learning platform that can be scaled for deployment across the DoD and NATO to promote readiness across all the Services.”

Based on the success of the TSAAS evaluation and other pilot projects, the ADL Initiative is now moving PERLS to an initial operational capability for Department-wide use, expected before the end of 2022. The PERLS 3.0 platform is currently being integrated into the DoD Learning Enclave through the Air Force Platform One environment. Proposed future updates to PERLS, beyond the initial minimum viable product, include ongoing software hardening, improved xAPI integration, enhanced content authoring functionality for instructors, a better user interface, new navigation tools for goal-setting and content access, and integrated monitoring of class performance.

In the near future, DoD customers will be able to access the latest version of hardened PERLS containers using the Learning Technology Warehouse portal, which offers a variety of software products that support DoD’s education and training mission. Detailed PERLS installation scripts and cybersecurity documentation will facilitate the accreditation process required to deploy PERLS containers into secure DoD environments.

Experience API (xAPI) Standard
xAPI applies a human (and machine) readable activity streams approach to tracking data with context and state sub-APIs of the learner activities.

PERLS Adaptive Learning System
PERLS is a mobile-based microlearning platform using short-term strategies specifically designed for skills-based learning anytime and anywhere.

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