What the Army is Doing in Mobile Learning
I’ve been trying to keep up with all of the latest in the US Army’s Connecting Soldiers with Digital Applications (CSDA) program. The big idea behind the program is to leverage mobile devices to deliver information, training, performance support and even intelligence to soldiers to increase their situational awareness.
As someone who works in the learning world, it’s significant when any organization with hundreds of thousands of learners decides to equip their entire workforce with mobile devices and applications. I think it’s even more important when that workforce is widely dispersed. It’s important because it allows us to see how learning can be applied over great distances with lots of technical, cultural and geographical barriers.
This article in Defense Industry Daily notes several initiatives under the CSDA umbrella of programs. Basically, the Army is doing some field testing and they’ve decided to make training and education one of the early uses of the technology. The article lays out a few of the applications that can be looked at as training applications. The TRANSTAC program is pure for performance support to soldiers needing to communicate with foreign speaking civilians:
From the article:
“An English speaker talks into the phone. Automatic speech recognition distinguishes what is said and generates a text file that software translates to the target language. Text-to-speech technology converts the resulting text file into an oral response in the foreign language. This process is reversed for the foreign language speaker.”
These kinds of applications can be extremely powerful and can only be used in context with a mobile device. This is the kind of mobile “learning” (translated as performance support in this case) that shows off the strengths of mobile devices and their ability to be at the hands of the learner when conducting an activity.
In the long run, it looks like the Army is even going to push commercial mobile devices (iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7 devices) into combat situations as long as they can figure out the security. Security is a very hard problem to solve, but it’s being worked on by several big and small industry players at the moment and it’s on everyone’s mind. It sounds like the Army and other agencies are grappling with how much security is enough and is there such thing as too much? But I’m confident that governments and industry will settle on some standards for security in smartphones and tablets, just as they did with PCs. Remember, it’s taken a long time for PCs to evolve to the security and restrictions they have today. I think the trip to a “secure” smartphone will be much shorter now that we have some consolidation in operating system deployment and versions.
Obviously, there’s lots to come with the CSDA program. The Army has made a commitment and bought into the power of the mobile device as a gateway to training and information. This quote from Lt General Vane sums it up quite well:
Again from the article:
“We have a number of pilots inside TRADOC…but we now have several theater commanders asking for these capabilities to deploy with them in combat….If we can figure out the smart cost/benefit way of doing this, it probably makes sense [to give every soldier a smartphone] in the long run.”