Is Army ready to go Mobile?By Matthew Ciszewski November 10, 2020
As Army evolves its learning methodologies and looks to Transform its Training, Mobile Learning (M-Learning) must be taken into consideration as a key strategy to deliver that transformation. Implementation of Training Transformation has progressed with many training establishments employing differing tools to various effect. M-Learning is the next evolution in blended learning providing many benefits in content delivery. However, the limitations that affect blended learning also affect M-Learning including ICT infrastructure, instructor adoption and time constraints. Army is keen to develop the Blended Learning Environment and therefore, hopefully, adapt M-Learning. This article aims to provide thought-provoking content about M-Learning and argue the associated advantages of its employment.
Blended learning combines digital and traditional instructional techniques seeking to increase learner control and improve the learning experience. Army has already identified the need to evolve learning development methodologies using blended learning and, in 2017, DG TRADOC released a directive detailing the application of blended learning across FORCOMD. DG TRADOC’s directive included four lines of effort over three phases to: upskill the workforce in employing blended learning technologies; implement supporting governance and policy; develop quality learning content; and employ the existing Defence Information Communication Technologies (ICT) to achieve the mission. Successful employment of blended learning achieves workplace optimisation and improves learning experiences. M-Learning represents a further development of blended learning and provides additional opportunities.
In terms of education and training provision, M-Learning is a relatively new idea. Characterised by its ability to provide learning opportunities across multiple contexts, through social and content interactions, utilising personal electronic devices; M-Learning maximises opportunities to learn, interact and access content anytime, anywhere. The initial idea of M-Learning occurred approximately 50 years ago with the “Dynabook”, a concept, tablet PC designed to give children access to educational digital media. The concept was far ahead of its time and was never commercially produced. It was in 1994, approximately, when serious development of mobile technologies and M-Learning occurred with the introduction of the first smart phone - IBM Simon - designed by International Business Machines (IBM) and produced by Mitsubishi Electric Corp. It was revolutionary in its approach to blended learning, enabling students to record notes, read emails and cellular pages and conduct phone calls. In addition, IBM Simon had the ability to display maps and use third party applications.
Since that time, M-Learning technologies have developed at an exponential rate, progressing through the proliferation and advancement of personal digital technology. In the contemporary environment, M-Learning is accepted as employing wireless technologies to deliver educational resources to the learner. Examples of M-Learning tools include, but are not limited to, laptops, smart phones, tablets, Palm Pilots and MP3 players. However, M-Learning is more than just the mobile wireless tools it employs - it includes the platforms and learning resources required to support learning outcomes in dynamic and interesting ways.
Applications and the ability to access learning resources have developed as rapidly as mobile technologies. Through technological advances and improvements to capabilities like: electronic storage devices, internet, databases, digital libraries, video content sharing websites, Wikis, SharePoint; Learning Management Systems and other electronic sources information sharing is effortless. M-Learning uses the same learning resources as those employed in the blended learning environment, which are available for the majority of Army training. Army training establishments already employ blended learning information sharing resources including: videos, pdfs, sound files, web pages and even the ubiquitous PowerPoint and by extension M-Learning resources. In fact, most of Army’s instructional material currently stored in Objective converts for use in M-Learning. In addition, Australian Defence Education Learning Environment (ADELE) one of Defence’s Learning Management Systems used to package learning resources and multimedia content, which currently hosts numerous courses, is M-Learning capable through the Moodle Mobile Application.
A further consideration is the access that officers and soldiers have to many unclassified unmonitored M-Learning applications and tools, employable in a military environment. Examples include the Defence supported and promoted COVE+. A library of tertiary level units hosted on ADELE(U), which provides education across five study areas including: The Art and Science of Thinking; The Art and Science of War; Leadership, Ethics and Society; Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; and, Organisational, Management, Projects and People. Another example is The Principles of War (www.theprinciplesofwar.com and iTune), created and produced by Major James Eling, a series of Professional Military Education podcasts that links military history with doctrine to assist listeners in developing their understanding of tactics, strategy and leadership. The last example is the Worldwide Equipment Guide, available on Google Play and Apple’s App Store. The Worldwide Equipment Guide, with an unrated credibility, is one of many open source applications available to officers and soldiers that details statistics, capabilities and limitations on over 100 unique pieces of military equipment. Due to the ever-growing list of applications useable in M-Learning, it is critical that the education of military members is deliberate and the information is reliable and accurate.
M-Learning has provided significant advances in providing flexibility to education delivery and improved informal learning experiences. The combination of portable electronic devices and associated learning resources provides opportunities to expand on the blended learning environment. Unlike other teacher directed education aids, M-Learning provides the learner with increased levels of interactivity, information, connectivity and collaboration. In addition, M-Learning provides the learner with flexible opportunities to watch, listen and interact with their learning resources. Using M-Learning technologies, educators are providing improved context to the learner’s experience. No longer are learners fixed to the classroom whilst the instructor attempts to explain using diagrams on a black board or images from PowerPoint, they can now take their educational resource into any authentic learning environment, such as the deployed exercise environment. Using M-Learning means that learners can check in with mentors, instructors and their peers as the need arises without attending instructor-led residential courses. Furthermore, it allows students to undertake learning experiences at a time convenient to them, reinforcing the principles of blended learning.
M-Learning can provide many capability-enabling functions to the learning environment within an Army context. Today’s generation are highly connected and digitally confident. Statistics show that 81% of Australia’s population own a smart phone, another 13% own a phone of some other sort and only 6% are not connected. The majority of soldiers are familiar with the use of technology in the learning environment. In a recent Cove article, Captain Malcolm Woodside writes about Generation Z and their comfort with digital technology and the importance of creating an appropriate learning environment, which focuses on the needs of the younger learners. M-Learning and blended learning methodologies are key components of reaching incoming Army learners and providing a flexible learning environment. Undoubtedly, there are Army training establishments that are investigating the use of M-Learning or are already employing M-Learning to supplement learning programs with great success. Examples of using M-Learning could include using a mobile phone in the deployed environment to review lessons hosted in ADELE; conduct assessments by submitting a portfolio of recorded videos as evidence of task completion (such as mission briefs or patrols); or watching instructional videos on Lynda.com to confirm practical skills acquisition.
M-Learning has many positive aspects; however, there also many factors that require consideration. First, providing M-Learning tools to learners relies on supply and maintenance of a reliable network infrastructure for mobile devices. Chief Information Officer Group (CIOG) are currently undertaking Joint Project 2047 – Defence Terrestrial Communications Network (DTCN) including the delivery of wireless capability to Defence. The project was due for completion in 2019 making it a new capability for Defence ICT, but CIOG indicate that the DTCN could be used to access training software and increase training delivery flexibility. Whilst the project presents a step forward for Defence communication capabilities, coverage is only approximately 20% to 40% for each site and therefore limited. Secondly, there are security concerns with employing mobile technology and network access. In the current cyber threat environment, promoting the use of mobile devices in the learning environment potentially increases the risk of causing a security incident, especially if learners are permitted to use their own devices also known as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). Third, as with all Army acquisitions, the fundamental input to capabilities requires thorough assessment. M-Learning includes a financial burden of supplying and replacing devices, responsibilities to manage and update the device firmware and software, appropriate ICT support and a long list of other FIC considerations.
M-Learning is a key strategy requiring in depth consideration as Army continues to develop blended learning capabilities. There are many positives to employing M-Learning in meeting Army’s intent to optimise training and increase learner participation but it is not without risk. In the ever-evolving technological society, digital learning will be inherent and the Army must adopt relevant learner centric contemporary instructional techniques to ensure the effective transfer of knowledge.
 DG TRADOC FORCOMD DIRECTIVE 2017 – The application of blended learning technologies across FORCOMD (X6872605)
 ATI1-3/17 Enclosure 8 Management of ADELE in Army (X7645747)