Military Seeks Ways to Maximize Virtual Training’s Educational Value

By Valerie Insinna

ORLANDO — While the simulation industry often focuses on increasing the fidelity or graphics of its products, the military’s science and technology community is hunting for ways to increase their effectiveness, allowing troops to learn more at a faster pace.

The services need to measure how much an individual can learn in a simulation, officials said Dec. 4 at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference. Most of them did not provide examples of specific technology areas that the military plans to invest in, but all agreed on the need for products that accelerate learning and increase retention.

“How do we actually know what people know?” asked Terry Allard, director of warfighter performance for the Office of Naval Research. “It's not enough to check a box on a particular training exercise. We have to have some performance based metric of what people are learning in this environment."

The military must ensure that the technologies they seek out are a good fit for the task at hand, said Vice Adm. David Dunaway, head of Naval Air Systems Command. Some applications of simulation — such as the Navy’s new video game-based training for the littoral combat ship — are effective ways to teach sailors new information.

But it’s not one size fits all, Dunaway warned. For instance, certain Navy training, which had traditionally taken 15 minutes to complete, was recently replaced by game-based learning where “you have to listen to the full hour of this avatar droning on to you about personal safety,” he said. "It's a misapplication of this technology.”

The Navy is seeking interoperable and distributive technologies that can be used all over the globe and during exercises with other services, said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder.

The Army wants not only that, but it also seeks systems that can be individualized to different learning styles instead of always conforming to a standard human being, said Thomas Russell, director of the Army Research Laboratory.

“It’s too expensive to not standardize the material, but when it comes to training, when it comes to representation of information … there’s a force multiplier here that we have to figure out how to take advantage of, and that’s how we all function individually and how we maximize our own abilities to learn and to be trained,” he said.

The Air Force will need training that helps airmen contend with anti-access, area denial environments that prevents it from carrying out its mission, said Winston “Wink” Bennett, senior psychologist at the Air Force Research Laboratory. "All the gizmos that we took to Afghanistan and Iraq, some of those aren't going to work. So how do we fight without the gizmos?”

Over the long term, the Air Force also wants to create a secure, government-owned virtual environment that can be accessed worldwide, even by coalition forces, he said.

A changing threat landscape is also a concern to the Navy, Klunder said. “Some of these new mission sets are extremely high intensity and, frankly, very sophisticated,” he said. “It gets really hard in the existing template we have for simulation and training. … I don’t know if all of our simulation sets right now are tailored optimally to that.”

Allard said the military wants interoperable systems to practice joint missions however, creating inter-service acquisition programs is a challenge because each of branch may have unique requirements. 

There is also the danger of one branch of the military exercising too much control over what is ultimately developed, Dunaway added.

“Scientists like to rub antennas,” he said. “But when it comes to money and acquisition, there is an epic battle of keeping things within the services because the way the money is appropriated."

Topics: Science and Engineering Technology, Simulation Modeling Wargaming and Training, ComputerBased Training, Videogames

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