Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative Logo

The Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative



Saxberg, Drummond, and Other Experts Discuss the "Future Learning Ecosystem" at iFEST 2018

1 November 2018

Image of iFEST 2018 conference session
Conference session

Over 280 attendees, from the public and private sectors, participated in the three-day Federal e-Learning Science and Technology symposium focused on innovation, instruction and implementation (iFEST) this 27-29 August in Alexandria, Virginia. Headlining the program were C. Fred Drummond, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Education and Training, and Bror Saxberg, M.D., Ph.D., Vice President of Learning Science for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Image of iFEST 2018 conference session
Conference session
Image of iFEST 2018 conference session
Conference session

Drummond and Saxberg provided the industry and government keynotes, respectively, each focusing on the event's theme: The Future Learning Ecosystem.

In his keynote address, Drummond shared with the audience some of the reasons why learning is important for U.S. forces. He highlighted that military already faces recruiting challenges, as only 17% of the young Americans are eligible for military services, while other industries are also competing for that talent.

"We can spend billions of dollars on platforms and we do, but it's kind of meaningless if we don't have the right people. So we need to recruit the right people. We need to retain the right people. Then it's our commitment to provide them the training and education, to give them the tools that they need, to bring them in and keep them in, and have them have a satisfying productive career while they're serving. These themes are what underlie everything that we do in Force Education and Training." Drummond said.

Drummond also mentioned that Department of Defense is already taking leads towards these goals by partnering with the Department of Labor (DOL) and Veterans Administration (VA) and looking into voluntary education programs where DoD personnel is utilizing DoD funds for their individual learning needs. These programs are fully qualifying DoD personnel for further civilian employment pursuits.

Keynote speakers with RADM James A. Robb, USN (Retired), President National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA)
Keynote speakers with RADM James A. Robb, USN (Retired), President National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA)

Saxberg oversees the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative's strategy for applying learning science to real-world learning situations. In his keynote presentation, representing industry, he talked about Learning Engineering. He explained that with the right learning investments it is possible to improve people's abilities up to two standard deviations. To achieve that, he outlined the following components that are necessary: understanding how learning works; utilizing technology for implementation and enhancement of good learning solutions and using the data evidences to drive our progress.

Saxberg, also, explained that the knowledge of the cognitive dimensions (physical, mental health, identity, social/emotional, academic and cognitive development) and motivational factors (values, self-efficacy, attribution and mood) are of extreme importance for learning engineering:

"Once you have a cognitive and motivational-design idea, you can begin thinking about learning engineering process." Saxberg said, "More use of learning science principles helps learners to learn. For example, revising courses based on a read, write, discuss paradigm into prepare, practice and perform. This way outcomes and content have one lesson per objective and leverages learning science. In examples of the redesigned courses, students were 1.6 times more likely to complete successfully".

His recommendation for achieving this learning progress is to show people the science, train instructional designers, refine the process and increase the marketing exposure. Saxberg insists that general managers need to understand this approach so that they can support it, as many managers are unfamiliar with learning and the need for practice and feedback.

Keynote speakers with RADM James A. Robb, USN (Retired), President National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA)
Keynote speakers with RADM James A. Robb, USN (Retired), President National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA)
Keynote speakers with RADM James A. Robb, USN (Retired), President National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA)
Keynote speakers with RADM James A. Robb, USN (Retired), President National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA)

Learning Engineering, Talent Management, and Modernization

The iFEST 2018 agenda featured discussion panels on learning engineering, talent management, and breaking down the barriers to learning modernization in government. Senior government leaders from the Department of Defense, Intelligence Community, Office of Personnel Management, and Department of Treasury shared their perspectives on these topics. They were also joined by industry professionals from the IEEE, Rustici Software, and SAIC as well as standardized testing titan, ACT.

The overall message that could serve as a summary of the facilitated session on Learning Engineering is best reflected in the statement of one of the panelists, Michelle Barrett, Vice President at ACT. Barrett said: "We are committed to leveraging learning engineering to advance workforce capability, be it uniformed or civilian. What is missing across the discipline today is a lack of understanding of learning engineering. We need to identify risks and work through them – deliberately – as a team."

The talent management system was another burning topic discussed at the iFEST this year. Leaders in this area: BG Joseph McGee with U.S. Army, Gerald Leach with Department of Treasury, Arlyne "Reese" Madsen, SES, with DOD Intelligence and Paul Jesukiewicz with OPM's USALearning shared the challenges they are facing while developing the talent management models for their respective organizations. They all agreed that cultural barriers existing in each organization, such as "Fear of change" and cross-organizational barriers, are the ones preventing progress. Panelists unanimously stated that they need help with motivating the managers to take the advantage of this type of managing system: "We need to move beyond the cultural barriers." Madsen said, "80% solution is better than no solution."

Interoperability, Analytics, and Learning Science for the Future Learning Ecosystem

In addition to the star-studded panels, iFEST included practical tutorials, Ignite! Presentations, paper sessions, and a poster showcase. These covered topics such as learning data and analytics, interoperability across disparate learning technologies, and associated learning science for lifelong learning at scale.

The main goal of rapid-fire Ignite! talks was to give audience a teaser of different programs that could be deeper explored later in one-on-one conversations during the networking sessions. Some of the featured programs were: Career Path DECIDE, new DOD career-advisory program that will launch this fall; Lumina Goal 2025 program from Lumina Foundation that made the commitment to increase proportion of American adults with a high-quality degrees or vocational certificate to 60% by 2025; Credential Engine; USALearning, DoD IT Reform, and many others.

Paper sessions and tutorials were highly aligned with current ADL efforts. One of those topics was a reflection on the recently signed DoDI 1322.26 that among other points, directs the use of xAPI. T. J. Seabrook, CEO of Rustici Software and one of the engineers that developed xAPI, prepared a tutorial that featured this topic. His tutorial Putting the DODI 1322.26 into Practice gave the audience advice to focus on the specific problems that needs to be solved instead of focusing on tools, and explained the difference between SCORM and xAPI:

"Think of these learning standards as tools: SCORM, xAPI and cmi5 are all tools. SCORM is the old standard. Yet it still does some things well. It is the most universal of all e-learning standards. It is a well-defined model, tracking completion, progress, etc. xAPI is better for tracking real-world abilities. It can track events that occur outside of the LMS. It is more granular and more descriptive than SCORM. It enables mobile learning and team-based learning. It is less supported and saturated than SCORM yet keeps the old SCORM data model and adds room for content. cmi5 is a great middle ground for those looking to get started with xAPI in a traditional learning environment. It is great for traditional LMS environments," Seabrook said.

The iFEST poster session offered attendees the opportunity to discuss one-on-one learning science and technology projects with over 15 organizations. People's choice awards were given for best posters in two categories: best poster narrative and best poster design.

The best poster design was awarded to Learning Analytics with xAPI in Multinational Military Exercise poster created and presented by Jefferson Institute. The poster represented the data analytic dashboard solution for the xAPI and non-xAPI data accumulated during the multinational VIKING 18 Exercise in Sweden in April 2018.


Photo of Megan Bowe and Aaron Silvers (DISC) Photo of Biljana Presnall (Jefferson Institute)
Poster award winners with their respective posters (left to right): Megan Bowe and Aaron Silvers (DISC), Biljana Presnall (Jefferson Institute)

The xAPI Profile Server poster won the award for the best poster narrative. Aaron Silvers and Megan Bowe with Data Interoperability Standards Consortium (DISC) through their poster described the needs that xAPI adopters have for profile servers, as well as the requirements for profile servers.

ADL Director of Innovations Jennifer Vogel-Walcutt discusses TLA Concept with the iFEST attendees
ADL Director of Innovations Jennifer Vogel-Walcutt discusses TLA Concept with the iFEST attendees

Attendees Responded to the Total Learning Architecture

Work on the Total Learning Architecture (TLA) specification is a central and overarching project of the current ADL Initiative efforts in building the future learning ecosystem. As such, input from a wide ADL community in form of suggestions for future development from wide distributed learning community highly important. In correlation with that, the large size poster showing the information flow through this future learning architecture was exhibited in the central location inviting all iFEST attendees to provide their stand points in defining the data elements that should be used to describe learners, competencies and activities.

ADL Director of Innovations Jenifer Vogel-Walcutt discusses TLA Concept with the iFEST attendees
ADL Director of Innovations Jenifer Vogel-Walcutt discusses TLA Concept with the iFEST attendees
ADL Director of Innovations Jenifer Vogel-Walcutt discusses TLA Concept with the iFEST attendees
ADL Director of Innovations Jenifer Vogel-Walcutt discusses TLA Concept with the iFEST attendees

Concurrent Events: Hackathon, Working Groups, and Awards

Many organizations and government entities have used the opportunity of this large-scale gathering, to organize the meetings of their own focus groups. In conjunction with the iFEST other topical events were held, such as: TLA Hackathon, IEEE's ICICLE meeting, and Learning 100! Award, to name a few.

As TLA Spiral 2.0 Testing in Fort Bragg occurred only a few weeks prior to iFEST, the conference timeframe naturally turned into a perfect opportunity for planning and executing the TLA Hackathon. All attendees with the technical background and interest in xAPI statements were invited to participate in analyzing the fresh data collected during the TLA testing in Fort Bragg. The TLA Hackathon was a 24 hour long event that concluded just before the iFEST kick off.

iFEST Organizers and Plans

iFEST is an annual gathering of government, academia, and industry focused on advanced learning technology, theory and practice. The National Training & Simulation Association (NTSA) organizes it, with support from the ADL Initiative, which helps focus the event to meet Defense and Federal priorities.

Presentation slides from the iFEST sessions are available at the NTSA's webpage, and photos and video from it are provided by the ADL Initiative.

iFEST 2019 will be held 26-28 August 2019 at the Hilton Mark Center in Alexandria, VA. A call for submissions will be released soon. Follow the ADL Initiative Web Announcements, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for ongoing event updates and 2019 programming announcements.


Click here to see details, view photos, presentations, and find historical information about iFEST 2018.