118. The Future of Learning: Personalized, Continuous, and Accelerated

[Editor’s Note: At the Mad Scientist Learning in 2050 Conference with Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies in Washington, DC, Leading scientists, innovators, and scholars gathered to discuss how humans will receive, process, and integrate  information in the future.  The convergence  of technology, the speed of change, the generational differences of new Recruits, and the uncertainty of the Future Operational Environment will dramatically alter the way Soldiers and Leaders learn in 2050.  One clear signal generated from this conference is that learning in the future will be personalized, continuous, and accelerated.]

Personalized Learning

The principal consequence of individual differences is that every general law of teaching has to be applied with consideration of the particular person.” – E.L. Thorndike (1906)

The world is becoming increasingly personalized, and individual choice and preference drives much of daily life, from commerce, to transportation, to entertainment. For example, your Amazon account today can keep your payment information on file (one click away), suggest new products based on your purchase history, and allow you to shop from anywhere and ship to any place, all while tracking your purchase every step of the way, including providing photographic proof of delivery. Online retailers, personal transportation services, and streaming content providers track and maintain an unprecedented amount of specific individual information to deliver a detailed and personalized experience for the consumer.

There is an opportunity to improve the effectiveness in targeted areas of learning – skills training, foundational learning, and functional training, for example – if learning institutions and organizations, as well as learners, follow the path of personalization set by commerce, transportation, and entertainment.1 This necessitates an institutional shift in the way we educate Soldiers. Instead of training being administered based on rank or pre-determined schedule, it is conducted based on need, temporally optimized for maximum absorption and retention, in a style that matches the learner, and implemented on the battlefield, if needed.

An important facet of personalized learning is personal attention to the learner. Tutors have been used in education for 60,000 years.2 However, they always have been limited to how many educators could devote their attention to one student. With advancements in AI, intelligent tutors could reduce the cost and manpower requirements associated with one-on-one instructor to student ratios. Research indicates that students who have access to tutors as opposed to exclusive classroom instruction were more effective learners as seen in the chart below. In other words, the average tutored student performed better than 98 percent of the students in the traditional classroom.3 What was a problem of scale in the past – cost, manpower, time – can be alleviated in the future through the use of AI-enabled ubiquitous intelligent tutors.

Another aspect of personalized learning is the diminishing importance of geo-location. Education, in general, has traditionally been executed in a “brick and mortar” setting. The students, learners, or trainees physically travel to the location of the teacher, expert, or trainer in order for knowledge to be imparted. Historically, this was the only viable option. However, a hyper-connected world with enabling technologies like virtual and augmented reality; high-bandwidth networks with low latency; high fidelity modeling, simulations, and video; and universal interfaces reduces or eliminates the necessity for physical co-location. This allows Soldiers to attend courses hosted virtually anywhere, participate in combined arms and Joint exercises globally, and experience a variety of austere and otherwise inaccessible environments through virtual and augmented reality.4

Based on these trends and emerging opportunities to increase efficiency, the Army may have to re-evaluate its educational and training frameworks and traditional operational practices to adjust for more individualized and personalized learning styles. When personalized learning is optimized, Soldiers could become more lethal, specially skilled, and decisive along a shorter timeline, using lesser budget resources, and with reduced manpower.

Continuous Learning

Continuous learning, or the process of repeatedly engaging in activities designed to learn new information or skills, is a natural process that will remain necessary for Soldiers and Leaders in 2050. The future workforce will define and drive when, where, and how learning takes place. Continuous learning has the advantage of allowing humans to learn from past mistakes and understand biases by “working the problem” – assessing and fixing biases, actively changing behavior to offset biases, moving on to decision-making, and then returning to work the problem again for further solutions. Learners must be given the chance to fail, and failure must be built in to the continuous learning process so that the learner not only arrives at the solution organically, but practices critical thinking and evaluation skills.5

There are costs and caveats to successful continuous learning. After a skill is learned, it must be continually practiced and maintained. Amy Titus explained how skills perish after 3-5 years unless they are updated to meet present needs and circumstances. In an environment of rapidly changing technology and situational dynamics, keeping skills up to date must be a conscious and nonstop process. One of the major obstacles to continuous learning is that learning is work and requires a measure of self-motivation to execute. Learners only effectively learn if they are curious, so learning to pass a class or check a box does not yield the same result as genuine interest in the subject.6 New approaches such as gamification and experiential learning can help mitigate some of these limitations.

Accelerated Learning

The concept of accelerated learning, or using a compressed timeline and various approaches, methodologies, or technological means to maximize learning, opens up several questions: what kinds of technologies accelerate learning, and how does technology accelerate learning? Technologies useful for accelerated learning include the immersive reality spectrum – virtual reality/augmented reality (mixed reality) and haptic feedback – as well as wearables, neural stimulation, and brain mapping. These technologies and devices enable the individualization and personalization of learning. Individualization allows the learner to identify their strengths and weaknesses in learning, retaining, and applying information and provides a program structured to capitalize on his/her naturally favored learning style to maximize the amount and depth of information presented in the most time and cost-effective manner.

Digital learning platforms are important tools for the tracking of a Soldier’s progress. This tool not only delivers individualized progress reports to superiors and instructors, but also allows the learner to remain up to date regardless of their physical location. Intelligent tutors may be integrated into a digital learning platform, providing real-time, individual feedback and suggesting areas for improvement or those in need of increased attention. Intelligent tutors and other technologies utilized in the accelerated learning process, such as augmented reality, can be readily adapted to a variety of situations conforming to the needs of a specific unit or mission.

Besides external methods of accelerated learning, there are also biological techniques to increase the speed and accuracy of learning new skills. DARPA scientist Dr. Tristan McClure-Begley introduced Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT), whereby the peripheral nervous system is artificially stimulated resulting in the rapid acquisition of a specific skill. Soldiers can learn movements and retain that muscle memory faster than the time it would take to complete many sets of repetitions by pairing nerve stimulation with the performance of a physical action.

Accelerated learning does not guarantee positive outcomes. There is a high initial startup cost to producing mixed, augmented, and virtual reality training programs, and these programs require massive amounts of data and inputs for the most realistic product.7 There are questions about the longevity and quality of retention when learning is delivered through accelerated means. About 40 percent of information that humans receive is forgotten after 20 minutes and another 40 percent is lost after 30 days if it is not reinforced.8

Most learners attribute mastery of a skill to practical application and not formal training programs.9 TNT attempts to mitigate this factor by allowing for multiple physical repetitions to be administered quickly. But this technique must be correctly administered, or psychological and physiological pairing may not occur correctly or occur between the wrong stimuli, creating maladaptive plasticity, which is training the wrong behavior.

An increased emphasis on continuous and accelerated learning could present the Army with an opportunity to have Soldiers that are lifelong learners capable of quickly picking up emerging required skills and knowledge. However, this focus would need to account for peak learner interest and long-term viability.

If you enjoyed this post, please also watch Dr. Dexter Fletcher‘s video presentation on Digital Mentors and Tutors and Dr. Tristan McClure-Begley‘s presentation on Targeted Neuroplasticity Training from of the Mad Scientist Learning in 2050 Conference

… see the following related blog posts:

… and read The Mad Scientist Learning in 2050 Conference Final Report.


1 Smith-Lewis, Andrew, Mad Scientist Conference: Learning in 2050, Georgetown University, 8 August 2018

2 Fletcher, Dexter, Mad Scientist Conference: Learning in 2050, Georgetown University, 8 August 2018

3 https://www.edsurge.com/news/2014-08-10-personalization-and-the-2-sigma-problem

4 Titus, Amy, Mad Scientist Conference: Learning in 2050, Georgetown University, 8 August 2018

5 Taylor, Christopher, Mad Scientist Conference: Learning in 2050, Georgetown University, 9 August 2018

6 Masie, Elliott, Mad Scientist Conference: Learning in 2050, Georgetown University, 8 August 2018

7 Hill, Randall, Mad Scientist Conference: Learning in 2050, Georgetown University, 9 August 2018

8 Goodwin, Gregory, Mad Scientist Conference: Learning in 2050, Georgetown University, 8 August 2018

9 Masie, Elliott, Mad Scientist Conference: Learning in 2050, Georgetown University, 8 August 2018

101. TRADOC 2028

[Editor’s Note:  The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) mission is to recruit, train, and educate the Army, driving constant improvement and change to ensure the Total Army can deter, fight, and win on any battlefield now and into the future. Today’s post addresses how TRADOC will need to transform to ensure that it continues to accomplish this mission with the next generation of Soldiers.]

Per The Army Vision:

The Army of 2028 will be ready to deploy, fight, and win decisively against any adversary, anytime and anywhere, in a joint, multi-domain, high-intensity conflict, while simultaneously deterring others and maintaining its ability to conduct irregular warfare. The Army will do this through the employment of modern manned and unmanned ground combat vehicles, aircraft, sustainment systems, and weapons, coupled with robust combined arms formations and tactics based on a modern warfighting doctrine and centered on exceptional Leaders and Soldiers of unmatched lethality.” GEN Mark A. Milley, Chief of Staff of the Army, and Dr. Mark T. Esper, Secretary of the Army, June 7, 2018.

In order to achieve this vision, the Army of 2028 needs a TRADOC 2028 that will recruit, organize, and train future Soldiers and Leaders to deploy, fight, and win decisively on any future battlefield. This TRADOC 2028 must account for: 1) the generational differences in learning styles; 2) emerging learning support technologies; and 3) how the Army will need to train and learn to maintain cognitive overmatch on the future battlefield. The Future Operational Environment, characterized by the speeding up of warfare and learning, will challenge the artificial boundaries between institutional and organizational learning and training (e.g., Brigade mobile training teams [MTTs] as a Standard Operating Procedure [SOP]).

Soldiers will be “New Humans” – beyond digital natives, they will embrace embedded and integrated sensors, Artificial Intelligence (AI), mixed reality, and ubiquitous communications. “Old Humans” adapted their learning style to accommodate new technologies (e.g., Classroom XXI). New Humans’ learning style will be a result of these technologies, as they will have been born into a world where they code, hack, rely on intelligent tutors and expert avatars (think the nextgen of Alexa / Siri), and learn increasingly via immersive Augmented / Virtual Reality (AR/VR), gaming, simulations, and YouTube-like tutorials, rather than the desiccated lectures and interminable PowerPoint presentations of yore. TRADOC must ensure that our cadre of instructors know how to use (and more importantly, embrace and effectively incorporate) these new learning technologies into their programs of instruction, until their ranks are filled with “New Humans.”

Delivering training for new, as of yet undefined MOSs and skillsets. The Army will have to compete with Industry to recruit the requisite talent for Army 2028. These recruits may enter service with fundamental technical skills and knowledges (e.g., drone creator/maintainer, 3-D printing specialist, digital and cyber fortification construction engineer) that may result in a flattening of the initial learning curve and facilitate more time for training “Green” tradecraft. Cyber recruiting will remain critical, as TRADOC will face an increasingly difficult recruiting environment as the Army competes to recruit new skillsets, from training deep learning tools to robotic repair. Initiatives to appeal to gamers (e.g., the Army’s eSports team) will have to be reflected in new approaches to all TRADOC Lines of Effort. AI may assist in identifying potential recruits with the requisite aptitudes.

“TRADOC in your ruck.” Personal AI assistants bring Commanders and their staffs all of the collected expertise of today’s institutional force. Conducting machine speed collection, collation, and analysis of battlefield information will free up warfighters and commanders to do what they do best — fight and make decisions, respectively. AI’s ability to quickly sift through and analyze the plethora of input received from across the battlefield, fused with the lessons learned data from thousands of previous engagements, will lessen the commander’s dependence on having had direct personal combat experience with conditions similar to his current fight when making command decisions.

Learning in the future will be personalized and individualized with targeted learning at the point of need. Training must be customizable, temporally optimized in a style that matches the individual learners, versus a one size fits all approach. These learning environments will need to bring gaming and micro simulations to individual learners for them to experiment. Similar tools could improve tactical war-gaming and support Commander’s decision making.  This will disrupt the traditional career maps that have defined success in the current generation of Army Leaders.  In the future, courses will be much less defined by the rank/grade of the Soldiers attending them.

Geolocation of Training will lose importance. We must stop building and start connecting. Emerging technologies – many accounted for in the Synthetic Training Environment (STE) – will connect experts and Soldiers, creating a seamless training continuum from the training base to home station to the fox hole. Investment should focus on technologies connecting and delivering expertise to the Soldier rather than brick and mortar infrastructure.  This vision of TRADOC 2028 will require “Big Data” to effectively deliver this personalized, immersive training to our Soldiers and Leaders at the point of need, and comes with associated privacy issues that will have to be addressed.

In conclusion, TRADOC 2028 sets the conditions to win warfare at machine speed. This speeding up of warfare and learning will challenge the artificial boundaries between institutional and organizational learning and training.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

– Mr. Elliott Masie’s presentation on Dynamic Readiness from the Learning in 2050 Conference, co-hosted with Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies in Washington, DC, on 8-9 August 2018.

Top Ten” Takeaways from the Learning in 2050 Conference.