Beware the lure of training technology

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The appeal of training technology can often overshadow its value. Virtual Reality, or VR, is a hot topic in the military training community today, but training tools must be developed and selected based on their intended use. Context is important, and sometimes the best and most cost-effective training tool may just be a book.

While virtual reality offers many benefits, the department or defense could seek to ensure that virtual training content derives from operational needs, integrates with existing processes and programs, and is validated. Moreover, this process could be continually evaluated and refined because, although we cannot predict the future of technology, we can be sure that what we need and want will change.

The US military has always benefited greatly from new technological advances, and today is no exception. Rapid acquisition and innovation are focal points for the DoD. This focus also extends to training, where emerging technologies can present many opportunities. But too often, the connection between various abilities and actual training goals can be tenuous at best.

In the area of ​​training, the focus is now on virtual reality and augmented reality. Virtual reality involves a user being fully immersed in a virtual environment, and augmented reality involves superimposing virtual entities on real items. The army, for example, is developing the Built-in visual augmentation system It’s okay allow soldiers to see what combat vehicles seehave 3D terrain maps projected onto their actual field of view and activate other capabilities for enhanced situational awareness.

In addition, most services develop aspects of live, virtual and constructive capabilities, or LVC which can, for example, allow pilots of real (live) jets to train with pilots of (virtual) flight simulators at different locations, all interacting with (constructive) computer representations of opposing jets.

In addition, the excitement surrounding virtual capabilities has recently intensified following discussions on the metaverse, a persistent virtual environment in which disparate users can revisit a virtual location and even own various virtual entities in that environment. In fact, recently the Space Force filed a trademark application for “Spaceverse”.

These capabilities can provide significant value, such as increased training repetitions at relatively low cost, opportunities to practice risky activities safely, or connecting multiple participants to training events distributed across departments, domains, and allied forces. However, to reap the benefits of technology while remaining cost-effective, context must be considered. With the current hype around virtual reality, there could be a risk that acquisition efforts will pursue the appeal of the technology rather than practical value. Industry may tend to push technology rather than letting end users pull technology based on actual need. However, there are methods to mitigate this risk.

The first step to avoiding the hunt for new technology just for tech’s sake might be to clearly define what new technology has to offer – and common, vernacular definitions might be key. While it might seem obvious, definitions of terms like LVC, metaverse, or artificial intelligence aren’t always widely accepted by the US government, let alone the general public. In addition, it may be necessary to identify, characterize and widely communicate the practical capabilities that a new technology can offer to various operations.

Although virtual reality and its variants are hot topics in the training community, the appropriate training tool depends on the underlying training objectives. So the second step could be to look at the mission and the operations one is training for, clearly analyzing what the new technology may be needed for. Missions could be broken down into tasks and skills, which can then be paired with the most appropriate technology. For example, practicing dynamic flight maneuvers may require an expensive full-motion simulator or even actual flight, but basic pre-flight checks may require much lower fidelity.

In addition to ensuring that virtual content derives from user needs, it can also be important to consider existing processes and training programs when developing technology. Particularly in the case of new capabilities, the development process could include considering how new tools fit into existing training processes. The technological needs for initial qualifying training, for example, are different from those of advanced training or continuing education. The deployment of new capacities within a training process (for example, a course or a sequence of courses) and within an organization may merit specific analysis.

Finally, once a new training technology is deployed, validation can be critical. How do you know it really works? The effectiveness and transfer of training (the transfer of learned tasks or skills to field operations) could be tested experimentally, which may require continuous data acquisition during training and during operations.

The steps described here should not be performed sporadically; it is not enough to simply take a snapshot of training conditions and technology. Rather, this process could be continually evaluated and refined. So, in addition to focusing on acquiring technology to maintain a competitive advantage, the DoD could also focus on codifying processes that align technology with user needs and adapt to changing technology, military operations and requirements. It may be crucial to consider the context when planning the development and use of training technology.

Tim Marler is a senior research engineer at the Rand think tank and a professor at its graduate school.

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