A Case for Canadian Forces eLearning – Using New Technologies

Historical Overview

In the post-1960s Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) most training courses consisted of lock-step instructor-led lessons with slides, where the Master Lesson Plan (MLP) was the de facto control document.

Lesson efficiency (i.e., “gained knowledge or skills” divided by “all information delivered”) was totally predicated on the expertise and enthusiasm of the individual instructor.  In an attempt to standardize lesson content and delivery, self-paced PowerPoint lessons were introduced.  Personnel who suffered through a click-next-to-continue PowerPoint coma became convinced that “eLearning” was boring and even painful.  To mitigate the “death by PowerPoint” syndrome, CD-based Computer Based Training (CBT) was introduced and quickly became all the rage.

The main advantages of CBT included fixed, stable lesson content, enhanced capability for self-paced learning, and a Learning Management System (LMS) to track trainee progress.  CBT modules were produced at considerable expense with the expectation that more efficient lessons would result in more efficient training.  However, there was little evidence that CBT resulted in enhanced performance on the job, and the bottom line of any and all training programs must be an increase in performance.

CBT Shortcomings

Early versions of most CBT programs produced lessons that were “electronic pages” of reference texts.  The trainee was not challenged by inter-active exercises, i.e., the program was a simple  electronic page turner.  Also, it was assumed that every teaching point in the Course Training Plan (CTP) had to be incorporated in the CBT module, even though checklists, aide memoirs, and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) would be sufficient to address minor points.

Another issue was the mind-set that all lessons must have an End Of Lesson (EOL) test that was normally based on memory recall instead of performance based scenarios and problem solving situations.  In many cases, there was more testing than teaching.

The main problem of most CBT programs is the shortfall in the LMS that is incorporated in the modules.  Standard LMS are only able to track time taken by the trainee, completion statistics, pass/fail results and a single score.  So what was the supposed solution to this problem?

The Evolution Of eLearning

In rapidly changing technological times, learning needs changed and new learning paradigms evolved.  The term CBT was replaced by the term Technology Based Training (TBT), which includes web-based online learning, intra-net learning, learning on-the-go, just-in-time learning, and DVD lessons.  eLearning should be more than just slides, lectures, and CBT modules – eLearning technology should offer uniquely valuable learning experiences.  Through continuous assessment of trainee performance, the eLearning experience should optimize practice and ensure transfer of learning to performance proficiency on the job.  These learning concepts are important, and should be embraced by the CAF.

Supporting Principles Of eLearning

In order to elevate eLearning to its intended purpose, there is a need to adopt new supporting principles and a new set of standards.  Here are but a few examples:

•       Do not assume that eLearning (or CBT) is the solution to a performance gap.  A formal training intervention is always the best means to produce performance results.

•       Do not assume that eLearning is the only (or best) solution.

•       Provide trainees sufficient levels of realistic practice. For example: simulations, scenario-based decision making case-based evaluations and authentic exercises.

•       Provide trainees with sufficient experience in making decisions in authentic contexts.

•       Provide trainees with guidance and feedback to reinforce comprehension and build effective performance.

•       When providing performance feedback during learning, provide trainees with a sense of operational consequences.

•       Use performance support systems.  Consider providing job aids, such as aide memoirs, checklists and other Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS) in addition to, and as a potential replacement for, standard eLearning interactions

•       Measure effectiveness.  Learning cannot be assured without measurement.  At a minimum, measure both trainee comprehension and decision-making ability to apply what they’ve learned on the job.

eLearning Tracking And Measurement – What else is out there?


SCORM is an acronym for Shareable Content Object Reference Model.  SCORM is a set of standards and technical specifications that enable CBT course creators to build courseware and share them across multiple platforms.  SCORM also allows eLearning providers to track the progress of their learners, in turn using that data to deliver a better learning experience.

SCORM was a system that helped change the face of eLearning, allowing content to move seamlessly between different LMS and providing the ability to track some data.  As eLearning evolved, however, a new tracking system was needed.  New devices for learning had appeared, more was known about the learning habits of trainees and it was time for a new system to be developed.

2. xAPI

The Experience Application Program Interface (xAPI) is the latest new eLearning software specification that allows learning content and learning systems to speak to each other in a manner that records and tracks all types of learning experiences.

All learning experiences are tracked and recorded in a Learning Record Store (LRS).  The main difference between SCORM and xAPI is that xAPI allows the tracking of learning activity from multiple contexts, online and offline, not just data in the LMS.  This translates to a more complete data set that demonstrates where and how learning is happening, and crucially, where it is not.  Learning experiences and on-the-job performance are therefore linked.

The RUSI(NS) review and conclusion

xAPI is fast becoming the new industry standard that can support the future of eLearning.  Not only is it able to support more complex and varied learning scenarios, but it also gives training staff the detailed interaction data they need to ensure learning transfer to the workplace.  Another key benefit is that xAPI software is available as a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) product.

It’s a known fact that much of the CAF occupational training occurs on the job after Basic Qualification level training, and xAPI is capable of recording and tracking these data.  The CAF should move past relying on completions as a key metric and instead focus on delivering performance results.  In other words, the focus on content needs to shift to a focus on performance.  The importance of performance goes back many years – “I hear, and I forget; I see, and I remember; I do and I understand” (Confucius circa 500 BC).

We recommend that the Canadian Armed Forces training systems investigate converting their course training packages to xAPI where feasible to enhance student knowledge, skill and performance.

Ed Young is a retired RCAF officer with extensive experience flying, instructing and as a SAR specialist.  His experience includes command of a Recruiting Centre. 

A PDF of this paper is available here.

RUSI(NS) Staff

Editorial Staff at RUSI (NS). This work is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the Royal United Services Institute of Nova Scotia.