A gruelling two-year trial using some 160 tablet devices in Army training found all but one survived, offering tangible savings and other benefits to training, Major James Rogers of the HQ Forces Command told Australian Defence Magazine.
Back in August 2011, the Australian Army’s Forces Command together with Defence’s CIO group deployed 80 Apple iPads and 80 Samsung Galaxy tablets to explore its benefits in training recruits. There was an upsurge in interest in Defence for these devices.
“There was general enthusiasm for volunteers. It was across all levels. The infantry were as attracted to it as signals staff, for example,” MAJ Rogers reported.
Army was interested in testing technological alternatives to paper and clipboards and retyping later. Phase one of the Australian Army’s training project was to test the effectiveness of tablets as an aid for instructors and assessors, whose acceptance will be a key success indicator.
GIS apps as well as astronomical apps such as the Night Sky apps, helped trainees understand bearings and navigation under tricky conditions. Presentations on the go were also a strong outcome. Trainees could take a screen shot of a location and send it back to the command post including a short video clip.
“This was terrific and a real aid to training,” MAJ Rogers said.
Some tablets users took to recording the training sessions to assist in their note taking and later revisions. While the outcome of Australian Army’s trial is still under consideration, MAJ Rogers expressed delight with the trial.
“From our point of view it has been a very successful trial and highlighted the benefits of using tablet technology to enhance learning,” he said. “It has shown how versatile they can be used across not only the Army but Defence generally.”
Although Apple iPads pioneered the tablet boom, MAJ Rogers found users were equally comfortable with the Samsung Android versions.
“A table was a tablet. Many of the users were tech savvy and could get the benefits, irrespective of the platform. I certainly could not put one in front of the other, at this stage,” he said.
While tablets have been made available since then in smaller (mini) sizes, the normal A4-size format did not seem to affect their acceptance or portability.
“It was quite portable and accommodated changes in the working environment,” he said. “While a mini tablet might have been more portable and could be slipped into pockets, leaving hands free, they were still quite portable.”
Significantly all but one of the tablets (99.4 per cent) survived the trial. Only was lost, MAJ Rogers said. Back in December 2012 one was reported as lost or misplaced at the end of a particular section of the Trial. Significantly the user accepted responsibility for the loss and paid the cost of the item, after a standard Defence Loss or Damage procedure and report. The other 159 are all held by Defence and their future locations will be decided in the near future, he said.
He saw four reasons to celebrate the benefits of using tablet technology with learning outcomes. The range of content available to support learning outcomes such as the number of note taking and video apps available offered slimmer and more customised alternatives to standard Microsoft Office productivity applications.
This also highlighted the need for high quality, militarily relevant, securely contained content and a process to design and develop it internally.
Offering an all-in-one (e-reader, image, sound and video recorder, web browser, note taking, file exchange and collaboration functions) capability for anytime, anywhere access to information and learning. This freed trainees from the distracting distinction of moving from computer labs to practical applications.
In aviation mechanics for example, if they are on top of an aircraft, servicing apart, they can download the relevant points from an online reference manual, MAJ Rogers said.
“They can double-check the procedure, without having the encumbrance of having to access up to 10 physical manuals.”
Efficiencies gained included the saving of one hour per day for both instructors and trainees. This has a cascade effect on cost savings for Defence, MAJ Rogers said.
The tablets also varied in their mobile communications access with units being varied based on their 3G or wifi only access. Toward the end of the trial, the use of wifi-only enabled tablets were tracked.
This highlighted several lessons, on how the tablets depended on infrastructure and networks to support wi-fi access and connectivity as well as being able to access recharging each day or so.
Also this meant Defence needed to consider a flexible policy covering Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) in order to fully exploit the technical know-how of many members and assist in flexible working arrangements for the modern military age.
More generally it will promote more elaborate approaches to blended learning methodologies into the Army Training Continuum.
Ultimately Army is aiming for an approach that is supported by technology (including tablets) as appropriate rather than being led by technology, MAJ Rogers said.