Distance Learning: Opportunities Exist for DOD to Capitalize on Services' Efforts

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-12-18.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States
General Accounting office
Washington, D.C. 20548
National Secnrity and
International Affairs Division


December 18, 1997

The Honorable William S. Cohen
The Secretary of Defense

Subiect: Distance Learning: Onnortunities Exist for DOD to CaMalize on Services’

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We reviewed the Department of Defense’s (DOD) distance learning initiatives
because of their importance in making training readily available to ah military
personnel regardless of location. Distance learning is structured training that can
take place almost anywhere and anytime without the physical presence of an
instructor because of the technological advances that facilitate the instruction.
Specifically, we (1) analyzed the status of the services’ efforts to integrate distance
learning into their &aining plans and strategies, (2) identifkd funding issues related
to distance leaMng, and (3) reviewed the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s
(OSD) efforts to promote interservice efficiencies for distance learning. This letter
contains questions to you regarding the direction of DOD’s distance learning efforts.


Today’s military needs to be ready to engage in a wide range of missions that are
not limited to traditional war-fighting requirements. DOD participates in diverse
contingency operations, including drug interdiction, disaster relief, and
counter-terrorism. These missions ofien require rapid, unplanned preparations.
Between fiscal years 1992 and 1995, DOD participated in several contingency
deployments in locations such as Haiti, Rwanda, Somalia, and the former
Yugoslavia The increased rate of such deployments highlighted the need for the
services to be able to provide training on demand to soldiers and units deployed

Access to training opportunities is particularly important for the reserve
components, which make up about 40 percent of the total force. Although the
services are increasingly depending on these forces, training is not always readily
available to them. An Institute for Defense Analysis study reported that 39 percent
of Army reserve component soldiers in 1995 could not demonstrate that they were

                                           GAO/N%4D-98-63R Distance Learning


qualified for their jobs1 The Institute reported that this situation was partly due to
the lack of funds for troops to travel for training. In operations for which the
reserve call-up is large, such as the Gulf War, a high percentage of personnel who
are not fully trained for their mission can adversely affect readiness. Distance
learning is a way for DOD to increase force readiness by providing geographically
dispersed personnel better access to training.

Distance learning can also increase the cost-effectiveness of training delivery
systems. Even though DOD’s training workload has decreased, the cost of
traditional training methods is continuing to increase. In 1996, we reported that the
cost of formal military training and education per student increased significantly,
from $53,194in 1987 to $72,546in 1995.* Formal military training and education
generally occurs at centralized training facilities and lasts weeks or months.

Industry, academia, and state and federal governments are increasing their use of
distance learning as a cost-effective way to educate students and employees. Many
major corporations, such as Hewlett-Packard, save millions of dollars each year by
using distance learning to train employees more effectively and efficiently than with
conventional methods. Another major corporation, Ford Motor Company,
established over 6,000 satellite sites in North America to provide technical and
professional development training to its geographicahy dispersed employees.
Distance learnin g in academia allows students to take undergraduate and graduate
courses in offices, at communily colleges, and at various other sites via satellite,
audiotape, or on-line computer. States with governments that are increasing their
use of distance leamin g include (1) Georgia, which connected 375 distance learning
sites across the state to provide distance learning opportunities to public colleges,
universities, and the state’s medical community, and (2) Iowa, which along with
federal initiatives connected over 450 classrooms to a statewide fiber-optic system
used for education, government, and emergency management


The services have begun incorporating distance learning technologies into their
training activities. These technologies include simulators and simulation exercises,
correspondence courses, interactive computer courseware, video and audiotapes,
and real-time interactive audio and video classrooms. Although it is difficult at this
time to iden@ the fuIl scope of the services’pIarmed distance learning activities,
CSD officials estimated in August 1997 that the services would obligate at least
$100 million in fiscal year 1998 and as much as $2 billion over the next IO years for
such activities.

‘Distance Learning and the Reserve Comuonents, Institute for Defense Analysis,
December 1996.
2DOD ‘hinine Omortunities Exist to Reduce the Training ~astructure
(GAO/NSIAD-96-93,Mar. 29, 1996).
                                            GAO/NSlAD9&63R Distance Learning
The Army is the only service that has a formally documented distance learning plan, ~
which has been endorsed by the Deputy Secretary of Defense as a model for
developing and implementing distance learning. The plan establishes critical
mjlestones and funding requirements for both active and reserve forces. The other
services’plans for distance learning are not as well developed. The Air Force and
the Marine Corps intend to develop distance 1earning plans that encompass active
and reserve requirements. The Navy has developed a training assessment document
that includes technology requirements for distance learning, but it does not address
Naval reserve force requirements. All of the services are planning to establish
distance learning facilities and are evaluating software that analyzes the mediums
and costs for converting traditional courses to distance learning. However, none of
the services have selected all of the courses that can be effectively taught through
distance leamin g or determined the most cost-effective use of distance learning

We identified several funding issues that warrant consideration. First, the services
w$Il need to initially commit a substan@3 investment for courseware conversion and
communication infrastructure. The total amount of this initi investment is not
known, but the Army estimated that it will need about $840 million through 2010 to
implement its distance learning plan, including expenditures for these purposes.
Second, OSD has not yet fully determined the savings that might be achieved
through the increased use of distance learning, although OSD officials believe most
savings will be in military personnel costs, such as student overhead. Third, the
services have not identi&d how distance learning will impact the current training
infrastructure in terms of requirements for course instructors, developers, and
equipment, among other things. Last, the services have not determined how to
budget for the long-term use of distance learnmg. Past training budgets have been
based on the number of resident students who took courses at military training
facilities. However, distance learning focuses on training nonresident students in a
multitude of locations through the use of technology, and this delivery me&ax&m
will require a different cost estimating approach. Resolution of these issues will
require sustained top-level management commitment for distance learning

OSD has facilitated the coordination of the services’distance learning plans and
activities by sponsoring working groups to facilitate the increased use of distance
leaming and publishing speciEcations and guidance for military training products.
Although OSD has actively promoted collaboration among the services, it has not
yet developed a departmentwide strategy to focus service efforts. As a result, each
of the services is pursuing its own distance learning strategy. Service officials
noted that having a departmentwide strategy could help prevent duplicative efforts,
inadequate sharing of resources, and inadequate attention to the needs of both
active and reserve forces. The December 1996 Institute for Defense Analysis study
stated the position that a stronger OSD direction might help the services develop
and implement distance 1earning plans in the most efficient and cost-effective

Page 3                                    GAOINSIAD-98-63RDistance Learning

The Deputy Secretary of Defense endorsed the Army’s distance learning plan as a
model for developing and implementing distance learning. In April 1996,the Chief
of Staff of the Army approved this plan, which includes requirements for the active
and reserve forces. The plan establishes specific goals, objectives, and
responsibilities for implementing distance learning along with critical milestones
and funding requirements for meeting them. Distance learning became a major
acquisition program in March 1997,which will afford the program visibility with
top-level DOD management.

The other services are in the process of developing their plans for distance learning.
The Air Force and the Marine Corps’plans are expected to address both active and
reserve requirements. The Air Force established a distance learning office at
Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, in 1995and plans to engage a contractor to
develop its distance learnin g plan. The Matine Corps has developed a mission
needs statement for distance learnin g to use in developing a distance learning plan.
Elements of the Navy’s training plan, approved in April 1997, include distance
learning initiatives, such as developing interactive courseware and intemet training.

The implementation of distance learning requires that existing courseware be
redesigned. Because the services must review about 10,000courses to determine
whether they can be taught partially or totally through distance learning
technologies, those courses that will benefit the services most in terms of readiness
and return on investment must receive priority. The Army has over 2,000 courses in
its current inventory and, based on available resources, has selected about
525 traditional courses to convert to distance learning. The Air Force must review
about 4,090 courses, about 1,500of which are frequently offered. Air Force
distance learning officials have no definitive data indicafing how many of these
 1,500 courses have been reviewed for their distance learning potential, but the
officials estimate that one-third to one-half of the courses have been reviewed. The
Air Force intends to complete its course review in the summer of 1998. The Navy
is in the process of reviewing about 4,000 courses for distance learning applications,
and Marine Corps officials said that they would review about 250 courses.

fn addition to determinin g the number of courses that can be taught through
distance learning, training developers must determine the best and most
costeffective mediums for delivering distance learning courses. According to
service officials, the process of studying difEerent delivery methods can be very
time-consuming and expensive and, without adequate planning, could result in
duplicative efforts and inadequate sharing of resources and attention to the needs of
both active and reserve forces. From 1989to 1994,the Army conducted pilot
studies to determine the effectiveness of training with five distance learning
technologies: video teletraining, computer conferencing, computer-based instruction,
voice-based computer-based instruction, and desktop video production. The results

Page 4                                      GAOiNSIAD-9863R Distance Learning

of these pilot studies showed that the instructional delivery medium does not
signiscantly affect training effectiveness compared with traditional face-to-face
instruction and that distance learning has the potential to sign&antly decrease the
time a soldier is absent from his home station, reducing,.travel and per diem costs.

The services must also establish distance learning facilities and acquire the
necessary communications equipment to transmit their distance learning courses.
All of the services either have in place or plan to establish an i.nBastrtxture to
receive distance learning courses. For example, the Army is plannmg to establish
745 distance learning classrooms that will be linked through a terrestrial based,
commercial telecommunications network

The Air Force has used a satellite broadcast network for distance learning since
1992. The Air Force has increased the amount of network broadcast hours from
less than 500 in 1992 to 2,000 in 1996, and it projects that it will use 4,500 by 1999.
Today, the network reaches every base in the United States through one of four
broadcast sites. The Air Force plans to have air bases in Europe connected to the
network in early 1998 and air bases in the Pacific connected by the end of 1998if it
becomes cost-effective.

The Air Force Reserve leases its satellite network equipment from the Army and
uses the Army’s television network system.3 The Air Force Reserve has 46 Army
video teletraining sites that are capable of both two-way video and audio. The
Reserve also has tie Air Force network sites that receive programs from the active
Air Force satellite broadcast network The Air Force Reserve system broad-ted
2,800 hours in fiscal year 1996. The Air National Guard uses the same satellite
broadcast system as the active Air Force and maintains 202 of its own sites that can
receive broadcasted courses.

The Navy has a video teletraining network that is used for both distance learning
and teleconferencing. The system uses satellites to broadcast to ships at sea and
telecommunication lines to deliver courses on shore. The system, which consists of
19 sites and 25 classrooms, is available 24 hours every day and is used an average
of 10 hours per day, 5 days a week In 1997, the Navy offered 52 courses through
its network


Resolution of funding and budgeting issues would benefit the services distance
learning initiatives. These issues are the (1) extent of investment that will be

?I+heArmy has 100 television network sites, 46 of which are used exclusively by the
Air Force Reserve and 1 by the Navy. During fiscal year 1996, the Army network
delivered 30,000 hours of training to at least 100,000Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine
Corps, and civilian students.

Page 5                                     GAO/N&ID-98-63R Distance Learning

needed to convert selected courses and communication infrastructures; (2) dollar
savings that can be realized; (3) impact on the current brining infrastructure, in
terms of requirements for instructors, training developers, training equipment,
cqurse maintenance, and training facility operations, and (4) process for budgeting
for the long-term use of distance learning.

A substantial investment is required to implement a distance learning program.
OSD officials estimated that DOD would need to invest about $2 billion for distance
learning over the next 10 years; however, this estimate does not reflect specific
service requirements. The &my plans to invest about $840 million from 1998 to
2010, $352million of which will be used for establishing its distance learning
facilities. The Army plans to spend about $38 million in fiscal year 1998 to establish
the first 63 classrooms and install the associated communications equipment. To
purchase satelhte and studio equipment for its broadcast network, the Air Force
increased its funding from $2.4 million in fiscal year 1992 to approximately
$6.4 million in fiscal year 1996. It estimated that operating costs for the network
were about $3.2 million in fiscal year 1997. The Navy’s assessment calls for a $161.2
million investment in distance learning technologies from fiscal years 1997 through

Service officials said that the conversion of a traditional course to a distance
learning course is expensive and may take a number of years. The Army estimated
that it would cost about $20 milIion in fiscal year 1998 to convert 31 of the
525 distance learning courses and that it would take over 10 years to convert all
525 courses due to the amount of work involved and funding constraints. DOD
officials said that the cost of converting a traditional course to a distance learning
course could range f?om $500, to as high as $20,000per hour of the course. The
Marine Corps plans to spend almost $600,000to convert 38 hours of training
courses to interactive multimedia courseware.

Estimated savings through the increased use of distance learning is an important
factor in justifying the outlays that wiIl be required to implement the services’plans
for distance learning. However, OSD has not yet estimated these potential savings,
and OSD officials stated that the services have not developed a method to quanm
total savings. Although distance learning is expected to generate operation and
maintenance ~avings,~ OSD officials believe that the primary payoff will be in the
military personnel accounts because the number of days students will have to spend
in traditional military training facfities will decrease. Further, the reduced amount
of time that personnel would have to spend away from their home units is an
important factor that can increase productivity, produce efficiencies in the training
infrastructure (i.e., requirements for instructors, training developers, training
equipment, course maintenance, and facility operations), and generate reductions in
the personnel overhead accounts that pay for student time. Savings in military pay

4For example, the Army estimates that it will achieve over $900 million in Operation
and Maintenance savings and cost avoidances from 1998 to 2010.
Page 6                                      GAO/NSIAD-98-63RDistance Learning
accounts, including student overhead, can be either measured in dollar savings or
used for additional military personnel to meet force sticture needs.

A +rch 1997 OSD report to the House Committee on Appropriations stated that
one of OSD’s objectives is to use distance learning to streamline the miJita.ry’s
overall training infrastructure.5 Distance learning infkastxucture includes instructors,
training developers, training equipment, course maintenance, and training facility
operations. However, the services have not fully examined the potential to
consolidate or close some of their resident schools as they increase their use of
distance learning. OBiciaZsat the Army Training Support Command reported that
some of the Army’s training facility commanders are concerned that distance
learning will reduce their resources because of the decrease in the number of
students traveling to schools and the amount of time students spend at schools.
Aulhermore, the acting program manager for the Army’s distance learning plan
reported that potential infrastructure savings will be outside the scope of the
economic analysis conducted to justify the Army’s plan.

F&&y, the services have not determined how to budget for the long-term use of
dislance learning. In the traditional classroom setting, military training facilities
receive resources based partly on the number of training hours instructors provide
to students face-to-face. However, students will not be in traditional &ssrooms
with distance learning. ATen though the services have considered several
altematives for budgeting for distance 1earning, they have not identified and
adopted a specific methodology.


OSD has not yet developed a comprehensive defensewide plan that would unify and
blend the services’distance learning efforts so that distance learning technologies
are developed, managed, and used in titi most el3icient and cost-effective manner.
OSD stated in its March 1997 report that the Deputy Secretary of Defense had
directed the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to report by
September 1, 1997, on how to proceed in de&ring the total investment to build and
maintain the infmdructure for distance 1earning and the benefits and savings
associated with this investment. The steps to be outlined in the OSD plan were
expected to further define the key decision items that require top-level support to
successfully implement distance learning initiatives across DOD. An OSD official
informed us that as a foundation to meeting that end, DOD and the White House
O&e of Science and Technology Policy began a collaborative effort in November
1997with other federal agencies, academia, and the private sector to explore
distance learning on a broader scale. This group agreed to undertake the “advanced

5Distance Learning in the Denartment of Defense, OfIice of the Under Secretary of
Defense for Personnel and Readiness, March 1997.
Page 7                                      GAO/NSLAD-98-63RDistance Learning

distributed learning initiative” which will address distance learning requirements for
both the private and public sector.

Service officials stated that the services have reached the. point at which
deparlznentwide guidance is needed to b-etter focus their initiatives. The December
1996 report by the Institute for Defense Analysis recommended that DOD prepare a
defensewide action plan for distance learning that fully capitalizes on the
opportunities provided by distance learning technologies. This report recommended
that OSD, the Joint Staff, the military services, and other defense agencies examine
distance learning as it pertains to the total DOD force context-all military services,
defense components, and civilian organizations. The report further recommended
that the examination should encompass all costs associated with distance learning
and improvements in training and readiness. Such information will also be critical
if DOD is to effectively put in place management reforms needed to comply with
the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993.GPRA requires
federal agencies to implement results-oriented management reforms such as
strategic planning, performance planning, and performance measurement and

OSD has sponsored joint service working groups on distance learning and published
performance specikations in 1996 for xnibtary training products. However, Army
training developers said that these specifications and related guidance will not
necessarily result in training products that can be used interchangeably among the
services. That requirement is essential because many military training courses
contain elements that are applicable to every service. For example, some of the
information in the Army’s action officer’s course might be applicable to Navy and
Air Force action officers. Navy and Air Force training developers could extract
portions of the data from the Army course, if the same or compatible software were
employed, to use in developing their own training materials, thus reducing the
overall costs and time required for course development. Because the services are
not required to use the same or compatible software in early stages of course
development, opportunities for the services to share training data might be missed.


OSD has opportunities to guide the services’distance learning efforts and could
encourage greater sharing of successful approaches, wider consideration of
opportunities to share facilities and consolidate infrastructure, and more
consistency in determinin g funding requirements. In addition, greater coordination
of distance learning activities throughout DOD would enhance its role in the new
advanced distributed learning initiative with the office of Science and Technology
Policy. Therefore, we are asking that you or your designee respond to the following
questions concerning the direction of DOD’s distance learning efforts within 30 days
of the date of this letter:

Page 8                                       GAOMXAD-98-63R Distance Learning
1. Resides endorsing the Army’s distance learning plan as a model for developing
   and implementing distance learning, does OSD plan to provide additionaT
   guidance to the services for developing their respective plans? Will OSD
   establish a target date by which the other services are expected to have their
   respective plans completed? What is the relationship between the recently
   announced advanced distributed learning initiative and the services’ efforts to
   develop individual distance learning plans?

2. Does OSD plan to develop an overarching strategy and plan for implementing
   distance learning to better focus the services efforts? If so, will the plan include
   performance measurements and reporting requirements?

3. Does OSD plan to provide the services with guidance to assist them in
   estimating and documenting the savings that can be expected through the
   expanded use of distzmcelearning?

4. Does OSD plan to develop guidance on a consistent way for the services to
   estimate funding requirements for distance learning?


To determine the status of the services’efforts to develop plans to integrate
dMance learning into their training plans and strategies, we met with service
officials responsible for distance learnin g planning. We also obtained services’
training plans and documents that outlined current and future distance leaming

To determine the funding issues related to distance learning, we reviewed the
available setice plans for implementing distance learning and budget documents.
We obtained information on the Army’s new account to uniformly identify, track,
and manage distance learning funding. The Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine
Corps currently do not have such an account; therefore, we were unable to obtain
comparable funding data tiom these services. We discussed funding issues with
officials from OSD and each of the services, including active and reserve
components, who are responsible for implementing distance learning activities.

To determine what OSD has done to promote interservice efficiencies for distance
learning, we reviewed OSD specifications and guidance for training products and
data regarding the establishment of worldng groups to coordinate and facilitate
distance learning programs. We discussed this information with officials from OSD
and the services. We reviewed information on the internet related to the advance
distributed learning initiative. We also reviewed prior studies on distance learning.

We discussed plans for increasing the services’use of distance learning with
officials in Washington, D.C., from. the Offices of the Deputy Under Secretary of
Defense for Personnel and Readiness; the Assistant Secretary for Reserve Affairs;

Page 9                                     GAOINSIAD-98-63RDistance Learning

&my Headquarters; Office of the Chief, Army Reserve; Office of the Air Force
Reserve; and Office of Training Technology, Chief of Na+al Operations in
Washington, D.C. Additionally, we talked with officials from the Army Training and
Doctrine Command, Fort Mdnroe, Virginia; Army ReseFe.Command, Georgia;
Headquarters, Army Forces Command, Georgia; Iowa Army National Guard, Camp
Dodge, Iowa; Chief of Naval Education and Training, Naval Air Station, Florida;
Headquarters, Naval Reserve, New Orleans, Louise       Air Force Distance Learning
Office, MaxweLl Air Force Base, Alabama; Headquarters, Second Air Force, Keesler
Air Force Base, Mississippi; Air National Guard Readiness Center, hdrews Air
Force Base, Maryland; Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Quantico,
Vi.@@ and Headquarters, Marine Forces Reserve, New Orleans, Louisiana

We did not obtain written agency comments on this letter. However, we provided a
draft of this letter to DOD officials, and they generally agreed with the facts as

We are providing copies of this letter to appropriate congressional committees, the
Secretaries of the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy; and the Director of the Ofhe
of Management and Budget.. This letter and your response will also be provided to
others on request.

If you have any questions about this letter, please contact me at (202) 512-5140.
Major contributors to this letter are listed in enclosure 1.

Sincerely yours,

Mark E. Gebw
Director, Military Operations
 and Capabilities Issues

Page 10                                   GAO/N&ID-98-63R Distance Learning
ENCLOSURE 1                                              ENCLOSURE 1


Carol R. Schuster
Brenda S. Farrell


Lorelei H. Hill
Harry F. Jobes
Stacey E. Keishg


           Page 11
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