Air Force testing tablets to help trainees become airmen

The Air Force is trying to move away from old textbooks and teach its trainee airmen in ways that take advantage of adaptive learning technology.

To do that, the service’s Air Education and Training Command is outfitting two of its current basic military training classes with tablets that test trainees in different ways and adjust to their learning patterns.

“The tablets have access to an adaptive learning platform,” Capt. Tyler Hoff, Basic Military Training Flight Commander at Joint Base San Antonio/Lackland in Texas told Federal News Network. “The platform has the ability to analyze when our trainees have last seen information and when it is best to reintroduce that information to them based on when that memory is fading.”

The pilot started last month with two trainee classes, and helps the trainees prepare for a test they will take next week. The test-pilot classes will graduate in February.

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“The highlighting and notetaking from textbooks has gone away,” said Master Sgt. Paul Lamelin, a military training instructor assigned to one of the test classes. “What the trainees are seeing is multiple choice questions, true and false questions and fill in the blank questions. It’s interactive. They study, and if they take a break and haven’t reviewed certain material it does prompt them saying, ‘Hey, you need to come back and look at this course again.’ It does help reinforce that learning.”

Those courses include things like law of war and Air Force history. Lamelin said he’s seen a change in the way students respond to the tablets.

“The trainees are able to retain the information much better,” he said. “Trainees feel more interested and take more initiative to go out and actually work on this. They’re not frustrated when we say, ‘You’ve got to go and study and take this information in.’ Usually when you tell someone to study with a book they don’t feel as energized.”

A company called Cerego created the platform. The company’s website says it creates a new kind of adaptive learning software that is personalized to students.

The Air Force entered into six-month cooperative research and development agreement to use the technologies.

“The company uses an algorithm that looks at the most missed questions and when trainees have spent more time on some lessons than others. The platform spits out the opportune moment to revisit material for each individual trainee,” Hoff said. “It will recognize that trainee 4 out of 100 has been struggling in this. That should be fading from their memory based on our algorithm at about this timeframe and then ‘Bam,’ they get a notification they should be studying this specific course.”

The technology also allows Hoff to update the curriculum instantly instead of waiting for specific times of the year to change what’s in a course.

Trainees will finish their course load about four weeks ahead of schedule.

The Air Force is keeping a tight lid on what the trainees can access with the tablets as well.

“We’ve restricted what our trainees can access by creating parental controls,” Hoff said. “We have access to anything and everything they download. This morning I got an email that a trainee downloaded something off the App Store that they weren’t supposed to have. I get real-time updates.”

Hoff said at the end of the trial period he will look at the analytics and make a recommendation on whether the tablets were helpful

If they are, the Air Force may use the technology in many of its other training courses.

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