Train to Sustain: Interactive multimedia instruction uses lifelong learning methodologies to support battlefield communication systems

By November 3, 2014September 10th, 2018Acquisition
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By Mr. Peter Nesby

The product director for Defense Wide Transmission Systems (PD DWTS) is using interactive multimedia instruction (IMI) to enhance sustainment training for key battlefield communication systems.

IMI employs computer-based technology integrating a host of components, including text, graphics, animation, sound and video. IMI training applications can take many forms, including tutorials, simulations, virtual reality and expert systems, as well as “just-in-time” training embedded in performance support systems.

PD DWTS, assigned to the Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems, recently launched a training support package using distributed learning to support new equipment training and unit sustainment training for the Combat Service Support (CSS) Automated Information Systems Interface (CAISI) and CSS Very Small Aperture Terminal (CSS VSAT) systems.

Net Benefit

Students at Fort Carson, Colorado, connect the antenna feed boom cable to the antenna pedestal cable on a CSS-VSAT during new equipment training. Virtual learning reduces hands-on training time with actual equipment, and creates a safe, realistic yet forgiving environment in which to exercise challenging scenarios and learn from mistakes. (Photo by Kelly McCoy)

CAISI allows current and emerging battlefield CSS automation devices to exchange information electronically through tactical networks, interfaces with other battlefield and sustaining-base automated systems. It provides unit commanders and logistics managers an interface device to support CSS doctrine for full-spectrum operations. This capability supports geographically separated groups of users and the transfer of real-time information in both fixed and mobile operating environments.

CSS VSAT provides a highly effective, satellite communications-
based solution to CSS nodes, and supports information exchange up to the sensitive information level. The system is easy to use and transport, can be deployed rapidly anywhere in the world and is fully integrated into the Non-secure Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNet) segment of the Global Information Grid.

Both systems have concluded total package fielding. The need for the IMI materialized when it became clear that fielding would end and personnel would rotate out of the units, taking with them the knowledge they had gained in training. Incoming Soldiers needed this critical training for sustainment and to prepare for upcoming deployments, future conflicts and contingencies.


IMI provides virtual learning and simulation products that eliminate training gaps while reducing hands-on training time, creating a safe, realistic yet forgiving environment in which to exercise challenging scenarios and learn from mistakes. Thus operators can understand how their roles and functions fit into the mission scope.

communications enablers

Two CSS VSATs and a CAISI outside a 4th Infantry Division sustainment automation support management office at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, provide full-spectrum communication solutions. IMI training familiarizes students with the systems before they ever lay hands on them. (Photo by CW2 Daniela Davies)

The IMI for CAISI-CSS VSAT aims to support and sustain the skills of Army personnel using these systems so that they can perform their jobs to competence standards set forth by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).

PD DWTS used the U.S. Army Learning Model for 2015 (ALM 2015), TRADOC regulations, and Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) specifications from the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative to develop its IMI sustainment training package. ALM 2015 is a continuous adaptive learning model for the 21st-century Soldier, instilling competencies in a learner-centric environment.

“The future of IMI will become even more important with the U.S. Army transforming its training approach to focus on lifelong learning,” said Yolanda Moorhead, DWTS training, evaluation and documentation manager. The CAISI-CSS VSAT IMI marks a major shift from the classroom environment to the development and support of distributed learning, and its SCORM compliance means it can run on any personal computer or laptop via download from the CSS Communications website at­csscomms.aspx.

To remain competitive, the Army must use technology to engage and appeal to learners in the digital age while allowing seasoned professionals to strengthen their skills. PD DWTS is at the forefront of ALM 2015, preparing Soldiers to be technically and tactically proficient, and to think critically, make sound decisions, interact across cultures and adapt quickly to rapidly evolving situations.


The IMI for CAISI-CSS VSAT reflects a “tell me, show me, try it” interactive approach, adopting TRADOC’s “four modes of learning” methodology.

The four modes are:

Familiarize—Lessons serve primarily as a “push” of information from the system to the user. As the user proceeds through the training content, there is no way to fail a specific step. Progressing through familiar content provides very little interactivity between the simulation system and the user. In most cases, the user’s input is limited to clicking on a button in the user interface to proceed to the next step. This learning mode corresponds to the “tell me” phase.

Acquire—Lessons help the learner discover how to accomplish a task. This discovery can include a sequence of actions, interaction with objects, the use of tools required to perform such interaction, and any expected responses of objects or subjects. In these lessons, the simulation training user interface displays a sequence of steps that the user must perform successfully before continuing to the next step. Learners struggling with a specific step receive graduated feedback that becomes more specific with each failed attempt. This mode is designed to prevent the learner from skipping steps or performing them out of sequence.

Acquire lessons provide significantly more interactivity than familiarize lessons. In acquire mode, IMI content allows the user to interact with the 3D environment by navigating within the space; selecting and identifying objects or components; interacting with knobs, buttons and controls; observing object or component responsive behaviors; and receiving simulation system feedback. This learning mode incorporates all facets of the tell-me, show-me, try-it approach.

Basic Training

This screenshot illustrates a CAISI acquire lesson, instructing the user how to properly connect the radio frequency cable to the directional grid antenna. Acquire lessons incorporate all facets of the tell-me, show-me, try-it approach. (Image courtesy of TRADOC)

Practice—Lessons provide the learner with a means to test his or her performance. As with the acquire mode, practice lessons provide sequential steps that the learner must perform successfully and in the correct order to continue. However, during a practice lesson, the simulation system tracks unsuccessful attempts to perform each step. The system provides graduated feedback and contextual hints if a learner struggles with a specific step; these become more specific with each failed attempt. On the third failed attempt at an individual step, the step is marked as failed and the full text of the step is provided. The user must complete the step successfully to continue the training. Failure of any individual step in a lesson results in failure of the entire lesson. Upon completion of the practice lesson, an after-action review allows the learner to review his or her performance.

Practice lessons provide interactivity similar to that of lessons in the acquire mode, but require additional training logic such as contextual hints and pass/fail tracking. This learning mode integrates the tell-me and try-it approaches.

Validate—Lessons provide the learner with a virtual-reality task training experience. As with acquire and practice lessons, this mode requires the learner to perform steps successfully and in sequence. However, unlike with acquire and practice lessons, a learner struggling with an individual step receives no graduated feedback or hints. Upon the third unsuccessful attempt at an individual step, the step is considered failed, as is the lesson. No further information is provided to help the learner complete the step. If the learner cannot successfully complete a specific step, he or she is unable to continue the lesson. Typically, validation lessons are designed with a certain time allowance for completion. If the learner becomes stuck on a step and is unable to continue, the lesson will end with a time violation and will be considered as failed.

Validate lessons provide the most interactivity of the four learning modes, as well as the most complex training logic. This learning mode focuses primarily on the try-it approach.

Basic Training

ARMY LEARNING MODEL 2015 ALM 2015, a continuous adaptive learning model for the 21st-century Soldier and the basis of PD DWTS’ approach to developing IMI, illustrates desired objectives and activities. (SOURCE: TRADOC)


According to LTC Jeff Etienne, product director for DWTS, “the IMI is a 21st-century gaming gateway to sustainment training of the force on CSS VSAT and CAISI. It is the future portal of technology for sustainment training anywhere in the world, 24/7, 365.” Ideally, IMI will augment the Army’s “train the trainer” concept, providing continuity and reinforcing required skill sets for deploying and operating CAISI and CSS VSAT systems.

“From a software developer aspect, when creating the IMI and talking with Soldiers during the development process, there are not a lot of tools for the Soldier that can replace hands-on training,” said Joseph Tzoumis, DWTS instructor and fielder, who assisted in developing the IMI for CAISI-CSS VSAT. “But the IMI comes very close, as it provides the lesson content in an interactive virtual environment when they are deployed, just as if they were in the classroom.”

PD DWTS is matching the digital capabilities of CSS systems with gaming technology, using virtual reality simulations delivered over the Internet. Ideally, the training NCO will download the program within the unit and install it for use by incoming Soldiers. Upon completion, Soldiers can deploy and operate both systems in garrison exercises and in theater, executing the logistics mission of the Army deputy chief of staff, G-4.

For more information, contact the author at

Mr. Peter Nesby is the project lead for Combat Service Support Satellite Communications, under PD DWTS. He holds an M.S. in computer information systems from Strayer University and a B.S. in professional studies/computer technology from the University of Mary Washington. Before becoming a government civilian, he served in the Air Force and the Army. He is Level III certified in both program management and information technology, and is a member of the Army Acquisition Corps.

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