Distance Learning:

Opportunities Exist for DOD to Capitalize on Services' Efforts

NSIAD-98-63R: Published: Dec 18, 1997. Publicly Released: Dec 18, 1997.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) distance learning initiatives, focusing on the: (1) status of the services' efforts to integrate distance learning into their training plans and strategies; (2) funding issues related to distance learning; and (3) Office of the Secretary of Defense's (OSD) efforts to promote interservice efficiencies for distance learning.

GAO noted: (1) the services have begun incorporating distance learning technologies into their training activities; (2) OSD 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 10 years for such activities; (3) 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; (4) the plan establishes critical milestones and funding requirements for both active and reserve forces; (5) the other services' plans for distance learning are not as well developed; (6) all of the services plan to establish distance learning facilities and are evaluating software that analyzes the mediums and costs for converting traditional courses to distance learning; (7) however, none of the services have selected all of the courses that can be effectively taught through distance learning or determined that most cost-effective use of distance learning technologies; (8) GAO identified several funding issues that warranted consideration: (a) the services will need to initially commit a substantial investment for courseware conversion and communication infrastructure; (b) 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; (c) the services have not identified how distance learning will impact the current training infrastructure in terms of requirements for course instructors, developers, and equipment, among other things; and (d) the services have not determined how to budget for the long-term use of distance learning; (9) OSD has facilitated the coordination of the services' distance learning plans and activities by sponsoring working groups to facilitate the increased use of distance learning and publishing specifications and guidance for military training products; (10) OSD has not yet developed a departmentwide strategy to focus service efforts; (11) as a result, each of the services is pursuing its own distance learning strategy; (12) service officials noted that having a departmentwide strategy could help prevent inadequacies between the services; and (13) the December 1996 Institute for Defense Analysis study stated the position that a stronger OSD direction might help the services develop and implement distance learning plans in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.

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