Web-Based Education, Training, and Decision SupportRoger D. Smith
1 Traditional Education
The prevalence of the World Wide Web with its access to most office buildings and desktop computers is a huge asset to the education and training field. Specific application of the Web can be made to skills training in any organization and military organizations are in a position to benefit greatly from Web-Based applications that support training and education.
The traditional classroom is a conveyor of static information in a localized and isolated environment. This can be readily transformed into a Web-Based training environment in which the material is available via computers and the Web rather than textbooks and instructors. This change of venue frees the student from the necessity of physical collocation with the instructor and other students. It opens a door to the huge potential of providing more training at lower costs for more students. Under this new distributed model the student may attend courses from their home or office and fit the education events into their work day, rather than committing large periods away from their jobs. Even though web-based training may never totally replace classroom training, it is a very powerful and cost-effective means of augmenting and enhancing the learning experiences already available.
2 The Web-Based Classroom
Some Web-Based Training requires the creation of simulation models to stimulate the students who are learning the material. These Web-Based Simulations generate a dynamic situation and synthetic environment in which the students must interact with other participants and computer generated opponents to accomplish a stated objective. A course in battle command can be offered through web-based simulation, combat scenarios, and a distributed student base around the globe.
Today’s combat simulations typically require special computers and software packages, as well as large numbers of instructors and controllers to operate the system. However, we can envision a system in which the Web provides a set of software and documentation that can be downloaded by students, installed on a variety of computer platforms, and executed independently of large control staff. Multiple students can collaborate in the combat environment and statistics on their performance can be collected and viewed at the conclusion of the training event.
If this sounds too simple to support military training, the reader should explore the on-line gaming community in which this model of "training" is happening right now on a global scale with hundreds of thousands of participants. Though the training simulation community is reluctant to compare itself to the computer gaming business, there are many parallels. Unfortunately, it is also true that the gaming community is a pioneer of technologies for applying the Internet and the Web to simulation events that are very similar to training events sponsored by national military organizations.
3 The Web-Based Combat Simulation
It is easy to imagine military classroom training converted into a dynamic, web-based, simulation environment in which students participate from their personal quarters and office areas. A course server computer could contain a simulation program and scenario to which the students subscribe and identify themselves as representatives of specific entities in the scenario. The server computer would identify the relationships between the registered participants and distribute their web addresses to enable direct student-to-student communication. The server is thus relieved of the responsibility of brokering all communications. The course server, or a network or servers, would then be free to operate the automated synthetic forces in the scenario to interact with the students under training.
One can easily imagine a Web Browser interface that allows students or instructors to construct battle scenarios, define objectives, schedule and announce training events, monitor event registrations, interactively control and direct combat activities, and conduct analysis of data captured during the event.
This system is a variation and application of Internet gaming technologies that are already fielded and operational. The technology to develop such a training system is not lacking. We simply need to expand our thinking beyond the traditional classroom and specialized combat simulation systems to realize that the entire world is now a networked computer that can be used to support all forms of communication, education, training, and evaluation.
4 The Web-Based Battlefield
The proposed Web-Based Simulations need not rely solely on web browsers for their implementation. The world’s military forces are becoming more and more automated and computerized. Interfaces can be developed to allow these native combat computers to serve as the training devices communicating with the simulations.
Once this is accomplished, it is a short step to realize that good combat simulations can be hosted inside combat computers and fielded with the soldiers going to war. These simulations can be configured, loaded, and managed remotely by technicians, but remain available to support concept exploration and decision support for commanders in real-world situations. This would allow the commander to explore various options faster-than-real-time on his combat computer. The advantages of one course of action over another can be seen and the best selected for implementation. Of course, the commander’s reliance on the simulation must be mitigated by the accuracy of the system, and the availability of accurate combat and scenario data.
5 The Web-Based Future
The computerized, networked, web enabled classroom, training exercise, and battlefield are the reality of the near future. Applying simulations to support education and decision making puts these tools to use in ways that have been impractical until now. Web-Based Simulations are the technology that adds value to the computer hardware and interconnection software that will be available to future soldiers. They allow us to create dynamic interactive classrooms, expand military exercises beyond current limitations, and provide custom-made decision support to real combat operations.
Distributed military simulation has been a topic of great interest for the last decade. In the future, we need to focus on distributing the capabilities of simulation to the warfighters, empowering them to learn in real time and promoting better command decisions when these are a matter of life and death.
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Fishwick, Paul A.; Hill, David R. C.; Smith, Roger D. 1998. Proceedings of the 1998 International Conference on Web-Based Modeling and Simulation. San Diego, California.
Smith, Roger D. 1994. Proceedings of the 1994 Electronic Conference on Constructive Training Simulation. http://www.scs.org/confernc/elecsim.