Rebuilding the Schoolhouse: RAND Research into Making Army Training More Efficient and Effective

Competition for scarce resources — both dollars and soldiers — has driven the Army to explore ways to reduce the costs and infrastructure needed to conduct military education and training. For quite some time, RAND researchers in the Arroyo Center have been examining how to assist the Army with a tough challenge: as the Army undertakes various initiatives to restructure and modernize its individual training system, how can it improve performance and at the same time improve efficiency? The Arroyo Center’s analysis suggests that four strategies could help the Army achieve these goals:

  1. Integrate Active (AC) and Reserve Component (RC) training institutions. In the mid-1990s, the Army created the Total Army School System (TASS), which organized the United States into training regions. The AC trains soldiers at its own installations, and most RC members get advanced training and education in schools run by the Army Reserve or the National Guard. An Arroyo Center study used an optimization model, using maintenance occupations as an illustration, to demonstrate the potential for consolidating training institutions. Using this optimization model, researchers compared the following options: 1) the “nearest school” option would assign the student to the nearest school; 2) the “realign schools” option would allow schools to offer courses to soldiers of both components; and 3) the “consolidate schools” option considers the total number of schools needed to meet the entire training requirement in maintenance occupations, if students could attend the nearest school, based on local demand. All of these options would generate significant savings in travel costs and require soldiers to spend fewer days away from home, a particularly valuable result at a time when soldiers are facing more deployments.

  2. Expand the use of educational technologies in Army schools. Computer-based training and “TADSS” (training aids, devices, simulators, and simulations) offer promising options for restructuring. Consistent with other research in this general area, RAND found that well-designed interactive courseware can permit training to occur faster, cost less, and thus making this form of training more productive than equipment-intensive, hands-on training. An important issue in thinking about more extensive use of training technologies is the degree to which these technologies can substitute for hands-on equipment training without degrading proficiency: some skills require hands-on training. A RAND study addressed this concern and concluded that training effectiveness can be measured in a controlled experiment that compares hands-on and technology-assisted training. The results showed that training technologies can maintain proficiency while reducing the costs of equipment; however, a mix of hands-on and technology-assisted training is needed to ensure proficiency.

  3.       Leverage “flexible” distance learning technologies. The Army is expanding its use of “distance learning” (DL), which uses information technologies to deliver training at solders’ home stations or other sites away from the source of training. The efficiencies and benefits from the use of DL depend significantly on the specific techniques and methods used to deliver it. RAND research shows that some technologies, such as live videoteleconferencing, can actually cost more than traditional methods of instruction. In contrast, computer-based or Web-based training can provide greater flexibility at lower cost. DL could also alleviate enlisted personnel shortages by facilitating reclassification training and support cross-training among related specialties.

  4.       Increase the use of the private sector in Army training. Increasing the involvement of the private sector is another way to conserve scarce resources (e.g., military personnel). It may be possible to substitute at least some private sector resources for government or military resources in training development, training delivery, and training support, freeing scarce military manpower for other uses.

Good progress has been made already in consolidating and integrating AC and RC schools, in bringing more technology to the schoolhouse, and in moving towards distance learning programs. However, RAND research has shown that there is still much more that can be done to rebuild – and improve the efficiency and performance of – the Army schoolhouse.