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Aptima Develops Cultural Awareness Training

Aptima Develops Cultural Awareness Training

Aptima Develops Cultural Awareness Training for Marine Corps Operations

Computer-based CAMO to Help Marines Navigate Foreign Cultures

Woburn, MA, May 20, 2013 – A newly built well near a village may be seen as a source of clean water, but not as a sign of good will. Its location, closer to one ethnic group, alienates the other. The livelihood of those who carried water to the village has evaporated.

For Marines, such cultural considerations must be weighed every day in their interactions. Building positive relationships with local populations is fundamental to counter-insurgency and other operations.  But how can Marines, particularly those who’ve never been abroad, be quickly trained to decipher and understand foreign cultures – to make the right decisions while avoiding the wrong ones?

To address that challenge, Aptima, which applies expertise in how humans think, learn and behave, is developing CAMO, the Cultural Awareness for Military Operations (CAMO) system. CAMO is computer-based, interactive training software that prepares Marines to understand and engage with the cultures they’re suddenly immersed in, no matter where they’re deployed. Under development for the Office of Naval Research, CAMO is being designed to better train Marines to successfully navigate the human terrain in their diverse operations around the world, from peacekeeping to disaster relief.

“Marines are finding themselves in a wider range of missions, where they’re often exposed to more than one culture in a single deployment. Many of these non-combat-related missions bring them into direct contact with locals,” said Alexander Walker, Ph.D., Aptima’s Principal Investigator for CAMO. “To expect Marines to swim in those waters, so to speak, and operate in very different socio-cultural settings requires complex reasoning skills, and the ability to recognize and apply principles, rather than narrowly defined rules or procedures.”

CAMO is designed to augment the Marine Corps’ classroom-based instruction in Operational Culture: General, and is currently in the process of undergoing an evaluation that will compare its effectiveness to that classroom instruction.

The software, based on the latest in scientific learning theory, facilitates deep understanding of principles and their application in real world situations.

A departure from traditional lecture-based instruction, CAMO’s interactive format encourages trainees to explore the subject matter, engage in deliberate problem-solving scenarios, and benefit from the rationale of expert feedback during exercises.  “The goal of building cultural fluency isn’t to prescribe a specific action for every situation, but to learn how to understand the environment you’re in and the questions to ask…from how to identify the power structure and dominant group, whether tribal or ethnic, to the underlying economic, belief, and other systems,” said Sterling Wiggins, a member of Aptima’s CAMO team.

CAMO’s curriculum aligns with the six content areas developed for general cultural training by the Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning:  applying Operational Culture; non-verbal communication; communicating with an interpreter; using tactical language; interacting with a foreign population; and, recognizing culture.

CAMO uses case-study based scenarios anchored in relevant and realistic situations.  Marines are presented with several problem scenarios that appear different on the surface, but that share a common principle. For example, where to locate a military exercise that’s caused past hostilities is juxtaposed against where to rebuild a demolished school.  CAMO uses a combination of compelling images, mouse-overs and text reveals, providing realism and engagement without the expense of fully immersive gaming or simulation.