Reflect on the last career course you participated in, and its duration. Mine was seven weeks long. Now consider what you could learn in that time period, if taken away from your life – your family, work, hobbies, distractions – in a dedicated block of learning, for eight hours a day. For me, in seven weeks I could have learnt the basics of a new language, learnt an instrument, learnt how to program machine learning, or completed two intensive study periods of a degree. To open this example further, on my course was a panel of roughly 60 officers. In seven weeks, you could have developed 60 personnel to become the Army’s future cyber capability. That is potent. Now consider the actual outcomes you achieved. Did you find it wanting? I believe we can be better, but I encourage you to disagree with me on this journey based on your own experiences.
The current problem
Army’s career courses are poor relative to the investment they require from their students. This is particularly disappointing given their importance in developing our command capability. It has been said that the Army is a learning organisation, yet I contend we are failing to effectively deliver on our most important training and disenfranchising large numbers of our maturing leadership. Poorly developing our soldiers and officers during critical career courses could have dire ramifications – including an inability to outperform our adversaries. And war is hardly known for being kind to those in second place. Daily, our training organisations and teachers are striving to do great work. Their professionalism is often second-to-none, and their desire to do the best they can for their students is admirable. Moreover, there are some excellent instances of forward-thinking, open, safe, and learner-centred training. The hands-on trade training at Army Logistic Training Centre, and the Combat Shooting methodology are but a few. But my experience on our ‘core’ career courses is enough to prompt me to believe that change is needed. These foundational courses provide the substance to our organisation’s leadership, tactical and technical skills. Therefore, we must continually ask ourselves ‘are we getting the best cost/benefit?’; are we getting better bang for our buck? I think not. We must challenge ourselves to be better.
The importance of investing in our instructors
The building blocks of an elite force could be a combination of three pillars – people, equipment and training. I’d argue our people are some of the best the military has ever employed, and our equipment is world-class, yet our career training leaves much to be desired. This is because the military fails its instructors by not suitably preparing them to teach. Given our instructors are responsible for shaping the minds and talent of the Army’s future – a less critical role there is likely not – such training is vital. Yet we do not select our instructors for suitability.
Given civilian teachers require at least one year of focused higher education to become qualified and must hold a tertiary education, can we honestly say we run suitable education for our instructors? Do they really understand how to be the best teachers they can be? My observation is the Army simply allocates instructors based on when it fits their career model and then expects them to be proficient at teaching. Despite the best-intentioned induction training for instructors, their preparation is hardly comparable to a professional teaching education. Further, the limited nature of such induction training almost mocks the importance of being prepared to teach, and the seriousness of the role. Would it then be surprising if Army’s instructors were not teaching effectively, in alignment with modern understanding of education and learning?
I was once an instructor and can honestly say that I did not completely understand, or was prepared, to teach. Hindsight is 20/20. Yet what saved me, and likely many others, is the experience we all bring to instructional roles that give us an intuitive feel for what is right and wrong in teaching. We apply our Fingerspitzengefühl with limited capability to critically think about our teaching, and our learners. We learn through osmosis; ‘monkey see, monkey do’. If you’ve been the beneficiary of excellent instructors, then it is likely you will succeed in mimicking at least some of their positive performance. Yet just because a degree of success can be (and has been) attained, does it make it optimal?
Such success is largely a bi-product of intuitive, reflexive or ‘systems 1’ thinking and not the result of deep, considered understanding on effective teaching. Systems 1 thinking results in attitudes akin to ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’, or ‘that’s how I did it’, which is anathema to change and improvement.
Some proposed Improvements
To begin to think deeper about our teaching, we must challenge every supposition we have about our training. How often are our career courses reviewed for relevancy to modern operations and tactics; or scientific practice for teaching and learning? When a Battalion Commanding Officer returns to teach on a career course and finds the same assessment they conducted over a decade ago as a student, I’d offer we are not doing our best. But what does ‘our best’ look like?
Many have studied this field which we can draw from. Ed Hess, a researcher and author, astutely identifies that the best learning organisations combine the right people, with the right environment, and the right processes. Each of these topics is worthy of their own book, but I’ll attempt to focus in on things the Army could do now to improve each of them. Firstly, and I believe most critically, we need to immediately instigate education and training for our teachers – i.e. we need to train our instructors to be teachers. This training must ensure instructors understand the science behind learning, teaching techniques, and student motivation and mindset. Such an improvement would be relatively simple, yet requires command driven coordination to achieve. I’d suggest the Royal Military College – Australia is a well-suited organisation to implement and oversee such change. Making this improvement will cascade across our career course curriculum, as our instructors use their education to improve our training.
Secondly, our training environments can be improved. Environments that facilitate the best learning should mitigate inhibitors; like fear of failure, stress, negative emotions, and ego defences. They should encourage learning through intrinsic motivation, and be learner-centric, forging an atmosphere of trust. Further, they should not punish learners for making learning mistakes or failures in non-assessment situations, so long as they learn from those mistakes or failures. The need for such change is being recognised slowly around the Army, the best example being Combat Shooting training which I have spoken about before. Yet there is still much work to be done. I propose the Systems Approach to Defence Learning (SADL) process could incorporate activities / steps to ensure effective learning environments are developed.
Further, our teachers should be instructed to understand what this looks like (and what it doesn’t look like). The body of work required to achieve this would be relatively straight forward. Much of it exists in current literature. It merely requires acknowledgement that this change needs to happen, and assign an appropriate organisation to implement it, perhaps starting at our initial training institutes like ARTC and RMC-D. Lastly, the right processes generally already exist within the military. The After Action Review is the most contemporary example that readers will be familiar with.
We simply need to reinforce the use of such tools, and their importance for critical thinking and activating ‘system 2’. If anything needs to change, it is ensuring we continually review the relevancy of what we are teaching to ensure we are consuming our student’s time for maximum benefit.
Once upon a time our Education Corps played a greater role in Army’s teaching. They understood (and still do) how to get the best results from their students and could apply modern teaching principles. Yet the Army has decided to reduce this capability, and we are left with our current system. Just like the expression ‘you go to war with the army you have’, we must learn to ‘teach with the instructors we have’. If we do not challenge ourselves to be better in delivering career training to our soldiers and officers, we are at risk of falling behind our adversaries; developing incompetence in areas vital for protecting lives and wasting the most precious resource to us all – time.
If we are to educate our instructors/trainers then we need to look at whether some degree of academic award can be attached and linked to higher educational institutions. By doing this it would then generate the need to 'educate' our instructors and as a result the students get a better experience and also recognised awards that can promote life long learning and increase employabilty when they leave the Service.
I to believe that the ADF needs to get the training right. When I was in the training for myself was IETs 3 mths then straight to a unit RAP, then a 7 week intensive Advanced medical cse. Then that was it. No more medical trg required. We learned from our seniors.
Even when I became an instructor (Sgt) we were told to stick to doctrine (1968), in 99 - 01. Of course taught best practices. The only other medical training we got was a bridge cse because there was a change in trg.
Corps trg has got better now, but 18 mths is to long.
The ADF should be recruiting from the civilian cse as direct entry on completion.
WRT trg get the Education corps to get back into Trg Dev Gp to review and fix the trg outcomes for all corps.
Reach out to your local army education centre.
1. 1 RTB teaches it’s staff how to ‘be instructors’ through a course calledthe RIDC. If quality control of teaching staff is identified as an issue, then DGTRADOC could simply require all Traning Centres to develop an equivalent instructor development course. An aspirational idea but one that requires resources, time and more importantly, a finding that there is currently a common deficiency in trainee capability at the end of training. Without an identified liability capability deficiency, additional train requirements are a ‘nice to have’
rather than a need.
2. Donald Rumsfeld indeed said ‘you go to war with the Army you have’ but you also go to war with the Army you can afford. The ADF handed back a monstrous amount of money last financial year, due to factors such as project delays etc. Until there is a bypass valve to reinvest unspent public monies into unfunded innovation programmes, Army will always have budgetary constraints due to limited operating costs.
3. There’s an old saying ‘Dont Fix it if it ain’t broke’. It wasn’t apparent to me in this article exactly what was broken in our training system. When I read about Army’s supposed limitations, I measure it against training methods in the civilian community. In many ways, similarities to ALTC and 1 RTB are more about ‘training’ than ‘education’, much like a TAFE instructor. Core career courses are designed to ‘educate’ junior officers. This is where networking, being exposed to diverse viewpoints and experiences are vital. In some cases this may not meet the expectations of a passionate, motivated, highly educated and dominant personalities, but that is the value to be treasured in these courses. Applying a training metric (ie proficiency to a language, instrument or machine learning) to courses where the end value is through exposure to all corps/joint service/departmental environments; development of morality and a wider aperture of organisational views is akin to ‘not seeing the wood for the trees.
4. In many cases, these core courses are promotion gateways. The above stated reasons are exactly what I and I would argue, senior officers, government and tax payers require of its leaders. That is a balanced reference point in which to make decisions, in which our Army has contributed by exposure to different views, environments and levels of awareness. Our organisation is only enhanced through a wider understanding. I don’t to work for, nor do I think Australia’s interests will be best served by ruthlessly efficient and effective leaders who have passed gateways designed to avoid the diversity of the organisation and how it’s people assimilate information. There is a marked difference between training and education as much as there is a difference between intelligence and wisdom. I would contend that becoming wise through the learned experiences of other’s misfortune is the greatest learning experience one could have.
5. Once again, good article and we should always seek to improve where we can through proffering ideas. Thank you Callum for the opportunity to allow me to express my view.
In addition to asking ourselves the question "do we select and prepare instructors to thrive in a modern training system", I would suggest we also need to ask ourselves "is every soldier or officer capable of being an instructor in an adaptive and agile training system" or more correctly “does the Army have the resources to invest in every soldier or officer to get the outcome it desires”. As you quite rightly point out, the professionals in this field invest far more time and effort in honing their skills.
The current (and long held) mantra within the Australian Army is that "every NCO is an Instructor". This may have been possible when we operated and therefore trained in a very regimented and linear manner ( i.e the best method to teach foot drill is a blueprint lesson, the requirement for foot drill in the current operating environment is questionable ). The ability for the Army to teach every NCO to be an instructor in this paradigm was sound. If we want people “who contribute to multi-disciplinary teams, enabling us to thrive in uncertainty, adapt to change and generate solution”; a key tenant of the CA “Accelerated Warfare”, we need to adapt some of our teaching methods for some of our training environments. This may mean that we can't and therefore shouldn't prepare all our soldiers and officers to take that journey.
The exciting thing for me is that we are asking ourselves these questions. The Australian Army is an organisation that has and will always aspire to achieve more than it is capable off. This is one of our strengths. I wouldn't want it any other way
P.S. Drill is not going anywhere soon.
The current model casts the instructor as an agency that delivers an instructional system. The system--too often shelfware and Powerpoint shows--is in the saddle, not the human up front. If you're designated an audiovisual technician and entertainer, you're handicapped from the start. Why invest in this process? It's like Abraham Lincoln's story about the farmer who was struggling to mount a fractious horse. The horse pranced and shied, and eventually got one hoof caught in one of its stirrups. "Well," said the farmer, "if you're getting on, I'm getting off." If the "instructional system" is in charge, what is the instructor? Wisdom is believed to be in the system.
Eventually I just substituted "teacher" for "instructor" and required the teachers to get back on the horse and take charge. This was easier at West Point, as the P's were selected and self-motivated and had at least MA/MS level competence. Out in the williwags, where (as the writer points out) instructors are often selected for obscure reasons, the subject matter knowledge and teaching skills are often afterthoughts.
As everyone in Army’s ab initio alma mater, RMC-A obviously holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Army personnel. In addition to our initial training, we also cycle in and out of the formation as trainees and instructors throughout our careers on courses that are critical to generating the fundamental all-corps skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours required for the whole of Army. So we certainly understand and agree with you regarding the criticality of excellence in instructional design and delivery.
At present, although all of the Training Centres are well manned relative to our establishment and compared with other formations, we are lean in terms of capacity to modernise training. Because of this, the workforce is almost fully occupied in the actual delivery of training and somewhat frustrated with the knowledge that although there have been some significant developments in the instructional space, we are somewhat hampered by infrastructure (particularly within ICT) and manning constraints. Despite this, some of the key areas that we are actively working towards improvements in include:
-Flexible, responsive training techniques
-Better ICT (including BYOD options, use of educational apps, simulation and experimentation)
-Integration more collaboration activities within normal course structures (eg more syndicate work)
-Automated training management systems.
In addition to these broader initiatives, the Army Education Centre (AEC) which has been stood up in January 2019, will also have an important role to play in providing mentoring and expertise in this space.
Nevertheless, let’s not fall into the trap of being overly self-critical. Army remains extremely effective as an organisation that trainings and develops its people. We invest substantial time, resources and intellectual effort into training our people, and it shows.
RMC-A will continue to form a key role in providing trained personnel for an Army in Motion and, as such, will continue to actively look for opportunities to improve our instructional methods and design. COMDT RMC-A and DG TRADOC are both keen to pursue this space as an acknowledged imperative and we look forward to further engagement with the Cove audience for future work.
- We are working hard through a number of initiatives to modernise our training. You might be familiar with the Decisive Action Training Environment (DATE), some of the blended learning initiatives our Training Centres have implemented & the work we’ve done to modernise our doctrine so that we’re start our learning and education from a common point. Good people work extremely hard on these initiatives - but I agree they don’t go to the heart of the issue you raised.
- We had a good look at our instructor development last year - RSM 2 Cav was a welcome addition to that review from 3 Brigade. This review asked - “What do we need to give our instructors if we expect them to be teachers, mentors, coaches, counselors and standard bearers? RSM TRADOC will lead a multi-faceted team this year to look at our instructor development across Army and see what some short, medium and longer term improvements might be. Stay in touch with him.
- Most importantly, we’re seeing some great insights into the art of the possible in 21st Century Traning through the improvements we’re making through our Land Range Safety Course trials. The trial we’ve run so far better harnesses technology, includes ‘access anywhere’, high-quality learning material our people can access on mobile devices and enables people to learn more effectively in home locations at the point of applying their knowledge. There’s growing interest in a ‘Training Transformation’ project to be established in a future IIP to fund these approaches to teaching, training, coaching and mentoring more broadly. It’s exciting - and I think there’s a growing recognition across Army that we need this compreheive approach to modernise our training. We owe our instructors nothing less.
Thanks again for sharing these thoughts Callum - give me a call anytime if you’d like to discuss in more detail.