Blended Learning, Digital Natives and the Effective Application of Learning Technologies in Army

By Malcolm Woodside August 30, 2019

The culture shift accompanying the unfolding tsunami of Generation Z and Digital Natives imposes immense strain on extant education and training systems. Generation Z (Gen Z) are those learners born from the late 1990s to mid-2010s. Within Gen Z are Digital Natives. Computerised technology has always surrounded Digital Natives; ‘digital’ is a native language for them. Their minds function differently. They are accustomed to rapid task switching (sometimes mislabelled as ‘multitasking’), they have shorter attention spans, and subsequently they are at a higher risk of displaying a reduced depth of learning. Research found that Gen Z’s ‘verbal skills, expressions, confidence, and other personal skills may falter due to their reliance on technologically-based communication’. Many in Gen Z suffer from FOMO (the fear of missing out). They feel the need to be always connected, not just via social media, but often through the Digital Native’s first resort for knowledge: the internet. The sense of FOMO can impact a Digital Native’s performance and relationship with others. This calls for effective learning strategies to aid development of relevant attributes - behaviours, attitudes, skills and knowledge (BASK).

Digital Natives are the generation who are now just entering the workforce and graduating from university. They also represent a growing proportion of Army’s young recruits. Blended Learning is the application of a combination of delivery modes and/or methods that meaningfully support the learning process. Many learners already conduct learning outside of the standard 0730 to 1600 military work day. Well designed and implemented Blended Learning facilitates learning for people of all ages, including Digital Natives with their widening dynamic learner profiles.

Teaching and learning outcomes are not improved by including new educational technologies alone. Improved learning outcomes are achieved by eliciting appropriate cognitive processes in the learner. This requires effective design of instructional materials. It includes the application of the most appropriate instructional design processes, represented by instructional design models and relevant learning strategies, theories, approaches, methods and tools, experienced through learning. Exemplary 21st Century Army instructors need to expand their BASK to be able to select and apply relevant learning strategies, develop learning material using 21st Century equipment and applications, and understand their learners better in order to better implement learning.

Army implements much of its learning through Competency Based Training (CBT). CBT generally applies behaviourism. In CBT, regardless of how the learning was acquired, provided the learners adequately display the required attributes (BASK) they are considered competent. Behaviourism is an effective approach for learning lower order thinking skills. However, higher order thinking (HOT) skills (conceptual, integrated, and decision-making) requires the application of a cognitive development strategy—insignificant in behaviourism. Army increasingly implements HOT skills within Army’s developing complex Blended Learning environment. In general, higher order thinking skills involves solving tasks where an algorithm has not been taught or using known algorithms while working in unfamiliar contexts or situations’. Different people, at different stages of their cognitive development, learn at different paces.

Regardless of what is to be learned, it has to be presented in packets suitable for each individual learner. Cognitive load theory posits that for effective learning, information must be held in the working memory until it has been processed sufficiently to transfer into long-term memory. Since the capacity of working memory is limited, when too much information is presented to learners at once, it overwhelms them and in consequence much of that information may be quickly forgotten or lost. Cognitive load theory thus argues that for individuals to retain learning, their cognitive architecture and the learning environment created by the instructor must be aligned. Effective learning environments are increasingly complex.

Digital Natives prefer a combination of online communication (eg social media) and face-to-face communication. Social media has a role to play in Blended Learning to provide frank question and answer forums. Social media learning is informal; if using social media to convey learning, the learners need to be specifically informed that learning is expected, and the effective application requires consistent interaction by the instructor. Evidence indicates that learning environments which provide individual and social learning processes are likely to be more conducive for learning. ADELE (the Australian Defence Education Learning Environment) provides the option for course specific forums embedded in the respective courses. In addition, Army learners have access to three forums: The Cove, the Forge and ForceNet. Every course should consider including a social media presence for learners. Army’s three existing social media options, noted above, may need to adapt to better suit learners.

The Army learning environment needs to continue to adapt to accommodate Digital Natives effectively. To do this it needs to provide a broad range of learning alternatives suitable for all learners. Key to this is expanding the essential behaviours, attitudes, skills and knowledge of 21st Century Army instructors to more effective implement learning in Army’s developing complex Blended Learning environment.

The full paper can be found below:

PDF icon Blended Learning, Digital Natives and the Effective Application of Learning Technologies in Army




Malcolm Woodside

Captain Malcolm Woodside is the Staff Officer Grade 3 Training Development in the Communication, Education and Learning Technologies Section of the Trades and Training Branch, Headquarters, Army Aviation Training Centre, Oakey. Their small team develops and produces a wide range of Blended Learning materials for Training Transformation of aviation courses. He is an Education Officer in the Royal Australian Army Educational Corps, and he has filled a range of instructor and training system positions. Since joining Army in 1996, Captain Woodside has completed four degrees and three diplomas. In that time, his wife, now of over thirty-three years, completed the Doctor of Philosophy degree. They have five adult children and four grandchildren together. Captain Woodside volunteers at a local council's English conversation classes for new Australians (suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions). He also enjoys spending time with his family, as well as reading, walking and gardening.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


Hi. I enjoyed your paper and while agreeing with most points would respectfully point out that competency-based training, whilst often labelled 'behaviourist', can, and when applied correctly, does include cognitive aspects of behaviour. It all comes back to the definition of 'competence' or 'competency'. Unfortunately Defence, like many within the civilian domain, continues to incorrectly apply definitions that were developed by the National Training Board back in the 1990s (and where, for many years, I was employed) and have never gone out of applicability. As an aside, it was also during the 1990s that Army had what was widely agreed as the best training system in the world. It was referred to in international journals and widely emulated in both military and civilian training systems. But, a failure to correctly apply the  definitions means that competence continues to be a value much desired but often not fully identified, inadequately described, and therefore no longer achieved during CBT programs. Regards

Current Army leaders appreciate the enormous and overwhelming advances in education, training and supportive technology, and the changing people who increasingly make up our ranks. The ADF spends more time preparing for combat than it does involved in combat. We are predominantly an education and training organisation that occasionally goes into combat and not vice versa. A well educated and trained ADF is an essential deterrent needed to avoid combat. No matter what we are doing now, I am confident there likely is a better way. We are obliged to look for it, as a matter of professionalism, and ultimately for national security.

I would like to pick your brain if you've been involved with Army Training for that period of time!  I don't think the article necessarily points to behaviourism's importance in isolation from cognitivism per se, although...certainly within Army Aviation there is definitely a significant amount of behaviourism (that context might explain the emphasis). A lot to unpack in this article...well done Malcolm. PS; I suppose I can forgive the mention of 'VARK'! :)

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