Prior to joining the army, I was a department dean at an international university for several years. Having joined the army six months ago, it seems timely to put down some first impressions of Army’s education and training from the perspective of a newcomer.
First, it’s worth saying that I’m thrilled to be a part of Army’s training transformation. Army’s very deliberate revision of its education and training since the 2016 Ryan Review is both impressive and a factor that convinced me to join up. I think the idea of developing an intellectual edge is exactly the right move for our strategic environment. Having now participated in Military Instructor Courses in various locations, I’ve been able to see this happening in practice as instructors move towards the sort of educational approaches that foster creative, collaborative and critical thinking. The university I was working at was also trying to move lecturers in this direction, but Army’s approach seems to me to be better coordinated and more thoroughgoing.
But what can Army learn from academia? Army is so much bigger and more spread out than a university, so it would be presumptuous to think that education could or should be the same in the two settings. But I want to draw attention to one feature of my previous educational setting, simply as food for thought: values integration. Let me paint a picture of what this looked like in my university setting before wondering out loud about whether there could be useful applications to Army.
The university that I was at wanted to create scholars, leaders, and citizens who were shaped by a common set of values. This central vision shaped the whole approach to education at every level. Among university leaders, we asked ourselves, ‘What must we do to create scholars, leaders, and citizens who are shaped by these values? What must we introduce? What must we eliminate? How does every element (curricular and non-curricular) contribute to that outcome?’ With that in mind, we created mandatory courses on our values – but this wasn’t enough. We also asked every course coordinator to demonstrate how their Learning Management Plans (LMPs) were fostering the development of scholars, leaders, and citizens who were shaped by these values. For example, the coordinator of a course on cellular biology had to identify the content and classroom practices by which they were nurturing ‘scholarship’ or ‘leadership’ or ‘citizenship’, as well as fostering our common values. Not every course had to equally foster every element – but across our whole programme, we wanted to ensure that our vision really was shaping our educational practice.
In the ADF, we have shared values (service, courage, respect, integrity, excellence), as well as expected behaviours (act with purpose for Defence and the nation; be adaptable, innovative and agile; collaborate and be team focused; be accountable and trustworthy; reflect, learn and improve; be inclusive and value others). Some of these can be associated pretty closely with mandatory courses (e.g. the annual course on workplace behaviour). But would it help us to achieve our vision of a workforce that exhibits these values and behaviours if we saw them further integrated throughout all courses and training activities? Not every course would need to demonstrate that it fosters every behaviour. But identifying the values or behaviours that are relevant for each of our education and training activities would enable us to determine what is lacking, as well as provide opportunities for enhancement. For example, if it were a requirement that LMPs identify the ways in which content or teaching practices were fostering our values and behaviours, it might prompt course designers and instructors to ask, ‘How could I bring teamwork into this task?’ or ‘How can I increase opportunities for reflection in this activity?’.
In the university setting, some lecturers expressed reservations: ‘My job is to teach cellular biology, not all that other stuff!’ But this just required a gradual change of mindset: ‘My job is to contribute to the creation of scholars, leaders, and citizens, shaped by common values. I do that by teaching cellular biology in a way that fosters these values’. It’s not hard to imagine a parallel in the ADF. Rather than ‘My job is to teach truck maintenance', it might be useful to move towards ‘My job is to prepare soldiers to win the next war, by teaching truck maintenance in a way that fosters our values and behaviours’.