As educators we are involved in the design, development and delivery of learning material. While we often look to empirical research to provide us with tested ways to improve our methodologies, there are larger scale ideas that underpin the education and training system itself. These ideas form an educational philosophy, a framework to explain ‘why’ we do things the way we do. It transcends the mere idea of transmitting knowledge and skills to learners and gets to the deeper meaning behind the education and training – its nature, aims and problems. An educational philosophy will relate to fields such as epistemology (how human knowledge works), psychology, sociology, anthropology, and other academic disciplines. But further than this, it expresses the ‘deepest’ convictions that we hold, such as our values, identity, and purpose.

Articulating an educational philosophy enables every aspect of an education and training system to align with the deeper reasons for doing things, ensuring that the intention is actually achieved. It guides the:

  • purpose for education and training, beyond just outcomes
  • curriculum, what is included and excluded
  • roles and responsibilities of learners
  • roles and responsibilities of the teacher/instructor
  • methods of learning.

It seems like a good idea to try to articulate a fitting educational philosophy for Army, in order to guide our consistency as we continue to work on training transformation.

In this article, we take the opportunity to outline where we feel Army’s educational philosophy lies and our reasons behind this. It is important to note that we see ourselves as supporting and working with some excellent previously released documentation (importantly, ADF Learning Doctrine 3rd Ed. 2021). Our aim is to supplement this material by further articulating its philosophical underpinning, much as the ADF Ethics Doctrine 2021 document does for ADF values and behaviours.

There are several theories of educational philosophy [1], much like there are different theories of moral philosophy (as outlined in the abovementioned doctrinal document). While each theory attempts to be comprehensive, it seems to us that none of the educational philosophies discussed in the literature are sufficient on their own.

Below, we discuss some educational philosophies from academic literature that, to different extents, align with Army’s values, identity, purpose, and practices. We then seek to draw from these materials a coherent educational philosophy that is distinctly suited to Army.

What educational philosophies largely align with Army?

Liberalism – A multidisciplinary approach, holding that education ought to give individuals a broad knowledge and transferable skills as well as a stronger sense of values, ethics and civic engagement [2]. This philosophy seems to be reflected in the way that we engage in recruit training at Kapooka and cadet training at RMC, as well as SUB1 courses delivered to all corps. These courses try to instil Defence values, traditions, skills, and knowledge in a communal setting. The philosophy of educational Liberalism aligns with Army, because we hold to human interdependence, the transferability of skills, and the interconnectedness of knowledge across domains.

Humanism – An educational philosophy that sees the learner as inherently ‘good’ and where education should teach the ‘whole’ person, who can take ownership of their learning. This approach engages social skills, feelings, intellect, artistic skills, practical skills and more; while self-esteem, goals and full autonomy are key learning elements in this theory. There are five principles: learning should be self-directed; education systems should produce learners who want and know how to learn; the only form of meaningful evaluation is self-evaluation; feelings, as well as knowledge, are important in the learning process; and learners learn best in a non-threatening environment [3]. With training transformation well underway, it is not hard to see that Army’s current direction is evocative of this philosophy. The gateway module on Cove+ titled Reflective Practice is a means of learning self-evaluation. The changes in instructional methodology from instructor-led to student-centred, facilitated by the Military Instructor Course, lends itself to a non-threatening learning environment. This theory therefore largely aligns to Army because we acknowledge humans to possess agency, to be accountable for their application of rationality and creativity, and to be able to take ownership of their learning.

Essentialism – A philosophy that advocates training the mind with core intellectual disciplines, which learners can then apply in new contexts. Educators provide a series of progressively difficult topics to promote learners to the next level or grade. Subjects are focused on the historical context of the material world and culture and learners move sequentially through materials. The goal is to instil trainees with the ‘essentials’ of knowledge, culture and character development through traditional approaches to promote reasoning, to train the mind and to promote a common culture [4]. Again, recruit training seems to be a prime example of this theory in action, as instructors provide progressive training in core areas of theory and practice while developing character traits of a good soldier. This theory therefore aligns with Army in the sense that we hold that certain core truths, values, and traditions are worth conserving and will equip ADF members to apply their knowledge and skills in adaptive ways as they enter changing contexts.

What educational philosophies partially align with Army?

Behaviourism – An approach which insists learning occurs through a rewards/punishments system where learning can be observed (behaviours) [5]. It has the idea that the learner can be ‘trained’ into changing behaviours; by providing certain stimuli we will get certain responses. According to this educational philosophy, learners are able to learn anything so long as they receive the right rewards and/or punishments. Essentially, they are ‘blank slates’. At its worst, this theory seems to diminish human agency, creativity and interdependence. It falls short of accepting the complexity of cognition and recognising that learning is a social process. It also fails to promote critical thinking. Having said this, it seems undeniable that some important skills are indeed learned by mimicking the behaviour of peers or an instructor (or parents), with the promise of rewards or punishments. Indeed, this can be seen in the lines at Kapooka or Duntroon, and in basic drills. It seems, then, that this theory partially aligns with Army.

What educational philosophies do not align with Army?

Social Reconstructivist/radical – An approach based on the theory that society can be reconstructed through the complete control of education. Under this approach learners choose their own learning objectives and priorities and then make plans to enact the change. Social reconstructivists reason that because all leaders are the product of schools, schools should provide a curriculum that fosters their development as agents of societal change [6]. At its most extreme, this theory seems to be out of step with a learning system that holds to the development of uniform values and core skills, under the direction of the government of the day.

Our educational philosophy

Is it possible to draw from the materials above in articulating a coherent singular educational philosophy for Army? It will be useful, firstly, to crystallise the most important elements that have arisen above…

  • With Liberalism, Army affirms the need for communally-developed broad knowledge and transferable skills. We are a small army and are required to know and understand information and skills, both in terms of general soldiering and within our ECN trades. We expect our members to be able to apply their learning to a range of current technologies, as well as being prepared for technologies that have not yet arisen. We seek to equip an Army in Motion.
  • With Behaviourism, Army acknowledges that some learning is best done by imitating others, and that rewards can be a source of motivation. We have avenues of punishment (DFDA) and rewards of various scales (commendations, student of merit, unit level awards) and these all impact upon an individual’s motivation and self-concept, which therefore affect their learning and education. Our efforts in developing uniform behaviour result in a workforce that is ready now.
  • With Humanism, Army affirms that learners should have the capacity to engage in self- (and socially-) constructed learning, self-evaluation and development of the ‘whole’ person. The contract with Australia, that we as soldiers sign up to, emphasises both mental and physical toughness; and we engage psychologists and chaplains to provide training in empathy and emotional intelligence. We are undergoing a training transformation because Army acknowledges the importance of educating the whole person to be future ready.
  • With Essentialism, Army is committed to the development of knowledge, culture and character as essential bedrocks of military life. We believe in training the mind to think critically about the truth and to solve problems, while remaining anchored in the traditions we value – to give our members an intellectual edge.

What name might we give to a philosophy of education that emphasises the need for the dynamic components of communality, transferability, and humanity, alongside the anchoring components of tradition, imitation, and essential truths? Perhaps Dynamic Essentialism would capture it.