Learning to teach the ADF
6 Mar 2013|
ADFA Graduation Parade 2010

Critical to the success of any defence force—including the civilian agencies which support it—is the training and development that each person, individually and collectively, undergoes. Today the typical ADF member will pass through a number of courses during his or her career. Many of these courses will make internal sense and allow certain boxes to be ticked along career and professional pathways, and others appear to be conducted for the sole purpose of being seen to conduct training.

There seems, however, to be little symmetry or cohesion across the wide range of training activities which members of the ADF must undertake and the models around which these activities are framed. The result is a general view of military education as a process, rather than a quality outcome for the individual and the ADF—and a very real concern that members aren’t gaining a systematic and integrated body of knowledge which contributes to the mastery of their profession.

Over the past 20 years, training and education in the ADF has gone through a number of changes and attempted enhancements. Included in this has been the adoption of a vocational education and training (VET) system aligned with the national qualifications framework and various iterations of the traditional Systems Approach to Training (SAT).

Understanding the ‘systems’ approach means understanding also that all training and education—be it vocational, academic or professional development—is based around a very simple cycle: analyse the need, design and implement a strategy to meet the need, and evaluate whether or not the initial need was met. Effort was made in the late 1990s to create a common approach to this across the ADF with the Defence Training Model and it appears that a new attempt is being made to regenerate its importance (albeit from a learning perspective) with the emerging Defence Learning Model.

Of concern, however, is the apparent lack of emphasis placed on the analysis and evaluation phases of this cycle in each case. In particular is the failure to conduct any form of forensic analysis to determine what (if any) changes have been required to ADF training and education nor metrics implemented to measure the progress of the implementation of such changes or quality of outcome.

As a result, training in Defence now include several competing models which in application reveal a complicated (note: complicated, not complex) range of systems and processes. These systems and processes sometimes harmonise but more often conflict and contradict. As a result commanders and trainers across all services consume more resources and effort than at any other time in history trying to make sense of how they may best contribute to the professionalization and effectiveness of their members and what support is available to do so.

This esoteric aspect of Defence policy—at least from a public perspective—doesn’t get a lot of study. I was therefore pleased to see ASPI tackle the subject last year in their Special Report Educating for the profession of arms in Australia (Aug 2012).

The intent of this report must be applauded as it focuses on the need for professional military education. However, while this is an important topic, it’s only a small part of the overall approach to education for a military required to conduct operations in environments which are becoming increasingly complex and asymmetric. Moreover, while the analysis behind this report is spot on it only alludes to one very clear but consistently overlooked aspect of any training or education initiative—its purpose.

Between the lines of this report is the question of why the ADF trains and educates its members. In determining the answer to this question it becomes clear that unless a forensic analysis is conducted of the system as a whole and not just individual parts of it, the means of achieving this purpose will become increasingly complicated and the desired outcome more distant than ever.

Having been intimately involved in the design and conduct of training and education (including VET) in Defence for nearly 40 years, and having led research into how individual and collective capability when operating in complex and asymmetric environments can be more effectively achieved, it’s clear to me that the more complicated a training system, the less capable it is of achieving stable and controlled outcomes. Because creating a professional military and its supporting civilian agencies is such a complex affair, what is required to achieve this purpose is not more complication or training systems but a simple yet robust process which requires few guidelines, which result in a straightforward and effective means of application.

To achieve this a ‘strategic pause’ must be carried out during which a forensic evaluation is conducted to more rigorously analyse the lessons from current and past systems and identify what might be carried forward to meet future needs. Unless this occurs there’s a real possibility that the intent and critical need for a rigorous professional military education system will be lost. Given the continued strong support for strategic reform, such an evaluation might also produce fruit in other unexpected areas.

Phil Rutherford is an author and consultant on educational training. Image by Flickr user Department of Defence.