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Enhancing Junior Leader Education Through Distributed Short Courses

April 7th, 2017 by Nicholas Waugh and John Shipp

BLUF. The Australian Army’s education of junior leaders is heavily focused on general outcomes, rarely fostering an environment that compels us to use our cognitive, analytical and intellectual abilities. The Australian Army should establish a series of short courses for junior leaders to enhance Professional Military Education (PME) using a distributed, networked and virtual delivery method integrated with other facets of junior leader development.  These courses should be aligned to the pillars of professional mastery from the 2016 Ryan Review. Here is our proposed MOOC List


At last year’s DEF Aus conference, we presented a very simple proposal: that the Australian Army create a system of online Professional Military Education short courses to be hosted on an unrestricted portal, and that incentives be used to encourage participation in these courses. We appreciated the opportunity to present this idea to the DEF Aus community. The feedback we received has made us determined to continue pushing, while taking on board many legitimate criticisms kindly offered by our colleagues.

One recommendation we received is that the first place to look for online PME short courses should be existing content. So we’ve trawled the web’s major MOOC providers and developed a list of high-quality off-the-shelf military MOOCs for your professional pleasure, which we’ve stored on The Cove (the Australian Army’s new development network). The list is organised to reflect the pillars of professional mastery identified by the Ryan Review 2016.

These courses are offered as a ‘stopgap’ to fill a need in our processes of professional mastery. But more needs to be done. At present, the first time junior leaders conduct formal education following graduation from the Royal Military College – Duntroon (RMC-D) or Kapooka is on All Corps Captains Course or Subject One for Corporal, respectively. Within those first two to three years post graduation or between formal promotion courses there is a prime opportunity for Army to conduct formalised, continuous education and development of its junior leaders.

Currently this opportunity is being missed and is not sufficiently covered in residential all-corps courses for junior leaders. Although learning through correspondence portals exists (mainly through CAMPUS on the Defence Restricted Network), content is presented in a manner where minimal input is required from the individual, focusing on competency-based learning rather than broadening an individual’s overall development and thinking.


As discussed in our previous article, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) provide one model in which the Australian Army could enhance professional mastery and capacity for innovation through the provision of online short courses designed to have maximum accessibility. MOOCs can serve as a model for continuous education and training for junior leaders offering a flexible and scalable format. Knowledge gained during residential courses could be reinforced, even augmented, during the years in between formal residential courses.

MOOCs have the added benefit of nesting with the Chief of Army’s vision for PME: “I want it distributed, I want it networked, I want it virtual. I want it working in ways that no matter where our people are, learning is occurring. We need to build this resource online. We need to make it accessible and we need to design it around Army’s professional development priorities.”

MOOCs could offer the following four benefits to junior leader development:

  1. Maintaining professional education following ab initio training by offering short courses covering material first encountered at training establishments.
  2. Maintaining professional education between promotion courses and preparing for subsequent promotion courses.
  3. Disseminating new or substantially changed foundation doctrine.
  4. Reinforcing strategic priorities for professional development, as set out in the Chief of Army’s professional development priorities.
  5. Develop a culture of professional curiosity that drives continuous learning.


There are already hundreds of MOOCs available online, many from notable tertiary institutions such as Yale, Stanford, University of London and University of New South Wales, to name a few. We propose that Army-developed, MOOC-like courses could be made available through an open-source internet portal such as The Cove or via an established MOOC provider such as Futurelearn or EdX. MOOCs would not replace current unit or higher level PME, but rather augment an individual’s development. These courses should not be mandatory, however an incentive system is recommended to encourage motivated individuals to undertake a wider array of PME. For example, Performance Appraisal Reporting could include a section for professional courses completed by the member.

In his recent article ‘Mastering the Profession of Arms, Part III’, Brigadier Ryan outlined the components of professional mastery. The following components are suitable areas for online learning (at least in part):

  1. Tactical and technical mastery.
  2. Psychology and cognition.
  3. Military history and organisational theory.
  4. Leadership and ethics.
  5. Strategic thinking.

Apart from the first component, the other four areas benefit from MOOCs that are already available on the internet, even if these are not as targeted as internally produced courses would be. We envision that the first component, tactical and technical mastery, be the initial focus for short courses developed by TRADOC and hosted on the Cove.

This is a prime opportunity to immerse junior leaders with new concepts and doctrine, wherever declassification allows. To provide an example of what MOOCs a junior leader could conduct between graduation from RMC-D and Kapooka, the below courses were selected from existing offerings:

  1. Learning How to Learn: University of California. 1 week; 9 hours (corresponding with the Psychology and Cognition pillar)
  2. World War 1 – Lessons and Legacy: University of New South Wales. 6 weeks; 3 hours/week (Military History and Organisational Leadership)
  3. Military Ethics: An Introduction: University of New South Wales. 7 Weeks; 3 hours/week (Leadership and Ethics)
  4. Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Georgetown University. 3 sessions; 8-10 hours/session (Strategic Thinking)

A move to distance education through unrestricted online portals would provide resources for junior leaders to conduct learning in an environment similar to that provided by tertiary institutions, enhancing the development of creative and critical thinking.

Now that we have compiled a list of existing MOOCs that can contribute to Brigadier Ryan’s  components of professional mastery, we are turning our attention to what courses TRADOC itself could develop.

We welcome your feedback and ideas on this project. Check out the list here. 

About the authors

Nicholas Waugh is a junior officer in the 4th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery.

John Shipp is a junior officer in the 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment.

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1 Comment on "Enhancing Junior Leader Education Through Distributed Short Courses"

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Chris Bulow
Firstly, well done on the original pitch and follow up post, the concept has huge potential. My thoughts on the topic though (for what it’s worth) are as follows: 1. Be careful with incentivising it, if your desired end state is to maximise participation in the MOOC’s then incentives (such as linking to PAR’s, etc) will work for that. If, however (as I suspect), your desired end state is to further develop the ADF’s body of knowledge in the profession of arms then we need to get people making novel contributions to the field (this is a standard criteria for… Read more »