How Electronic Learning Environments Can Support Professional Military Education

Training tomorrow's leaders. Photo courtesy Australian Army
Training tomorrow’s leaders. Photo courtesy Australian Army

Social media is commonly being used by the future leaders of Army for Professional Military Education (PME). Blogs have been accepted as a professionally and socially acceptable form of communication for both formal and informal PME. Against this backdrop, Officer Training Wing (OTW) at the Land Warfare Centre (LWC) has embraced these communication tools through the use of an electronically interactive blogging forum enabled by the Modularised Objective Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment (MOODLE).

MOODLE is open-source web application used to support the delivery and course management of residential and distance learning courses. The Australian Defence Education Learning Environment (ADELE) is based upon the MOODLE platform facilitating opportunities to conduct an interactive e-learning environment and replicate social media practices.

MOODLE and Australian Army All Corps Advanced Operations Course

The All Corps Advanced Operations Course (ACAOC) is the pinnacle of the All Corps Officer Training Continuum. It is only attended by approximately 20% of Army Officers ranked Major, with attendance being predicated upon confirmed selection for Command and Staff College or appointment into a key staff position. This course is deliberately designed to facilitate the adaption of knowledge, experience and operational exposure to a number of problem sets, executed within the paradigm of analysis and critical thinking. A significant component of the course also develops student’s ability to understand historical military events including a pre-course activity to research and analyse a specific conflict in history.

OTW has recognised the importance of strategies used within social media and the potential positive impact on PME. As such, MOODLE is now used during ACAOC’s pre-course to discuss the student’s research into their historical event. This has led to a change of assessment criteria to include a 1,000 word blog on their research topic, as well as a requirement to post two 200 word responses to their peer’s research. Previous iterations of the historical research assignment have been limited to the conduct of research in isolation and presentation to an audience that was often not read into the event being presented.

The change to MOODLE’s framework has now allowed students to critically analyse the key historical issues including command and control (C2), and orchestration and synchronisation in a collaborative environment. This debate has given rise to shared information and critical debate across the student body about the Battle of Shiloh, Boer War, Siege of Kut Al Amara, Fall of Singapore, North African Campaign, Battle of Pakchon, Inchon Landings, Six Day War, the Gulf Wars, Kargil War, INTERFET and Afghanistan.

So why change?

As is the case with any change management project, it is vital to identify why change is required. Perhaps of equal importance and akin to military planning, is articulating what the end state is, and what that end state looks like – physically, mentally and operationally. Before the change to MOODLE, the historical research assignment was unquestionably the most popular assignment within the curriculum but students were easily presenting on their historical event for 15 minutes without too much research, and as such they were not meeting the intent for critical analysis and collaborate debate. Indeed, students were also able to easily manage a discussion with a cold audience, particularly one that strove for coursemanship. So despite students doing well on this assignment, a change was needed in order to ensure PME was achieved.

This is where MOODLE provided an opportunity to replicate best practice from tertiary education institutions and encompass the rapid expansion of PME through social media style engagement. Training is often recited in evaluation as being stifled and repetitive. Embracing platforms that enable creative options for professional education and replicate personal habits, provides multiple opportunities for student focussed PME. The scope is potentially only limited by one’s imagination and willingness to trial a new concept.

The change

The 1,000 word blog and two 200 word response was introduced into ACAOC in 2016. This approach utilised the experience gained through lecturing at civilian universities and tertiary education institutes with discussion board electronic forums. Research topics were provided to the student body six weeks prior to course commencement with closure occurring one week into the three week course.

The introduction of a 1,000 word blog not only ensured research focussed on the lessons of C2, orchestration and synchronisation, but it also provided the communication means for wider discussion across the course body over a period of two weeks. The requirement to post research findings and subsequent pro or contra responses within an open domain, caused students to diligently conduct research and articulately craft their blogs. Additionally, the fact that the blog would be public for 14 days was perceived by the Directing Staff as a mechanism for developing a wider understanding amongst the cohort, which in turn would enhance PME through robust targeted discussion post presentation.

Positive outcomes

The outcome of this trial was overwhelmingly positive. Despite some initial Directing Staff scepticism surrounding the changes to an assessment that was already positively evaluated by students, the post course student evaluation proved to be extremely positive. The majority of the students engaged with and completed the blog posting requirements ahead of time. The discussions proved to be steeped with well crafted analytical argument, often involving up to ten students challenging, agreeing and contending various issues. The cross pollination between assignment topics and comparisons across operations was an unexpected and welcomed outcome. Some student comments included:

“Having posted my blog and one response, I felt that I had been enabled and had the credibility to share my thoughts freely.”

“It was amazing to witness how many times student blogs were referred to during syndicate discussions and Staff Planning exercises.”

“I was able to link lessons from the discussion boards into staff and individual planning assignments.”

“I learnt as much from the discussion boards, as I have on any course.”

“It was probably the best method that I have witnessed for closing the learning loop.”

The advent of an e-discussion board platform within Leadership and Military Operations educational institutes provides for PME opportunities that are aligned to current best practice of leading civilian education institutions and the cognitive modus operandi of our future leaders. It is incumbent upon all Directing Staff within Military Training Establishments, regardless of generation, to embrace diverse electronic educative means, so as to align optimal training outcomes with the fast moving, multi dimensional, potentially information centric battle space, and the mindset of future commanders. The endstate: increased PME through robust targeted discussion, enabled by a depth of research, wider reading, and development of personal views/concepts.

About the author

Major David Bullock is a General Support Officer currently employed as the Deputy Chief Instructor and Senior Instructor of the All Arms Advanced Operations Course at The Officer Training Wining, Canungra.  The opinions expressed are his own and do not represent the official position of the Australian Army or the Australian Government.

2 thoughts on “How Electronic Learning Environments Can Support Professional Military Education

  1. Dave and his team have created an excellent pre-course training and study package with the type and volume of Moodle-based content on their website. I consider Dave’s article to be helpful in consolidating my own thoughts on using – and producing – Moodle content for Army training courses and, on reflection, my views on the ACAOC pre-course training are consistent with the quotes Dave cited above. The blog and comment requirements draw trainees in to the virtual training environment well before the residential course component starts, and adopts the adult learning principle of allowing submissions to be completed in a flexible manner in and around existing work requirements. In many respects, Dave and his team enable flipped classroom-like effects and the residential component of the course is really the confirmation phase for some (not all!) elements of the pre-course training. Thankyou Dave for penning this article amd thankyou GC for giving it a louder voice.

  2. Dave – great article, thank you.

    Noting the good results in driving the history lesson/analysis/blog on the Advanced Operations Course, will it extended to the majors and captains courses? What a great opportunity for junior officers to drive some personal education prior to conducting these courses.

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