Intellect and innovation for warfighting capability.

Idea Pitch – Fighting Power, Intellectual Mastery and the Challenge of Teaching (Part 1)

November 29th, 2016 by Steve Cotterill

Do we do enough to unlock the cognitive potential of our soldiers?

Do we do enough to unlock the cognitive potential of our soldiers?


Throughout 2013 and 2014 I had the privilege to be an instructor at RMC-D. During this period I watched hundreds of staff cadets study diligently to learn a huge amount of information in six weeks of theory lessons. I was then also able to watch them transition to the next curriculum package, and within days of starting this new package they effectively data-dumped everything they had just learnt. Sound familiar?! It was both impressive to watch and disheartening at the same time.

I like to understand why things work or don’t work. I started analysing why this was happening; why theoretical knowledge was almost immediately forgotten as soon as their reason for learning it was no longer present. The quest for a solution led me to researching how the memory works, and how to make it more effective.

Do any of these statements ring true for you?

  • Can you remember an acronym for something, but not what each letter stands for?
  • How many times have you had to learn the Principles of War, Tenets of Manoeuvre Theory, or ‘Threat Weapon Ranges’?
  • Every time you do a pre-course and re-learn information, you probably lament that you wish you had a photographic or eidetic memory.

But don’t worry, I know that there are simple ways for us to teach everyone in the Army to be more effective and efficient at storing and recalling information.  It is these methods that I want to leverage in my DEFx Idea Pitch.

How can we achieve mastery of the intellectual component of fighting power?

I believe that the Army is not realising the full intellectual potential of the personnel in our Force. Further, I don’t think Army has enabled the majority of personnel to achieve intellectual mastery through the current continuum of individual and collective training.  Both of these can be addressed.

  • Part 1 of my blog will outline the difficulties in achieving intellectual mastery.
  • Part 2 of my blog will outline possible solutions that will assist Army in maximising the intellectual potential of the personnel in our force.

Before I start with part 1, I want to bring us all onto the same page with two definitions:

  • Intellectual component.  Army’s capstone doctrine, Land Warfare Doctrine 1: the Fundamentals of Land Power (LWD 1, p. 48) states that ‘The intellectual component of fighting power provides the level of understanding necessary for success in the complex battle space and is supported by an organisational climate that enables creativity and innovation, analytical excellence and continuous learning. In this blog the term intellectual mastery is synonymous with mastery of the intellectual component.
  • Mastery. ‘Knowledge and skill that allows you to do, use, or understand something very well (Merriam-Webster).

Do current Army courses deliver and teach knowledge in a way that is conducive to attaining intellectual mastery? If not, what ways can you think of to enable our personnel to reach intellectual mastery?

I believe that, on one hand, the Army does deliver and teach the required knowledge in doctrine and on individual courses to assist in achieving mastery. On the other hand, I also believe that it does not do this as effectively or efficiently as it could.

Our Capstone Doctrine: Written for the Many, Understandable by the Few?

A good example can be found in our doctrine.  In both the Ryan Review and numerous Talisman Sabre or Exercise Hamel post-activity reports, it has been widely noted that doctrine is not understood or employed effectively. ‘Doctrine’ is defined in LWD 1 as (p. 60):

The principal means by which the Chief of Army guides the Army. The Army’s doctrine is organised in four levels: capstone provides strategic and philosophical guidance; fundamental shapes the mind; functional trains the mind; and tactics, techniques and procedures train the individual.

For some reason there appears to be a disconnect between the intent for Army doctrine, and its widespread use and employment. I believe the main reason for this is that it is formatted in a way that is antithetical to effective or efficient learning or studying for the majority of the Army.

I have analysed three passages from LWD 1 to identify their readability scores in the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease tests.

The Grade Level result equates to the US school grade required to read the passage; the higher score the harder the passage is to read. A Year 12 student could read the Principles of War passage, but you would require a university student to read the Introduction passage and a university graduate to read Army’s Philosophy passage.

The Reading Ease result indicates that material is easier to read if it is a high score, and harder to read if it is a lower score. Introduction and Philosophy — which scored between 0-30 — can be read by a university graduate, and the Principles passage — with a result between 31-50 — indicate it can be read by a university student.  Our Year 12 student wouldn’t get close.

Fundamental doctrine is meant to shape the mind. If it can only be read easily by people who are university students or graduates, then it is missing the mark. The structure and wording of doctrine can be changed to enable a much wider audience to learn and employ this information.

Can we apply cognitive fixes to the way we educate and train?

The Structure and Content of our Courses

Like our doctrine, I believe that our courses are not well placed to teach knowledge and obtain intellectual mastery.  This is for two main reasons: compressed learning schedules, and sporadic learning iterations that are not well connected.

Firstly, I believe Learning Management Packages (LMPs) in the soldier and officer continuums have compressed schedules that are counter-productive to effective learning. Whilst there are resource justifications for these compressed schedules, the lack of time to effectively learn the content is one of the key contributing factors to why I think our personnel aren’t enabled to attain intellectual mastery. The requirement for effective learning should supersede the additional allocation of other resources so that Army can realise their investment in each and every individual.

Secondly, individual courses are sporadic and from the trainee’s perspective, each course does not appear to be linked to the previous or subsequent courses. The LMPs are mapped and linked; however, pre-courses are not linked to the previous course’s outcomes, and frequently subsequent iterations of courses reiterate previous learning material instead of building on it. Any officers who have completed RMC, the All Corps Captain’s Course and the All Corps Major’s Course will likely attest to this – lessons in all three courses teach the basics principles from the respective doctrine, instead of building on previous knowledge to help personnel progress towards the attainment of intellectual mastery.

Knowing how our People Learn: Diverse Workforce and Diverse Learning Styles

Finally, I believe Army does not effectively or efficiently understand the learning styles of our workforce in order to enable personnel to attain mastery of the intellectual component. I believe there are two main reasons for this:

  1. We don’t understand the inherent ways that our diverse workforce (recruited from a very diverse array of backgrounds and cultures) uses to learn because we don’t test our complete workforce for this.
  2. At no point from commencing service with Army do we identify what learning styles each individual can use to learn the most effectively. We also don’t conduct any education to baseline the way in which our personnel study, learn or remember.


In the next part of my blog I will propose a methodology to fix these problems, and a suggestion for baseline education for all personnel on how to study, learn and remember.

I look forward to hearing your suggestions and feedback!

Initial Questions

  1. What are the key issues you see with attaining intellectual mastery in the individual and collective training continuums?
  2. What do you think reasonable, effective and efficient metrics could be for measuring progression towards intellectual mastery?

About the author:

Steve Cotterill is an officer in the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. He is passionate about developing ways to help others be more efficient and effective in their learning. In 2017 he will commence studying an Executive MBA at Melbourne Business School.


Grounded Curiosity is a platform to spark debate, focused on junior commanders. The views expressed do not reflect any official position or that of any of the author’s employers – see more here.

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I would be interseting to see how like US Military ‘FM’ Publications score on the same readability test. There could be something to learn there.