A learning Army is critical to a complex future

afghanistanFlinders University is playing a leading role with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation in helping the Australian Army develop the skills required to educate soldiers for increasingly diverse and complex operations.

A collaboration between the School of Education at Flinders and DSTO is contributing to the restructuring of learning within the Australian Army, as part of an initiative known as “Adaptive Army”.

Flinders academic Dr Paddy O’Toole said that there is growing military focus in Australia and overseas on the “human dimension”, and particularly on the need to improve the individual, collective and organisational learning capacity among armed services personnel.

DSTO social scientist Ms Maya Drobnjak said that the Army has recognised that the way it does its business is changing.

“The key is the soldier, and his or her ability to deal with the various groups and cultures with whom they interact,” Ms Drobjak said.

Dr O’Toole said the Army acknowledges the need for soldiers to adapt to meet change at the pace it happens around them, and that establishing a supportive learning environment is the key mechanism in becoming adaptive.

“When you look at the needs of Army, it’s not really about traditional battles any more – it’s more about warfare in urban areas, it’s about humanitarian operations and peacekeeping, and individual soldiers need to have the capacity to cope with and operate in very complex situations,” Dr O’Toole said.

Teaching critical thinking and giving soldiers the ability to respond on their feet is crucial to the aim of equipping lower ranks to make decisions without necessarily referring back through a chain of command.

A major part of the project is to enhance and accelerate the Army’s development as a “learning organisation”, with a focus on improved learning processes and quicker dissemination of useful information.

Much of the theoretical modeling and language about the development of a learning organisation draws from the corporate sector, and part of the DSTO/Flinders group’s task is to assist the Army in translating the concepts to a more familiar and useful context.

The research plan proposes the use of questionnaires to survey and benchmark current learning capability in the Army at individual, group and organisational levels. Focus groups would identify key issues, and a longitudinal study to follow the learning and training trajectory experienced by new recruits is envisaged.

“The Army has to achieve an improved learning environment by itself: our role is to provide the support and the tools to assist them on an action learning journey,” Dr O’Toole said.

“From a Flinders point of view, it means we are involved in a very important project at the national level, and in terms of adding to the body of knowledge concerning learning and adaptation in the military, it has implications on an international scale.”

Dr O’Toole said the broad conceptual approach proposed by Flinders and DSTO was recently embraced at senior levels within the Army following a workshop in Canberra.

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