#8 A Quick Follow-Up

The Future Operational Learner

"The introductory chapter describes many of the different characteristics and attitudes of the
millennial generation that will most affect the Army in 2015 to 2024 and how the expectations of this future generation about jobs and careers are different from those of their parents and
grandparents. In spite of these differences, the Army can be certain that future learners will share many of the needs and preferences of today’s adult learners. For example, they will have a need to know why learning is required, a need to direct their learning, a need to contribute their experiences to the learning situation, a need to apply what they have learned to solve real world problems and a need to feel competent and experience success throughout the learning program. What is far less certain is whether and how future learners will be “unique learners,” different in identifiable ways from today’s learners, and the implications, if any, for the Army. For example, some believe that the brains and thinking patterns of this generation of computer-users
may be different from those of previous generations. Marc Prensky posits that people brought up with computers: …think differently than the rest of us. They develop hypertext minds...Thinking skills enhanced by repeated exposure to computer games and other digital media include reading visual images as representations of three-dimensional space (representational competence), multidimensional visual-spatial skills, mental maps,…inductive discovery…attentional deployment, and responding faster to expected and unexpected stimuli. According to Prensky, a unique feature of future learners is that they may choose to pay attention in bursts rather than continuously. He states that they: “Tune in just enough to get the gist and be sure it makes sense.” Numerous sources acknowledge this propensity for millennials to pay attention in “twitch speed” bursts while multitasking, and bricolaging (or piecing together information). This has in turn led to a concern that the millennials’ thinking may be characterized by short attention spans and a lack of reflection. If true, the latter characterization would be especially troubling given that reflective thought contributes to adaptive thinking and adaptive thinking is a critical future Soldier competency.97 However, others have suggested that the reported short attention spans and lack of reflection among millennials merely signify that these learners possess an invaluable attribute—the ability to evaluate information rapidly. Puchta and others point out that the most valuable skill in the twenty-first century probably won’t be attention span, but rather the ability to multitask—another characteristic that may be more common among millennials."

The above is another quotation from the TRADOC Pam referenced in my earlier post. My reason for placing it here should be relatively obvious by now, namely that if we don't start focusing our leader development and training efforts around the youngest generation of Soldiers - using the current operational environment as the canvas for learning rather than the ultimate endstate (wining the war) then we will forever work backwards.

If, in fact, Millennials think differently - actually process raw data faster, are more capable of discarding unneeded or unuseful information, and multi-task more completely than previous generations, then the need for different training solutions and leader development models becomes absolutely imperative. For example, raw data in and of itself without a contemplative component will have very little value. So, it may be that one of the things that needs to be impressed upon a Millennial is sorting through reams of data and then finding the pieces tat require more contemplative thought in order to fully understand it's value. This is somewhat the opposite of earlier generations who were given to long ponderings on esoteric ideas, but often these had no immediate impact, or lacked a practical way of being implemented.

#7 The Baby AND the Bath Water

First, I want to thank ConnectingtheDots, who commented on my Post yesterday and introduced me to Generation Jones. By following the links provided in his/her reply, one finds that there is an emerging intermediate generation - those born ~ 1954 to 1965, that fits in between the Baby Boomers and Generation X. This is an important addition to my thoughts from yesterday due to the fact that GenJones comprise an age range from 44 to 55 years, basically, the middle and upper management of today's western society. Since this demographic also serves in the Army, and is at this point the Lieutenant Colonels and higher, it stands to reason that their influence, perception and viewpoint of their environment is a necessary and critical understanding we must face as it relates to interaction with the Millennials and the changing face of the Army culture in the years ahead.

But, that is not the purpose of today's post. Today, I want to look at the interaction between Outcome Based Training and Education (OBT&E) and Task, Condition, Standards (T/C/S) training. Earlier this year I attended a 2 day conference on OBT&E at Johns Hopkins University. Many of the prominent players - both military and civilian - in the Outcome movement were present, as were many folks who work in the current T/C/S environment. While everyone was civil and people listened politely to the positions being advanced, it became apparent to me early on the the T/C/S folks were having some difficulty wrapping their head around the idea of prescribing a 'less is more' approach to training. At times it almost appeared that the T/C/S crowd felt threatened by the notion that that they might no longer be the driving force behind Soldier training. Over and over a Resource Manager or Training Support Package writer would stand up and proclaim that the Army simply couldn't do away with T/C/S. That we had to have a baseline, concrete competency against which we could measure the effectiveness of training and - in no small measure - its' efficiency. With equal resolve, the OBT&E folks very patiently stated that OBT&E does not replace or render T/C/S obsolete. They would only contend that the focus needs to shift from the measurable inputs (bullets, hours, student ratios etc) to training that is focused on the output. What kind of Soldier, with what kind of skill sets do we need to produce? That was the prize for the OBT&E camp. A Soldier who possessed both the learnable skills required, but also met a commander's requirement for confidence, sound judgement and adaptability. It seemed that we were well on our way to an either/or argument with neither camp giving in easily.

As the only person present who represented a current warfighting Division, I tried to influence this discussion by reminding both camps that I have to live daily with whatever type of Soldier I am given by the Generating Force. Upon reflection, I did a poor job of this because I became frustrated and angry with both groups, and because I don't see this as an either/or discussion. It seemed to me that both camps were advocates for their singular position and that the 20,000 plus Soldiers of my Division were merely pawns in their larger chess game. I lost my perspective, personalized the discussion and therefore lost their willingness to listen to my points. A valuable personal lesson.

All that is background for this: I believe there is room for both T/C/S and OBT&E in the Soldier training arena. I believe this because I see it every time I run a marksmanship program. Organizations hire me to essentially increase their productivity and efficiency, which the program does. It provides measurable data to compare against previous exercises and determine it's value. I predict an 80% 'First time Go' rate and an 'Average score of 30 for First time Go shooters'. This is generally significantly higher than the units' previous experiences. The unit values the numeric assessment of bullets, time, through-put, scores etc. They can chart it. They can present it to others. It can be graphed and predicted. Plus or minus 2 points, it is an almost certainty. The task and standard remain the same. Soldiers are still required to hit a minimum of 23 targets on a standard qualification range. There is a definite T/C/S feel to it. Take X amount of resources, set Y conditions, achieve Z results. Extremely programmatic. In fact, many units like the program so much, that they turn it into THE way they will conduct marksmanship training in the future. In essence, they hire me to make them more productive and efficient. A very business-like model and one that is very necessary right now in order to get my foot in the door. Just selling the good idea of a better training method to someone who has 900 things to do and very little time to get them done doesn't generate a lot of excitement. However, the idea that the unit could get one of those tasks completed in a more effective, efficient manner does generate some excitement. Because, for the unit, this is all about meeting the deadline.

Once I'm hired though, the discussion begins to change. As part of the introduction, I plainly state that I really don't care about qualification scores, but rather on creating a more competent, confident and capable shooter. In fact, I emphasize the point that if we do that, if we can create conditions for a Soldier to become more confident in their ability to handle their weapon and engage targets, and, if we can teach them the basic skills associated with shooting, then we will achieve the numbers improvement almost automatically. So, I'm still playing to the command by keeping them focused on what they still think is important - efficiency. It is rare that a commander, at this point, sees the larger thematic view that competent, confident and capable will generate a better overall Soldier, not just a better marksman.

The rest of the training is derived from that point. What do the shooters already know? What do they not know? Are they aware of the implications of each of the mechanical steps to shooting well? How do I need to talk to them to ensure they understand the importance of the class? Because I have done this a lot, and because I also grew up in the current training system, I already know the answers to most of those questions. They don't know much, they need to know a lot more than they do, we are going to have fun, and soon enough they would begin to understand the importance of taking ownership of their skills and responsibility for their actions. Because I am not restricted in manner or method, I have a freedom to expand and contract the class as necessary based upon the group I'm working with. This is a key point in the OBT&E camp - that trainers have the freedom necessary to adjust the method of instruction to meet the needs of the students while at the same time always moving the class towards achieving the commanders intent.

Another key point to make here is that I am responsible for the outcome that the training produces. That is not to say that it's about me, but that I have a real responsibility to produce for the unit what I said I would - a Soldier capable of safely and competently able to handle his/her weapon with the confidence that they know how to use it if the situation dictates.

So, how do you do all that? How do you meet the unit's desire for better training at equal cost? How do you begin to change the training culture of the unit in a compressed environment? How do you meet the needs of every group (shooters, coaches, trainers, resourcers and commanders) that participates in the event? Essentially, you do it by keeping the baby (T/C/S) and the bathwater (OBT&E). You find a way to introduce change inside the current construct, and then find opportunities during the training to reinforce the free-thinking and decision making responsibilities for all of the groups participating. In effect, once the classroom portion is complete, I do less, not more. I have given the Soldiers a basic understanding of what they must accomplish, now I try create an environment for them to put it into practice. For example, positional stability is a requirement for good shooting. A stable body platform helps keep the weapon still and makes it much easier to keep the weapon on target. In the class I teach them a method of achieving that stable platform, but on the range the Soldier is free to adjust themselves as necessary. As long as they can keep the weapon still then I'll leave them alone. Less is more. Another would be range commands. There are only 2 commands on my range - Hot and Cold. By removing all other extraneous commands, Soldiers are forced to pay close attention to their surroundings and what condition they and their weapon are in at all times. Teaching responsibility and safety by doing less, not more.

There is room for both OBT&E and T/C/S in Army training. They can - and for the near future probably will - have to coexist. There is a definite need to look beyond the inputs and throughput based training that characterized the Army of the 90's and early in the current war and move to a more free-thinking and Soldier oriented training system represented by OBT&E. But, culture change is hard work and often has to be taken in incremental bites. Sometimes, the best way to do that is to do less, not more