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Thoughts on Military Education, Training and Leader Development in 2050
This article is the latest addition to the U.S. Army TRADOC G2 Mad Scientist Initiative’s Future of Warfare 2030-2050 project at Small Wars Journal.
Today, in the summer of 2018, 2050 is only 32 years from now. As we explore education and training for 2050, perhaps we should reflect on where we were 32 years ago in 1986. In 1986, education was conducted in two forms: the brick and mortar schoolhouse and distance learning via lessons and tests that were mailed “snail-mail” to/from the schoolhouse to military members around the world. The first military education institution to connect to DARPAnet, the forerunner of the internet, the United States Military Academy at West Point, was just connecting to the few labs and other institutions “on-line.” Video and audio was employed in education via cassette tapes and TVs, which could be hard-wire connected across several classrooms. Learning management systems (LMS) consisted of rudimentary computer programs to record grades and schedule classes. Individual learners were connected only by land-line telephone and the U.S. Mail.
In the area of training, the National Training Center had emerged as the premier instrumented live training capability in the Army, with the Joint Readiness Training Center to follow in 1987. Corps Battle Simulation (CBS) was just replacing mapboards and symbols for constructive simulations as the Battle Command Training Program(later the Mission Command Training Program was about to begin training major commanders and staffs. Virtual simulations lay in the future and gaming consisted of military boardgames. Home station training was largely live, supplemented by wargames such as Dunn Kempf. Training simulators were largely analog call for fire trainers or the infamous Beseler Cue/See. Digital Conduct of Fire Trainers (COFT) and other simulators still lay in the future.
So, we have advanced significantly since 1986, moving from largely analog to digital education and training. We can expect to experience similar growth over the next 32 years. This article suggests some major steams along which training and education will be transformed between now and 2050. But first, it helps to understand what we will need our military education and training to be in the future and how we might obtain those objectives by transforming the way we learn.
Military Challenges in 2050
Current demographic, economic, military investment, military modernization, and political power trends today do not necessarily favor the United States. China is growing in military power, economic power, education power and global influence.[i] Russia is embarked on a significant military modernization effort, emboldened by their successes in Syria, Crimea and the Ukraine. Iran is growing as a regional power, with the economic strength to invest in new systems and taking advantage of regional conflicts to mature their capabilities.[ii] All three of these major powers are aiming their investments to counter the traditional strengths of the United States, investing in long-range missiles, air/missile defense, and cyber to counter U.S. dominance at sea and in the air.[iii] By 2050 it is likely that the U.S. Army will not only be significantly challenged in the land domain, we will be without the air, sea, space and cyber dominance we have counted on since the end of World War II.
At the same time non-state organizations are able to present the American military with very complex challenges using combinations of improvised threats and potentially chemical, biological or radiological weapons to again counter traditional U.S. Army dominance on land and present not just physical, but mental and moral challenges in the virtual and cognitive realms. Such non-state actors are able to adapt existing military and civilian technologies in near-real time, significantly overmatching the Department of Defense’s acquisition and DOTMLPF[iv] processes. Taken together these challenges will require that future Army leaders and Soldiers be educated and trained to be operationally adaptive and institutionally transformational.
What Professional Military Education Must Provide in the Future
What these challenges suggests is that the Army must continue to strengthen Professional Military Education (PME). In order to do so, the first step is identifying and deciding what PME must do for the Army. In consideration of the challenges outlined above, would suggest Army PME needs to do about four things. First, PME has to instruct each individual in the tactics, techniques and procedures for their position, rank and organization. Regardless if you are an infantry squad leader, a Division G-3, a warrant officer maintenance technician, or a civilian deputy installation commander, PME needs to ensure you know the nuts and bolts of the profession.
Second, PME must build thinking skills in terms of critical, creative and systems thinking, complex problem solving and decision making. Improving thinking skills enables leaders and Soldiers to outthink opponents in the chaos and uncertainty that is tactical combat. Improving thinking skills enables leaders to be operational artists who can plan, prepare and execute large-scale campaigns and major operations regardless of the scenario or mission. And improving thinking skills provides the Army to develop strategic thinkers, strategic planners and strategic leaders. Strategic thinking is not just the responsibility of staff officers on the Joint and Combatant Command Staffs. Strategic thinking is about managing problems over time. When a platoon leader and platoon sergeant are mapping out their strategy for developing a great platoon during the first year of their tenure, they are exercising strategic thinking. When an acquisition officer is laying out how to take a system from requirements through fielding, that is strategic thinking.
Third, PME must develop in every leader character and competence as moral, ethical leaders as they prepare for future positions of increased responsibility throughout a career of service. We all understand the nature of warfare doesn’t change. War is at its most basic about killing people and destroying things in order to bring about conditions that cannot be achieved any other way. That was true over two hundred years ago when we fought our Revolution in order to bring about our freedom from tyranny and it was true over the last decade, when we fought to make our country safer from terrorism. But, the character of war does change. Throughout our history, our Nation and our Army have led the world in recognizing the value of each human life that is caught up in war, whether they are innocent civilians, enemy sympathizers or enemy combatants. Each year we see combat more intermixed with civilian populations and that trend is unlikely to change. Our leaders require the moral and ethical character to conduct warfare in as humane a manner as possible, while accomplishing our National objectives and simultaneously respecting and caring for each of our Soldiers, our families and our citizens.
Fourth and last, PME must support development of transformational leaders. Why transformational leadership? We find ourselves today caught between the Army we have that we are comfortable with and the Army that our Nation needs in the future. The Army we are comfortable with is one that is physically dominant on conventional battlefields yet tempered by over a decade of counter-insurgency experience. The Army we need is one that is dominant in the physical, cyber and human realms, that is highly agile and adaptive, and that can succeed when called upon to go to new places, execute new missions and defeat new foes. To get from the Army we have to the Army we need is what transformation is all about, and to achieve that goal is going to take transformational leadership. Further, our experience since the Cold War has been one that required us to adapt units from those conducting home station activities to being engaged in deployed operations, often in a region, with a mission and against an enemy that was unexpected. There is little evidence that paradigm is going to change in the future and succeeding in that environment takes transformational leadership. And, newly appointed squad leaders and platoon leaders have always had to transform their unit from the one they take charge of to the unit as they would like it to be. Similarly, staff NCOs, officers and civilians have a duty to transform their staffs, organizations and processes to those that are more effective, more efficient, less bureaucratic and more adaptive and that takes transformational leadership. So, in the years ahead there is no professional Soldier, NCO, officer or civilian who doesn’t need to be a transformational leader and the Army’s PME must assist them to be that kind of leader.
What Professional Military Education Must Be
Accomplishing the four PME objectives of developing: tactical and technical excellence for each position in the Army; critical, creating, systems and strategic thinking, complex problem solving and decision making; moral and ethical character; and transformational leadership; will require a significantly different approach to education than the one in use today. PME in the future must provide every Soldier, NCO, warrant officer, officer and civilian access to the education they need, when they need it, as effectively as possible, and in a manner that is formative for them as they progress throughout their career. And, do so in a way that is affordable over a period of reduced annual budgets. So, what are the characteristics of such a model of PME?
Think of how you use your smart phone to learn. First, it is…
Available. You can pull it out whenever you like and learn what you need to learn. You don’t have to wait until August when the next Command and General Staff Officer’s Course starts to learn. Next, it is Portable. You can take your education with you no matter where you go. You don’t have to leave your Captain’s Career Course learning behind just because you finish the course and move to a unit at Fort Riley. You can take your smart phone and learn on leave, your education is not tied to the secure Army networks. Smartphone learning is Scalable. You can learn as much or as little as you’d like about a subject; depending on your interest, time and priorities. Next, it is Tailorable. There is no fixed curriculum with a smart phone. Each person can tailor the learning to their needs. You may focus on the history of river crossings, while another may focus on the technologies available for river crossings. Smartphone learning is Exportable. Education is not tied to the schoolhouse but can be taken to the unit and conducted there. And, most importantly, your learning is Relevant. You learn what you need to, when you need to and you don’t have to learn anything that is not relevant to your educational needs. You can even use your smart phone to learn something critically important to you while you are engaged in a combat operation. Learning doesn’t get any more relevant than that.[v]
To create education that has the characteristics outlined above we cannot rely on the methods that were largely developed in the 19th Century. Today, there is a major transformation occurring in education outside the military. That transformation is in the direction of connected learning. Traditional learning methodologies center on the psychology of the learner, such as behaviorism, constructivism and cognitivism. In contrast, the newest learning theory, connectivism, recognizes that in the networked age knowledge resides not in the individual, but rather in the network.[vi] With Web 2.0 technologies individual learners connect, then curate information from the network, then integrate that information to create new knowledge and share it with others. The explosion of Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOC) and their impact on traditional brick-and-mortar institutions is significant and growing.
Today individuals connect to other learners and sources of learning to form personal learning networks (PLN). However, we are limited in that those PLN must be laboriously and incompletely developed and then maintained by the individual. By 2050, three innovations will greatly enhance the applicability of connectivism to education, training and leader development. First, we will each be [vii], with the ability to connect, retrieve, create, and share information, continuously. Second, through the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), we can enhance our PLN. AI can recognize the adaptations and extensions to new sources of information that we require based on our current gaps in learning, understanding or in support of decision making. Our PLN will be automatically and continuously updated. Should we desire to learn a new subject, for example if military individuals are deploying to a new location, our Enhanced PLN (EPLN) will reshape, reconnect and provide us with new knowledge. Additionally, connectivism today is about connecting individual learners to sources of knowledge. Connectivism by 2050 will enable learners to be connected to AI networks that themselves are learning. This significantly magnifies the education and training breadth and reach of an individual or a team, while compressing the time and effort required to learn. Third, Web 3.0 will emerge. Web 1.0 was a library, in which information was available and could be found through searching. Web 2.0 was about applications and user interface, so that individuals could not only find, but could create and share, new content. Web 3,0 will be about the web tailoring the entire experience to each specific learner.
One Training Environment
A methodology, such as connectivism, is only one half of a learning capability. The other half is the environment in which education is conducted. As noted above, today we are largely employing brick-and-mortar schoolhouses or on-line learning environments. Since the early 1990s and the Army’s Force XXI initiative we have been working to develop an integrated, synthetic training environment that combines live training in the field with computer-enabled virtual and constructive training, that also leverages the learning power of gaming. Our efforts to date have largely succeeded in creating parallel, but not fully integrated training environments. Probably one of the best examples of an integrated training environment today is at The Idaho National Lab (INL), a Department of Energy lab focused on nuclear energy and cyber, in which their Red/Blue Course teaches leaders to conduct both offensive and defensive cyber using open-source, unclassified software. In one facility, INL has integrated live, virtual, constructive and gaming in a single training exercise. Two opposing teams compete, one attacking and one defending a fluid distribution facility that is real, live and can be directly affected by the virtual and constructive operations of the two teams.
Given the rapid increases in virtual, constructive and gaming simulations, both in terms of commercial demand, Moore’s Law driven growth in computing capabilities and artificial intelligence, we should expect to have the capability to create a Single Training Environment. The Single Training Environment would integrate live operations with individual virtual reality and constructive simulations in a competitive (gaming) exercise that can accomplish multiple training objectives at multiple echelons simultaneously. Moreover, the Single Training Environment will be embedded in the actual operational and mission command systems, so that it can be employed anywhere, anytime, even to adapt to battlefield surprise while in combat. The Single Training Environment addresses the learning system characteristics of being: available, portable, scalable, tailorable, exportable and relevant.
True Learner-Centric (Virtual Mentor and Life-Long Learning Companion)
Armed with a future education and training methodology (connectivism) and a future learning environment (Single Training Environment) the Army will finally be able to realize the goal of learner-centric education, training and leader development. Today’s institutional and operational training and education remains largely institution-centric, with only limited ability to tailor to individual needs. This is driven largely by scale, Army professional military education courses must instruct hundreds of students and have in-class student to teacher ratios of 10:1 to 20:1. Operational training events employ the chain of command, but even there at best leaders are training 5-7 individuals and most individual/collective tasks are mass-trained in a similar manner to hundreds, if not thousands of Soldiers. For example, the same medical training is conducted in the same manner to the same standards for literally thousands of Soldiers in a Brigade or Division.
All that can change with the introduction of AI to individual education, training and leader development. Each individual can be connected to an artificial intelligence-driven virtual mentor and life-long learning companion, using an implant as outlined above. The life-long learning companion can track every experience and education/training event throughout an individual’s career. This will include what knowledge, skills and abilities were gained, to what standard, when and when they need to be refreshed. Moreover, acting as an intelligent tutor, the life-long learning companion can actually design, develop and conduct learning activities for the individual.[viii] Virtual mentors, connected to the individual and to the institutional force, can support decisions by individuals on what developmental actions to take from a current position and career perspective, informed and accounting for feedback from other individuals in an AI-enabled version of the current 360o assessments.
Today the primary means for adjusting curriculum, courses and training is through the Assess, Design, Develop, Implement and Evaluate (ADDIE) process. ADDIE today is a methodical approach in which courses and training are updated largely on an annual cycle. Adaptations to curriculum, courses and training are informed by automated LMS only to the extent that MOE and MOP such as scores on assessments are recorded and analyzed.
AI will provide the capability for Dynamic ADDIE that can literally be adapted mid-course as new information, new capabilities, new tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) are introduced. For example, a course might employ scenarios and exercises that are set in the Middle East. If the requirement changes, AI-enabled systems could adapt all scenarios, exercises and training materials to an Indo-Pacific regional focus. Change a doctrinal framework and Dynamic ADDIE could ripple that change throughout all the courses at a Center of Excellence. Dynamic ADDIE linked to the life-long learning companion of each individual in a course can tailor formative assessments to each individuals learning needs, rather than the current group-oriented substantive assessments employed in our PME.
Raising the Bar
Today much of our education and training is aimed at the lower half of Bloom’s taxonomy, with a heavy emphasis on application of what is learned. If the Army is able to leverage the power of individuals connected to the internet, AI and Web 3.0, education and training should be able to be aimed at the upper levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Individuals will arrive at courses already competent in the knowledge, skills and abilities required to apply knowledge at the third level of Bloom’s (or their virtual mentor can retrain them in specific deficiencies individually without affecting the progress of the course and without less capable individuals holding back the learning of others). Instructor/facilitators will no longer need to aim their instruction, facilitation and discussion at the few individuals who are struggling to master the basics of the course learning objectives. Instead, when the Army invests resources such as time, money, facilities and training capabilities to bring together individuals for collective learning, they will be able to focus on the upper levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Rather than focusing on the learning in single topics areas, individuals will master the requirements of complex problem solving and critical, creative, systems and strategic thinking.
Individuals who master analyzing, evaluation and creating can become the transformational leaders the military requires. Rather than being caretakers of existing knowledge and operational experience, institutional PME will become incubators for new ideas and new approaches to overcoming the emerging challenges in the future national security environment. Moreover, the schoolhouse will no longer have to focus primarily on the science of war. Much of the application of the science of war can be conducted by AI and autonomous systems. This enables schoolhouse education to focus on the art of war, the design of campaigns and operations, the social sciences and humanities so necessary to understanding the human aspects of war and the moral/ethical challenges presented by new environments, relationships and capabilities. This will enable education, training and leader development to meet all four of the requirements of PME.
2050 is only 32 years from now, but much will change in education and training in that time. Prudent investments in research, capability development and educators and trainers can enable the Army to leverage the possibilities inherent in: human connections to computing, AI and Web 3.0. These three innovations can transform how we educate, train and develop leaders by employing connectivism, One Training Environment, virtual mentors and life-long learning companions, and Dynamic ADDIE. This will enable the military to raise the bar in learning, better educate for the art and science of war and develop the moral/ethical leaders and complex problem solvers the Army will need to overcome emerging challenges by great powers and non-state actors in order to secure Americans and our Nation.
[i]The Operational Environment Enterprise (2016). Future operational environment and threats: The world in 2030 and beyond. Presentation at the Association of the United States Army Conference, June 21, 2016. Fort Eustis: Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
[ii] Tasmin News agency (2016). US trying to catch up with Iran in stealth, bomber drone technology. While the article at link may be overstated, it indicates that Iran, in addition to at least China and Russia are adversaries investing heavily in surpassing the US in military technologies and capability.
[iii] Layton, P. (2016). The Looming Air Superiority Wreck. War on the Rocks. Downloaded at
[iv] DOTMLPF stands for investments and adaptations of doctrine, organizations, training, materiel (technologies), leader development, personnel and facilities.
[v] Greer, J. (2015). Employing PLN for self-development of Army leaders: A connectivist approach (Doctoral Dissertation). Walden University.
[vi] Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. eLearnspace. Retrieved from .
[vii] Powers, K. (2014). What is web 3.0 and how might it affect education. Ed4online. Downloaded at
[viii] Chaudhri, V., Gunning, D., Lane, H. and Roschelle, J (2013). Intelligent learning technologies part 2: Apploications of artificial intelligence to contemporary and emerging educational challenges. AI Magazine. Winter 2013.