Work/Life Balance and Chain of Command Support Related to Canadian Armed Forces Members’ Distance Learning Satisfaction

Major Kim Jones, a learner in #SecondLife

As I have in some of my previous blog articles, I will share here a small section of my doctoral research on the topic of satisfaction with distance learning (DL) experiences in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Specifically, I will share some quantitative and qualitative findings on CAF members’ perceptions related to work/life balance and their Chain of Command [employer] support in relation to their DL efforts. This research, which was defended in 2020, surveyed a sample of 368 CAF members, with 12 follow-on interviews. These participants had graduated from CAF Professional Military Education programs, both for Officers and Non-Commissioned Members, between the dates of January, 2015 and March, 2018. While CAF members represent a unique population within a unique employment context, I would venture to guess that some of these findings may be relatable in other fields where employees are either obliged or choose to shoulder the burden of continuing with their professional development while being employed full-time.

One issue related to DL satisfaction that emerged strongly in the research data was work/life balance, including DL’s effect on family and personal time, support from the Chain of Command and, specifically, the amount of time that was provided by the Chain of Command for DL studies. For example, when asked about members’ satisfaction with the support they received from the Chain of Command, 71.7% of respondents answered that they were either somewhat or very satisfied, which is quite positive. It must be noted, however, that another 15.8% reported that they were either somewhat or very dissatisfied (n = 358). In response to the following statement: “CAF members who are DL learners are often required to complete their studies while continuing to be responsible for their normal position workload” (n = 368), responses showed high levels of agreement (92.1% agreed, 72.3% strongly agreed).

Further, some members reported not being permitted to use working hours at all for DL or, in other cases, not personally being able to divorce themselves from their heavy workloads to focus on their DL. In response to a question that asked members to comment on the amount of time they were given during working hours for their DL program/course, the top three responses, based on a coding frequency analysis were: 1) time as available; 2) one day per week; and 3) no time at all. This shows that there was a range of realities for members in terms of time provided, but the concerns of those who received “no time” or not enough time, were very pronounced in the qualitative findings. These members who had to, or in some cases, chose to complete their DL on their personal time, sometimes faced difficulties that included physical or mental health issues and distress, and issues with balancing their family responsibilities. They shared with me, as responses to open-ended survey questions and interviews, their various challenges in juggling their workload, their DL studies, and their personal and family life.

This issue was illustrated by a code frequency analysis in response to a question asking members to identify their greatest dissatisfiers with DL. The 3rd most frequent response was balancing their job with DL, and the 5th most frequent response was work/life balance, including family issues. (Of additional interest, other top dissatisfiers identified included: lack of meaningful interactions, technological issues, and issues with the quality of the course design). Further, 36.9% of respondents (n = 363) either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “DL increases the chance of burn-out for CAF members.” This may indicate that some members perceive that DL can cause work/life balance issues, potentially through the difficulties that arise from juggling their work, professional development, and other life and family responsibilities. These findings were corroborated by the qualitative data, in that the phrase “burnout” and related discussions arose numerous times.

Correlation analyses between support from the Chain of Command, family, and coworkers with overall DL satisfaction indicated that support from the Chain of Command was significantly correlated with overall DL satisfaction (rs (358) = .294, p < .01). Multiple regression analysis of the support factor, which included support from the Chain of Command, family, and co-workers combined, was shown to have a significant association with overall DL satisfaction. When these three variables were separated out (i.e. support from Chain of Command, family, and coworkers), support from the Chain of Command was found to be the most significant support predictor of overall DL satisfaction.

Presently, some members make agreements with their Chain of Command prior to starting their courses regarding the time they will use during working hours to complete their DL. This could be a helpful strategy, given that 68.5% of respondents (n = 368) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “Establishing Learning Contracts to be signed by CAF members and their supervisors assigning permitted hours per week for the DL course should be a requirement for all learners of DL courses.”

The qualitative data supported the quantitative findings in that some members shared their stories of working long hours between their heavy workplace commitments and DL course loads. Others shared their stories of trying to juggle their work and DL commitments and how this caused strain on their family situations. Still others suggested that perhaps time away from work duties should be a mandatory requirement to allow members to have a more focused and valuable learning experience. Further, some members suggested that if the CAF were to ensure further availability of quiet work-spaces or computer labs on all bases, away from the regular workplace, it could be beneficial and allow members to better concentrate on DL courses with fewer interruptions.

Recommendations

Mandating an amount of time to CAF students, outside of the normal workplace and in line with the time required for effective learning to take place during DL, could be considered for all mandatory training and education. Ensuring that the Chain of Command is made aware that a certain amount of time is required, that regular tasks may need to be delayed or be reassigned, and that it is their responsibility to encourage members to take the time required and prioritize their learning appropriately could increase student satisfaction and positive learning outcomes within DL experiences.

Reflections

Balancing a full workload with various training and educational pursuits can be challenging, both in the CAF and, I suspect, in any workplace. Frank, open discussions between employee and employers and re-prioritization of time and tasks can sometimes help alleviate issues related to a heavy workload. As one research participant stated, “You can’t burn the candle at both ends.” Indeed! You may try, for a time (as I have!), but it tends not to be a sustainable way of living in the long run.

If you would like to see further details on my research, such as research methodology and full findings, please see the link below.

Once again, thank you to the survey and interview participants who took part in this research.

Reference

Jones, K.A. (2020). Satisfaction of Canadian Armed Forces Regular Fores Members with their Distance Learning Experiences [Dissertation]. Athabasca University.

Andragogy (aka Adult Education): What Aspects Differentiate it from Pedagogy?

Prior to discussing andragogy, it would be worthwhile to define it. According to Merriam-Webster, andragogy is “the art or science of teaching adults” (n.d.). This is, of course, linked to the more commonly used word “pedagogy,” which is a more general term and often used in reference to teaching children. In Greek, these terms could be translated as man-leading, versus child-leading.

There has been much discussion in the field about how andragogy, or adult education, differentiates itself from pedagogy.  Interestingly, this was the central point of debate all the way back in 1957 during a gathering of Adult Education professors from the United States and Canada.  Abbott Kaplan started the debate off with a key question.  He asked his fellow professors, “What is the content, the essential ingredient of adult education, that marks it off from other fields or disciplines?” (Commission of Professors of Adult Education meeting, 1957, p. 16). An interesting discussion followed and yielded valuable consensus regarding how to define adult education.

Adult Education has had many names as, indeed, it has existed as long as humans have been learning. Originating from the word “Andragogik,” Alexander Kapp, a German high school teacher, seems to have first used this word in 1833.  He used it to explain adult education and that “learning not only happens through teachers, but also through self-reflection and life experience” (Reischmann, 2005, p. 59).  These ideas about andragogy have resurfaced again and again in the history of adult education.  Malcolm Knowles, a name well-known in the field of adult education, also used the word andragogy.  In fact, he wrote an early article on the subject named, “Andragogy, Not Pedagogy” (1968). In it, he showed his strong views that Adult Education must be considered as separate and different than education for children and youths” (Reischmann, 2005, p. 60). 

This leads us to the obvious question, what are the differences between education for adults and education for children?  Four main points are outlined by Eduard Lindeman, which were more recently expanded upon by Stewart (1987).  These four points of difference are common ones that Adult Educators have discussed and debated for many years.  Lindeman outlined these points in 1926 and many of the same points were brought up in the Commission of Professors of Adult Education meeting which was held on April 26, 1957.

Point 1: Adult Education Continues Through the Life Span

The first point that Lindeman made, in differentiating adult education, was that “Education is life – not a mere preparation for an unknown kind of future living” (Stewart, 1987, p. 103).  For Lindeman, it was important to understand that education is not simply something that one does in order to prepare for life.  Education is something that continues throughout the life span. It seems that the attendees at the 1957 meeting mainly agreed with him as various definitions of Adult Education that were listed in the commission’s report include references to Adult Education as a life-long pursuit.  One of those definitions says, “Adulthood involves a large part of life; therefore, adult education includes the larger portion of life-long learning” (Commission of Professors of Adult Education meeting, 1957, p. 61).  In short, education is for life, and not simply something that one does in preparation for life. 

Point 2: Adult Learning Goes Beyond Vocational and Academic

The second point of Lindeman, as described by Stewart (1987), was that “adult education revolves around nonvocational ideals” (p. 103). Lindeman felt that there was a lot of pressure for young adults to learn a vocation to fit into a certain job that needed to be filled.  He believed that Adult Education was not education that was centered on vocations but education that went beyond that; it was education that gave meaning to the person’s life (Stewart, 1987, p. 106).  He believed that it was a real threat that “the unbalanced application of vocational education [would] produce generations of empty people” (Stewart, 1987, p. 106). Stewart built on this statement by adding that “adult education revolves around nonvocational and nonacademic ideals” (p. 111).  Adult Education can happen in places beyond institutions, both beyond academic and vocational institutions. 

Other professors of Adult Education agreed with Lindeman and Stewart on this point.  A definition from the report by the Commission of Professors of Adult Education meeting stated that adult education is “not usually a part of a predetermined sequence of requirements,” and that it is, “focused upon the learner’s changing interests and problems” (1957, p. 62).  Another definition from that meeting points out that adult education can be in the community and include, “all those organized and/or directed educational activities in which adults engage” (p. 61). 

Point 3: Adult Educational is Rooted in Real-Life Situations

The third point made by Lindeman was that “the approach to adult education will be via the route of situations, not subjects” (Stewart, 1987, p. 103).  As children in the formal schooling system are taught by subjects, Adult Education would not necessarily fit into this type of model.  Adult education would be based upon real-life situations and real-life needs for learning.  A strict curriculum would do nothing to aid an adult learner.  The curriculum should be life, and adult education, “derives its contents from individual and group needs” (Stewart,1987, p. 107).

Malcolm Knowles posited, during the meeting of 1957: “Isn’t this basic difference [between andragogy and pedagogy] the setting in which adults learn and this setting for adult learning is not typically the classroom but some life process they are going through – and this requires a different methodology” (Commission of Professors of Adult Education meeting, 1957, p. 21).  This point was a strong point in the debate and it supported the idea that a unique theory was, indeed, necessary for Adult Education.  Adults learn in many types of broader situations, other than the traditional classroom situation in which confined subjects are taught.

Point 4: Adult Education is Experience-Based

The fourth and final point about Adult Education by Lindeman is that “the resource of highest value in Adult Education is the learner’s experience” (Stewart, 1987, p. 103).  This is a very important aspect of Adult Education and, according to some, sets Adult Education apart from education for children.  All adults have their own unique life experiences from which they have learned and which can also inform their future learning.  Lindeman states that experience is, in fact, “the adult learner’s living textbook” (as cited in Stewart, 1987, p. 108).  The adult learner’s past experiences need to be taken into consideration when new situations present themselves and it is through new experiences that many adults learn the most.  I know that this has often been the case for me!

In a debate during the 1957 Commission of Professors of Adult Education meeting, this point came up as another way to differentiate andragogy from pedagogy.  In speaking about Adult Education, Hendrickson told his colleagues to consider, “the ways in which you can capitalize on adult experience.  This is something you can’t do with children; they just haven’t lived enough” (Commission of Professors of Adult Education meeting, 1957, p. 19).  Kreitlow, however, disagreed and replied that, “the use of experience is something you start in kindergarten” (p. 20).  They did, however, agree that the degree of experiences that one could draw on was very different and so, therefore, this is a significant difference between adult education and child education.  Lindeman also made the point that the adult learner and the instructor/facilitator are both learning from the experience of Adult Education.  He reminds us that teachers are those, “who are also searchers after wisdom and not oracles” (as cited in Stewart, 1987, p. 108). Indeed, that is a great line for instructors to reflect upon.

Knowles’ Six Assumptions about Adult Learning

Malcolm Knowles, who worked under Lindeman in his earlier days and whose name is now often associated with Andragogy, continued on this important work in the years following the decisive meeting in 1957. Knowles worked to develop a theory of adult learning and further refined the particularities of Adult Education into six main assumptions, as quoted from Chan (2010), p. 27-28:

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-ND
  1. Self-Concept: Adult learners are self-directed, autonomous, and independent.
  2. Role of Experience: Repository of an adult’s experience is a rich resource for learning. Adults tend to learn by drawing from their previous experiences.
  3. Readiness to Learn: Adults tend to be ready to learn what they believe they need to know.
  4. Orientation to Learning: Adults learn for immediate applications rather than for future uses. Their learning orientation is problem-centered, task-oriented, and life-focused.
  5. Internal Motivation: Adults are more internally motivated than externally.
  6. Need to Know: Adults need to know the value of learning and why they need to learn.

Reflection

Based on the definitions of Adult Education described at the 1957 Commission of Professors of Adult Education meeting, and then further refined by Malcolm Knowles, do these particularities of Andragogy ring true to you in relation to your experiences as an adult learner? If you are an instructor, are you, indeed, engaging in andragogy with your adult learners? As an educator or designer/developer, are you taking into consideration and incorporating Malcolm Knowles’ six main assumptions of andragogy in your efforts to facilitate effective adult learning?

References

Andragogy. n.d. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved September 10, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/andragogy

Chan, S. (2010). Applications of andragogy in multi-disciplined teaching and learning. Journal of adult education, 39(2), 25-35.

Commission of Professors of Adult Education meeting, April 26, 1957, in Malcolm Knowles Papers, CPAE, box 18, October 1957, Syracuse University Archives.

Reischmann, J. (2005). Andragogy. In L. English (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Adult Education (pp.58-63). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Stewart, D. (1987). What adult education means: Discovering and rediscovering the concept of andragogy. In D. Stewart, Adult learning in America: Eduard Lindeman and his agenda for lifelong education (pp. 103-112). Malabar, Florida: Robert Krieger Publishing.

Leading Truthfully: A Reflection on “Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the [US] Army Profession”

Canadian and American military members exchange their flags at 5 Wing Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador during Exercise VIGILANT SHIELD 17 on October 17, 2016.
Photo: MCpl Krista Blizzard, 5 Wing Public Affairs GB2016-10-215

Some years back, I read a report out of the Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press that really impacted me and has lingered in my mind ever since. Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession, published in 2015 and written by Dr Leonard Wong and Dr Stephen Gerras, is a frank account of how members can become ethically numb, and, therefore, react dishonestly in the face of ever-growing and cumulative loads placed on the forces. These overwhelming workloads can include things like mandatory training, reporting requirements, data requests, compliance checks, personnel evaluation reporting, and the list can go on and on.

Although this report focused on the United States Army and gathered qualitative data from its members, I suggest that my Canadian colleagues reflect on the points presented in this blog article, and then perhaps read the full report, to see if any of these points are relatable in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) context. If so, what should/could be done about a culture of dishonesty?

Truth as an Important Aspect of our CAF Ethos

Military professionals will most often consider themselves to be truthful and honest. Our military ethos calls for it. In the summary of Duty with Honour: The Profession of Arms in Canada (2003), it states that integrity, “calls for honesty, truthfulness, uprightness, the avoidance of deception…” (p. 17). In the new Canadian Armed Forces Ethos: Trusted to Serve (2022), it points out that “a person with integrity is truthful, strong of character and reliable,” (p. 25) and that integrity requires, “pursuing truth regardless of personal consequences” (p. 24). Our professed value in the truth is even shown in the motto of the Royal Military College: “Truth– Duty- Valour.”

The reality that was shown through this qualitative research with the US Army, which can be hard to hear or accept, is that impossible deadlines, the deluge of reporting requirements, the inundation of directives from above, and so much mandatory training is often difficult, if not impossible, to fit into the schedule. These examples can sometimes lead to, what members may tell ourselves, are white lies for the greater good. Add in a culture of “Yes, Sir!”, “Yes, Ma’am!” and “no-fail” and it can be the perfect set-up for dishonesty to become the norm and, therefore, for members to constantly have to choose between lying or standing out from the crowd to be truthful. This, in the military culture, can lead to scorn from their colleagues and supervisors and potentially hurt their advancement (e.g. being the only one who is unable to report 100% compliance in X,Y,or Z).

Examples

Some applicable key words found in the report, that may or may not ring a bell, include: “hand-waving”, “fudging the numbers”, “massaging the truth”, “checking the box’, “pencil-whipping it,” “bending the truth, “giving them [leaders] what they want”. One member stated that “You gotta make priorities, we met the intent, or we got creative” (Wong & Gerras, 2015, p. 8). In “feeding the beast” with inaccurate statistics, in reporting 100% compliance when 85% would be more accurate, when signing that a personnel briefing took place when it did not, when reporting that unit members have completed mandatory training when, actually, time did not allow, when filling in colorful PowerPoint slides with questionable numbers, many lead to members experiencing “ethical fading.” Ethical fading occurs when the “moral colors of an ethical decision fade into bleached hues that are void of moral implications. Ethical fading allows us to convince ourselves that considerations of right or wrong are not applicable to decisions that in any other circumstances would be ethical dilemmas” (Wong & Gerras, 2015, p. 17). This can lead to ethical numbness and then, at that point, we must question whether dishonesty will grow beyond trivial small “numbers fudging” to more monumentally dishonest acts.

The report lists various examples related to training, compliance, finances, and actions taken during operations related to reporting. Being a Training Development Officer (TDO), I was reminded of the dishonesty of acquiring a course certificate from merely flipping through e-learning pages and not applying oneself to actually learning the content. The report shared a situation where one of the “smart” members sat down at a computer and quickly completed the course and printed the certificate for all nine section members. Another example included a Sergeant printing off course completion certificates for the whole team, knowing full well that the training had not been given.

As I am presently working at the Chief, Professional Conduct & Culture, I am especially disturbed by the following example:

“One captain spoke of trying to complete mandatory Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program (SHARP) training:

We needed to get SHARP training done and reported to higher headquarters, so we called the platoons and
told them to gather the boys around the radio and we said, ‘Don’t touch girls.’ That was our quarterly
SHARP training.
” (Wong & Gerras, 2015, p. 13)

Again, this example took place in the US Army, but it is worth reflecting on. In a situation where mandatory training requirements are so heavy that there is physically not enough time in the day to complete them, along with the avalanche of other administrative responsibilities that are continually passed down from the highest levels, is this example a common result? “It [the US Army] is excessively permissive in allowing the creation of new requirements, but it is also amazingly reluctant to discard old demands” (Wong & Gerras, 2015, p. 18). This may or not be relatable to the CAF context but, in my opinion, it is worth some consideration.

What Can Be Done?

So, how do the authors of this report suggest moving beyond dishonesty in the profession?

1) Acknowledge the Problem– We should discuss these things openly and honestly without fear of reprisal. Leaders should lead the discussion. They should admit that they know these things happen at all levels from their own experiences.

2) Exercise Restraint– Restraint must be given towards the number of no-fail tasks and #1 priorities. Workload must actually be accomplish-able. Mandatory training and new directives can come from all directions at all different levels and leaders must “shoulder the burden of prioritizing” (Wong & Gerras, 2015, p. 30). Leaders must also consider what is actually required and valuable in terms of reporting and, then, prioritize appropriately. If everything is vital, then nothing is. Perhaps 100% compliance, for example, is not realistic in a given context and 85% compliance could actually be an acceptable risk. If a legacy requirement is no longer important, consider getting rid of it. Also, if the requirement is important, ensure that the member providing information, completing the training, or checking whatever box, understands why it is important. If the importance is understood, it should decrease dishonest reporting or the fudging of numbers.

3) Lead Truthfully – Leading truthfully could include “speaking truth to power” while insisting that training module X,Y, or Z is not worth being mandatory training for the whole organization. Leading truthfully informs subordinates that accurate reporting is more important that achieving 100%.

Reflections

In terms of reflections, do we, in the CAF, condone dishonesty or perhaps even expect dishonesty in some circumstances/situations? Are we generally overwhelmed with the deluge of requirements that seem impossible to meet? Do our members and leaders sometimes face the feeling of dissonance that comes with needing to “feed the beast” bogus &/or inaccurate information in a time crunch, all the while feeling the need to maintain a self-identity of “a person with integrity [who] is truthful, strong of character and reliable,” (DND, 2022, p. 25) as required by our CAF Ethos. Does this report describe merely a problem within the US Army, or are there aspects of this report that ring true and relatable for you within the CAF context?

I hope I have given you some good food for thought and that I have done justice in summarizing this excellent report. If you have found this topic interesting, I highly recommend that you take the time to read and reflect on the full report: Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession

Reference

Leonard Wong Dr. and Stephen J. Gerras Dr., Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession ( US Army War College Press, 2015), https://press.armywarcollege.edu/monographs/466

National Defence. (2003). Summary of Duty with Honour: the Profession of Arms in Canada.

National Defence. (2022). Canadian Armed Forces Ethos: Trusted to Serve.

Technology: a Course Quality Consideration for Canadian Armed Forces Members’ Distance Learning Satisfaction

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC

Have you ever tried to complete a Distance Learning (DL) course when the technology became your focus, either because of the slowness or crashing of the system, the non user-friendly design of the interface, or the timing-out of a quiz where you lost all of your work? Me too! On the other hand, have you ever completed a learning experience at a distance where the technology was seamless and really seemed to enhance the learning experience? Me too! Let’s have a look at what some Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members had to say about their satisfaction (or lack thereof) with technology as an aspect of course quality.

As I have in previous blog articles, I will share here a small portion of my doctoral research on the topic of satisfaction with DL experiences in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Specifically, I will share some of my quantitative and qualitative findings related to technology, as a course quality consideration related to CAF member DL satisfaction. This research, which was defended in 2020, included a sample of 368 CAF members who had graduated from CAF Professional Military Education programs between the dates of January, 2015 and March, 2018. The data was gathered from surveys, as well as 12 follow-on interviews.

Technology was a subject that arose frequently in both the quantitative and qualitative research data, both as responses to direct questions as well as spontaneous comments in relation to satisfaction and ways to improve DL. For example, when asked about satisfaction with “effective course technology (e.g. DLN),” 66.4% of respondents (n=366) said that they were somewhat or very satisfied, while 21.3% of respondents said that they were somewhat or very dissatisfied. In response to the perception statement, “The CAF has good technical support systems in place to help should any technical problems arise during DL courses,” 41.3% of respondents (n=363) either agreed or strongly agreed with this statement, while 27.0% of respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement. The responses to these two questions indicate that a portion of CAF members have negative perceptions regarding DL technologies and technical support in CAF DL. This supports earlier findings from the DND “Your Say” survey research (Budgell, Butler, & Eren, 2013), that found that only 45% of respondents, from a sample of 1730 CAF members, agreed that the CAF makes good use of technology in courses. This, of course, begs the question of what the other 55% of CAF members think we could be doing better in relation to technology use within DL courses.

In the correlation analyses for course quality variables, it is noteworthy that all course quality variables that were measured (e.g. timely instructor feedback, clear learning objectives, easily accessible course materials, etc.) had a positive significant correlations with overall satisfaction. Two of the strongest significant positive correlations with overall DL satisfaction involved the satisfaction with course technology, specifically: 1) course technology that helped to reach course objectives (rs (365) = .557, p < .01); and 2) effective course technology (e.g. DLN) (rs (364) = .557, p < .01). Both of these would be considered of moderate strength. With the multiple regression analyses that were completed, both “Effective course technology” and “Course technology that helped to reach objectives” were shown to be significant predictors of DL overall satisfaction.

Government of Canada. (2018). Canadian Armed Forces professional development framework

The qualitative data supported the quantitative findings that the topic of technology was relevant to CAF DL satisfaction. Technolgy was so prevalent in the qualitative data that it emerged as a theme unto itself. The technology theme included the following four categories: 1) accessibility; 2) usability of technologies supporting DL; 3) learning management systems (LMS); and 4) perceptions regarding DL technology in the CAF. Although some members indicated that the technology to support CAF DL had improved over the years, fewer positive sentiments and experiences concerning CAF DL technologies were shared.

Within the category of accessibility, there were many comments regarding difficulties experienced with DL technology including issues of connectivity and bandwidth. Connectivity was brought up for both office and home settings, but also in operational settings such as on ships and on overseas deployments. Members did mention that they liked the fact that they could access their DL from their homes, outside of their workplace computer. One member said, “the system is very user-friendly because it exists outside of the DWAN [Defence Wide Area Network] system, very easy to use, home computer, home-based internet.” One liked that the technology exists so that they can do DL, “anywhere, anytime.” Another member, however, stated, “I do not have access to reliable internet from my home and must conduct the course at work.” Indeed, Internet bandwidth and reliability in the more rural areas can still be an issue. Other members stated that they had issues with connectivity while trying to do their DL in the office. One member said that “the servers themselves need desperately to be updated. The system struggles greatly with large courses.” Another member commented that the “intranet at work is dead slow.” These issues, one member stated, “often result in complete loss of connection” and that sometimes the system, “does not save the work that was already completed.”

Within the category of usability, items such as the following were brought up: members’ comfort level with the DL technology, DL technology support available (including from a help desk), firewall issues, members’ requirement to use external technology to support their course, and issues encountered such as with the DND search engine, inactivity time-outs, the inability to print courseware, and a vast array of “technical hiccups.” In relation to comfort levels, one member stated that “although I am older, my computer skills and comfort level with software systems are good. I never had any issues with that part of the DL.” On the other hand, one stated that, “regardless of age, not everyone is computer savvy (i.e. a digital native). There needs to be training available that is aimed at every type of learner.” In terms of ease of searching for references on the DWAN Intranet, one member stated that it “was of no use when trying to find reference material.” Another suggested that the DND/CAF should, “invest in upgrading the DND/DWAN to have better browsers and access for research.”

Regarding the Learning Management Systems (LMS), participants discussed the Defence Learning Network 2.0 and/or Moodle, which is being used by the Royal Military Colleges of Canada (RMCC) and the Canadian Forces College (CFC), dependent on the program they had completed. There was a range of satisfaction with these tools. One Junior Officer who was interviewed stated that the DLN is “easy to use,” “very user-friendly,” and that “anybody could do it.” Other members felt that the DLN, however, left some things to be desired. One Senior Non-Commissioned Member (NCM) who I interviewed about their Senior Leadership Program (SLP) experience, for example, stated that the LMS affected the interactions between students in their forum discussions. They stated that “because of the software of DLN… it wasn’t a flow,” adding that “it wasn’t very intuitive or well laid out… it was very cumbersome.”

Another member stated that the DLN, “is a very difficult program to work with… navigating the DLN is terrible and something needs to be changed…. It… creates needless frustration.” Another stated that it creates “stress for no reason trying to navigate it.” Another member commented that the “DLN is very clunky and difficult to find courses and is not very user friendly.” A Senior Officer, who had completed the Junior Command and Staff Programme (JCSP)- DL version, said of the LMS used by CFC, “it was okay, I guess. I’ve seen better, but I’ve seen worse.” Another member said, “I would complete more DL courses if the system was easier to work with.” One Senior NCM suggested, “improving the platform to enable students who are working on that theory portion of the DL so they can actually collaboratively work together if that’s what’s required. So be it from smartphones, from tablets, from work, traveling on the train, traveling in a car, whatever.”

Perceptions related to DL in the CAF, as the fourth category, were quite varied and included members’ general levels of satisfaction and expressions of frustration. Related to satisfaction, one member said the “technology was decent,” and another stated that “as a whole I think that it is getting better.” Some expressions of frustration with the technology, however, were also shared. One Intermediate Leadership Program (ILP) graduate stated, for example, that “the technical hiccups were very distracting and at times infuriating.”

The Maple Leaf, The Defence Learning Network 3.0 is here!, 8 March 2022

As illustrated in the comments from these CAF members, the various technology components related to DL, as a course quality consideration, can have a positive or negative effect on the DL satisfaction and learning experience of students. To optimize the learning experience of CAF members, we must always strive to improve upon what we have and trial courses on various platforms and browsers prior to launch. Issues found, as well as student feedback, must be addressed. It should be noted that the technology of DL is always evolving and we must strive to keep pace. The DND/CAF is currently in the process of upgrading to a newer version of our Saba Learning Management System in the cloud, known as the Defence Learning Network (DLN) 3.0. I look forward to learning more about the benefits of this new DLN iteration, including its new functionalities. This is a great step forward, as is the availability of the new DLN 3.0 virtual classroom and MS Teams for synchronous group discussions. I look forward to see what future technologies in this space will provide in order to further improve upon the student learning experience.

I would like to thank the CAF members who took part in the surveys and/or interviews in support of this research.

Reference

Budgell, G., Butler, A., & Eren, E. (2013). Task # 138: Regular Force Your-Say Survey: Spring 2012 Focus Selection Results. DRDC-RDDC-2015-C102. 

Government of Canada. (2018). Canadian Armed Forces professional development framework

Government of Canada. (2022). The Maple Leaf, The Defence Learning Network 3.0 is here!

Jones, K.A. (2021). Satisfaction of Canadian Armed Forces Regular Fores Members with their Distance Learning Experiences [Dissertation]. Athabasca University.

Self-Directed Learning: What is it? & Why has it become a predominate learning strategy?

Photo credit: MCpl Kathryn Poudrier, Defence Public Affairs Learning Centre, Copyright 2012 DND-MDN Canada

Self-directed learning is not a new learning strategy as people have been engaging in self-directed learning throughout history. Learning does not necessarily need to take place inside the rigid walls of an institution.  There exists a whole continuum of worthwhile structures that can enable learning, ranging from an instructor-led classroom setting to autonomous independent studies where individuals take control of their own learning.  Formal classroom learning, for most adult learners, is merely the tip of the iceberg. Informal learning, which is usually self-directed as an individual or within groups, is the larger & often undetected mass of the iceberg that is underneath the water. As the British historian, writer and Member of Parliament, Edward Gibbon (1796), pointed out, “every man [person] who rises above the common level has received two educations: the first from his teachers; the second, more personal and important, from himself [themselves]” (as cited in Candy, 1991, p.14). Indeed, this has been the case for me.

Self-directed learning, both integrated into formal and non-formal settings, has an important part to play in learning. I will share here the definitions of self-directed learning, both in method and in goal, in order to dismiss any confusion over its meanings. I will also present six main reasons why self-directed learning has become a predominant type of learning today around the world. 

Canadian Armed Forces Professional Development Framework (2018). Government of Canada.

Defining Self-Directed Learning

Within my work present context, within the Canadian Armed Forces, self-directed learning aligns well as an aspect within the Self-Development Pillar of the Canadian Armed Forces Professional Development Framework (as illustrated above). This pillar is defined as, “self-initiated training and/or education that refines or further develops an individual’s body of knowledge, intellectual and/or professional skill sets, and attitudes that leads to improving the level of a desired competency or competencies. Self-development is normally done outside of formal professional development activities” (Government of Canada, 2018).

The term “self-directed learning” has been used to describe different things.  Some use the term to describe a method of learning while others use it to mean a goal of someone who is able to learn autonomously without direction.  Under the heading of method, two sub-meanings come into play.  Many see the method of self-directed learning to be a type of formal education where the learner has more control over the learning, such as in university individual study courses, while others see it as a type of learning outside the formal educational setting where a learner can learn on their own in any kind of social setting. 

Self-directed learning, as a goal, is also broken down into two sub-meanings.  The first meaning says that the person has a quality that allows them to learn autonomously.  The second sub-meaning says that the goal achieved is the management of oneself along with the ability and willingness to conduct one’s own education (Candy, 1991).  Although these definitions of self-directed learning are different, they are also connected.  These ideas have all been a very popular topic in recent history for research and discussion amongst Adult Educators. 

Reasons Why Self-Directed Learning Has Become a Predominant Learning Strategy

There are six main reasons, as identified by P. Candy (1991) in his book Self-Direction for Lifelong Learning: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice, to explain why the idea of self-directed learning has come to the forefront.  These six reasons show us why adults and adult educators alike are supporting and encouraging more and more learner-centered and controlled education. 

The first reason, as identified by Candy (1991), for the growing interest in self-directed learning is that it fits well within the democratic ideal that our society holds dear.  Within self-directed learning, the learner has more control over what he/she learns and how he/she learns it.  Self-directed learning is not authoritarian in that the learner must follow the orders of a teacher in a rigid structure.  In self-directed learning, the student participates in all aspects of the course structure and learning process.  Naisbitt (1984) points out that the Western society believes more and more that, “people whose lives are affected by a decision must be a part of the process of arriving at that decision” (as cited in Candy, p. 33).  Teachers often consider themselves more as facilitators than instructors and are more likely to give up some degree of control over course material and learning methods to create more of a democratic learning environment. You may have heard the reference that it is preferable for facilitators to be more of the “guide on the side than the sage on the stage.”

Another reason, according to Candy, for the growing interest in self-directed learning is the growing ideology within society of individualism.  Some cultures see this as a positive thing and some as a negative thing (Leach, 1995, p. 568).  Individualism, where one is more focused on the self and autonomy, can easily be seen in Western cultures.  Although some cultures and ethnic groups continue to focus more on community and group achievements than others, in many cultures today, Keddie (1980) points out, “high status is obtained by competitive individual achievements” (as cited in Candy, p. 35). The fact that achievement is seen as an individual accomplishment rather than a family or community accomplishment and the fact that the benefits tend to stay at the individual level, leads us towards this ever-increasing ideology of individualism.  This can easily be seen in the way that people are learning.  Less sharing in the learning experience is seen and more self-directed learning, often alone, and at home away from the classroom setting, is becoming more and more common.

The third reason that Candy states that self-directed learning is becoming more popular is the concept of egalitarianism.  Within this idea, teacher and students are considered equals.  The teacher may have some extra information regarding a certain subject but both parties can equally contribute to the learning experience.  Lawson (1979, p. 19) points out that teachers and school organizers with egalitarianism in mind, “ought not to impose their own educational and curricular values if they can avoid doing so” (as cited in Candy, p. 37).  From an egalitarianism point of view, all learners should be considered equal; all should have the same learning possibilities and possible benefits.  Self-directed learning fits nicely into this concept since, theoretically, all learners can participate and benefit from self-directed learning. While this is true in theory, in the modern age, however, unequal access to Internet can cause inequalities in accessing the Information Highway that is often used as a conduit to gaining new and up-to-date knowledge.

A fourth reason that self-directed learning has been becoming more popular, according to Candy, is subjective or relativistic epistemology.  In this concept, knowledge is relative.  Knowledge can be different to different people and so, therefore, one instructor can not be said to have the correct or true facts in which they will impart to the students.  What is correct or true for one is not always exactly correct or true to another.  In this view, “the ideal teacher-student relationship bears no resemblance to that of master and apprentice” (Candy, p. 39).  A teacher should act more as a facilitator or a resource person, according to Candy, since knowledge is relative and dependent on the individual and the circumstances and society that surround it.  Within this view, knowledge, in relation to the facilitator/participant relationship, should more be co-constructed. This concept of knowledge being subjective and relative fits well into the idea of self-directed learning.  One who sets out down a path of self-directed learning finds and molds their own truths and their own forms of knowledge. 

The fifth reason, as Candy states, for the increasing attention and support that self-directed learning is receiving is humanism.  Humanism is a word that has become very popular in psychology as well as in education.  Many equate humanism with Maslow’s self-actualization theory.  Education often acts as a means towards a person reaching the highest levels of needs fulfillment, that level called self-actualization.  When Maslow looked at those individuals who had achieved self-actualization, a quality that he found was autonomy and independence.  Autonomy and independence, in terms of education, can inspire self-directed learning.  As a means to help an individual realize their highest potential, self-directed learning is humanistic in its basic levels.  Adult development through self-directed learning is just one of the measures that adults can use to achieve self-actualization.  According to Maslow, all persons are “striving towards health, individual identity and integrity, and autonomy” (as cited in Candy, p. 40).  These humanistic ideas are very prevalent in the goals of self-directed learning.

The final reason that Candy mentions that leads to the popularity of self-directed learning in research and practice in recent history is the construct of adulthood.  In his book, he discusses at what point someone is considered an adult.  Is one an adult when they reach a certain age?  Is the psychological level or level of ability to be autonomous how we decide when one can be considered an adult?  The discussion of whether or not a child can take part in self-directed learning has also been brought forward.  Joblin (1988) points out that, “the myth persists that children must be taught, whereas adults can learn for themselves” (as cited in Candy, p.44).  Whether this would be true or false, these discussions and research around these topics within the field of Adult Education has brought the subject of self-directed learning to the forefront of topics within the field. 

These six reasons, as presented by Candy, have caused the topic of self-directed learning to be on the tongues of adult educators and learners alike.  Teachers, or facilitators as many call themselves, are encouraging and creating more and more opportunities for self-directed learning.  Learners have been stirred by these six reasons to seek out a kind of learning where they can have more control over the curriculum and structure of learning. Today, the opportunities for this, both in formal and in informal settings, abound. 

Concluding Thoughts

Malcolm Knowles, in his assumptions regarding andragogy (aka. adult education) and self-directed learning, said that adults have an, “innate psychological need to be self-directed” (as cited in Leach, 2005, p. 565) and this is one reason for the certain future of self-directed learning. As Combs (1972) states so well, “The world we live in demands self-starting, self-directing citizens capable of independent action.  The world is changing so fast we cannot hope to teach each person what he/she will need to know in twenty years.  Our only hope to meet the demands of the future is the production of intelligent, independent people” (as cited in Candy, p. 47).  Although this quote is now 50 years old, it still rings true and perhaps even more so today. We all must practice our intellectual muscles to know where and how to find and use the information we need to keep pace with the ever-growing complexity of our world and of our workplace. These requirements of our modern world can assure us that self-directed learning, and the skills required to successfully learn on our own, will forever hold an important place in life-long learning methods. 

Self-directed learning can, and should, be a good compliment to traditional education, towards the goal of achieving a society of life-long learners. What journal article, news article from a “link-of-a-link,” blog article, doctrine publication, book chapter, or YouTube video are you exploring today in support of your current learning needs or life-long learning goals?

References

Candy, P. (1991). Self-Direction for Lifelong Learning: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Leach, L. (2005). “Self-Directed Learning”. In L. English, (Ed.) International Encyclopaedia of Adult Education (pp. 565-569). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Government of Canada. (2018). Canadian Armed Forces professional development framework.

Perceptions about Distance Learning from CAF Members’ Points of View

As I have in previous blog articles, I will share here a small section of my doctoral research on the topic of satisfaction with distance learning (DL) experiences in the CAF. Specifically, I will share some qualitative data on CAF members’ general perceptions, both positive and negative, related to DL, as well as perceptions related to the direction the CAF is going with DL use, CAF cultural aspects related to DL, and considerations related to generational differences and individual learning preferences. This research, which was defended in 2020, included a sample of 368 CAF members who had graduated from CAF Professional Military Education programs between the dates of January, 2015 and March, 2018.

There was a wide variety of responses regarding overall satisfaction with DL. One Senior Non-Commissioned Member (NCM), for example, spoke positively about his experience and, in rating his overall experience from 1 to 10, stated, “I would say about 9.” An Officer Cadet, who had completed the Primary Leadership Qualification (PLQ) as a Junior NCM, rated his experiences as “6, 7 out of 10.” A Senior Officer shared that “on a scale of 1 to 10, 5.” General comments regarding CAF DL satisfaction, ranging widely from positive comments to more negative sentiments included, “best learning experience,” “various degrees of positive,” “globally it’s great,” “pretty good,” “pleased,” “quite favourable,” “satisfied,” “fine,” “mixed emotions,” “strongly dislike,” and “painful to get through.” One member even stated, “I cannot convey the depth of my dissatisfaction.” As we can see, generally speaking, the range of perceptions was vast.

Many members shared their perceptions concerning the direction the CAF was taking with the use of DL. Generally, I found that those members who were positive about their DL experiences felt that the CAF was moving in a good direction in increasing the use of DL and improving upon current offerings. Some of the comments included that the CAF was making “incredible strides,” and that “it’s a great way to go.” One member said that he was “impressed that we are going this way,” and another stated that “the CAF should continue to move in the way we are.” Additional positive comments included that “DL is a vital tool in contemporary learning and the CAF should continue to embrace it,” and that “DL is a great capability that should be explored and leveraged as much as possible.”

On the other hand, members who were more negative about their DL experiences shared that they believed the CAF was relying too heavily on the use of DL and should minimize its use. Often members made the comment that we would need to ensure that we are choosing the right balance between the use of DL and classroom. One Senior NCM stated that “we’re starting to do too much by DL, simply because there’s a cost savings factor.” An Advanced Leadership Programme (ALP) graduate suggested that the CAF should, “arrêter d’augmenter le nombre de cours donner en AD [stop increasing the number of courses given by DL].” Another member stated, “I’m just concerned that we put too many eggs in the same basket there for the DL,” and yet another stated that “the CAF needs to stop ‘pushing the easy button’ on DL courses in general”. Again, these perceptions ranged from very positive to very negative on the use of DL in the CAF.

Some comments seemed to be CAF- or military-specific cultural perceptions regarding DL. Although these quotes represent individual beliefs and could potentially be just one person’s view, they seemed valuable to consider. One Canadian Armed Forces Junior Officer Development (CAFJOD) graduate stated that operations and workload must take priority and that professional development courses are, “known as selfish career climbing initiatives.” A Senior Appointment Programme (SAP) graduate stated that “if a course is taught by a person or in class it is assumed that the lesson is important. When course materials are covered by DL, the mentality is that ‘it’s the less important stuff.’” One Primary Leadership Qualification (PLQ) graduate shared his opinion that, “In my mind, there’s no room for DL in the Army. It’s been my experience that most folks didn’t join the army because they were academics. DL courses are designed for academic oriented people, not for the typical blue collar.”

Regarding members using work time for DL, some members shared their perceptions that it would be seen negatively if they were to take this time. One member stated that they did all the DL on their own time due to, “not wanting to be judged for taking time off.” A CAFJOD graduate said that supervisors say that “professional development through courses, especially DL, are a “personal responsibility” and should “not take work time” to complete them.” These are all noteworthy individual perspectives/opinions to contemplate.

Some members shared a perception that DL was less favourable for older members and more favourable for younger members. Some members shared their opinion that there are no real differences between the generations in their affinity and satisfaction with the use of DL. One member, for example, stated that “as an older member of the CAF the greatest beginning difficulty was the technology of the computers and navigation of a DL course.” Another stated that “when it comes to the younger generation, they are probably more comfortable doing stuff online…. we older [members] have to get used to it.” Another member stated that “some of the senior NCMs… may not be as comfortable with computers…. so maybe they wouldn’t be as positive… using such a tool.” Another shared, “maybe I’m becoming one of those old guys I don’t know, but I’m reluctant, or hesitant to invest myself too much into DL.” On the other hand, one member stated that “particularly for the younger generation that’s starting to come through now, they’re so used to technology and so used to the resources and being able to find things online and that kind of thing.” Another member stated that “maybe the new generation responds better to DLN as they are less likely to want to leave “home” for a course and are more reliant on networking with “friends” they’ve never met.”

Not everyone, however, saw generational considerations having a real effect on DL satisfaction. One Senior Officer shared his opinion that we tend to think of DL as, “generational, like all the young folks like it, the older people don’t. I think that might be a bit of a misnomer or a fallacy because it just depends.” A Senior NCM stated, “I certainly think that across-the-board of generations -so whether you’re 19 years old or whether you’re 55 years old… DL is a very good mechanism.” As one 52-year-old member with 35 years of service in the CAF stated, “even us old guys can do it!” One 53-year-old member with 28 years of service made the point that even the older CAF members have been in a “technology powered workplace” for a long time now. “We may not be Digital Natives,” he stated, “but we should be just about out of web-illiterates [in the CAF].” Personally, I would tend to agree with this point. As someone who advances beyond middle-age, even I had a Commodore VIC-20 growing up and I would not necessarily consider myself a “digital immigrant”.

One CAFJOD graduate shared that “everyone learns differently, DL may work for some but it does not work for me.” One member suggested that the CAF should, “have some options for people. Some like DL… many, like myself, hate it. Basically stop looking for “one” solution because it will never work for everyone.” Another member stated that “not everyone is computer savvy (i.e. a digital native). There needs to be training available that is aimed at every type of learner.” Another stated that “we’re getting better with identifying people with… how they learn, and just try[ing] to adapt to it whenever we can…. otherwise we’ll always be leaving someone behind.” A CAFJOD graduate stated that “many people learn in different ways, some prefer classroom instruction and some prefer DL and some prefer hands-on courses. We should be helping people learn according to their strengths and not forcing everyone to supposedly “learn” in exactly the same way.” Some good food for thought regarding members’ perception related to learning preferences and the value of providing options.

For further details related to this research, the methodology used and fulsome findings, please feel free to refer to the link below. There have been some exciting advancements in CAF DL in the years since this research took place including the introduction of the new DLN 3.0 and more widely used videoconferencing/virtual classrooms for synchronous DL, which may influence CAF members’ perceptions of DL today.

Thanks so much to the CAF members who offered their time to answer the open-ended survey questions and who participated in interviews for this research. Their voices have added so much to the quantitative numerical data collected.

Reference:

Jones, K.A. (2020). Satisfaction of Canadian Armed Forces Regular Fores Members with their Distance Learning Experiences [Dissertation]. Athabasca University.

The Importance of Data Literacy – from a DND/CAF Perspective

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC

“What is data literacy?” you may ask, and “Why should I care about data literacy in a defence context?” In this blog, I will share some of what I learned during my experience as the lead for Data Literacy & Culture at DND’s ADM (Data, Innovation, Analytics) and some of my own reflections related to these questions. Data is everywhere! If we know how to harness it, it can be powerful!

As is a common experience for military personnel, I have periodically moved around to different positions diving into a variety of different subjects.  It certainly keeps things interesting and the brain flexible!  After several years working in the training domain of data & analytics, I quickly switched to a very different area of training this past summer at the new Chief, Professional Conduct and Culture (CPCC). I can recall wondering what I would do with all the new knowledge I had acquired over the past few years, as I quickly switched focus to a new area.  This blog is a small effort to hand off, to you dear readers (& colleagues), some of what I learned working in the domain of data & analytics training, from my own perspective.  

According to Statistics Canada (2019), “Data literacy is the ability to derive meaningful information from data. It focuses on the competencies involved in working with data including the knowledge and skills to read, analyze, interpret, visualize and communicate data as well as understand the use of data in decision-making. Data literacy also means having the knowledge and skills to be a good data steward including the ability to assess the quality of data, protect and secure data, and their responsible and ethical use.”

IN DND/CAF, some impressive early efforts and achievements by the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) began to take hold in the areas of data & analytics, some of which were highlighted in 2018 in the linked video “Member Story: Royal Canadian Navy,” as presented to the America’s SAP User Group (ASUG). In the same time-frame, the governmental Report to the Clerk of the Privy Council: A Data Strategy Roadmap for the Public Service was published with a long-term vision of increasing data literacy, managing data as an asset, creating a data-driven culture, and governing data. 

In 2019, DND’s ADM (Data, Innovation, Analytics) stood up and published DND/CAF’s first Data Strategy.  Four pillars were described within the strategy, including: 1) Data Management; 2) Data Tools & Environment; 3) Data Literacy & Skills; and 4) Data Culture. The stated goal of the strategy, specifically in terms of data literacy & skills, was to “create a data-literate and skilled workforce capable of using data to create value for DND/CAF.” From my own experience, I know that much effort is ongoing towards achieving this goal.

Data literacy is the foundation of preparing our people to advance towards a more modern military; one that further optimizes the use of digital, analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.  

As a Training Development Officer, I have reflected on what aspects could/should we be working towards within military training to prepare our people for future operating environments that rely on data in new ways? Some that, perhaps, we can not yet even imagine.

The Canadian School of Public Service (CSPS) Digital Academy and the Government of Canada Data Community, in collaboration with various government departments, spearheaded the creation of a Data Competency Framework for the Federal Government. This consists of 21 competencies over 4 categories including: 1) concepts and culture; 2) data governance, collection, & stewardship; 3) analytics & evaluation; and 4) data systems and architecture.

Making use of this framework, as well as developing and/or making use of training content being developed to support these competencies, within the Defence Team, would be a great start. Training on defence-specific present-day uses of data and related tools would be a great next step. Exploring and then communicating the art of the possible in terms of future optimization of business and operational data within defence should be on all our minds in order to keep pace with our allies and, also, our adversaries.  We must develop internal subject matter experts who understand the complexity of domestic and operational environments, but who also have the data literacy and skills in order to derive maximum value from the data we presently collect, and also understand the value we could derive from data in the future if it were to be collected and analyzed. 

In terms of business data, we must be able to effectively access, visualize, and display our data. We must be able to interpret trends and to report on performance (such as required from the Defence Results Framework (DRF)). In terms of operations, command decisions should be made taking into account relevant, available data.  Support staff should be able to collect and manage data, read data, evaluate its reliability, and present it to the Commander, either visually or verbally, in an understandable way (aka. data visualization & story-telling). Commanders must understand the value of data.

In a war-fighting context, to quote LGen (Ret’d) Mike Rouleau when he was the Vice Chief of Defence Staff, “the next kinetic fights will punish military forces who remain analogue at their core,” therefore, “…we surely owe the next generation the intellectual and pragmatic down-payment of smartly progressing into a digital future.” Wise words. Moving away from “analogue” and advancing into this desirable “digital future” requires us to embrace a data culture and work towards increasing the Defence Team’s data skills and knowledge.

The Defence Team, globally, must work to enable evidence-based decision making in order to progress into a data-driven and digital future.  As stated by General Wayne Eyre, who was Commander of the Canadian Army at the time, in Advancing with Purpose: The Canadian Army Modernization Strategy, “The Canadian Army must harness data and embrace digital culture to benefit from their potential.” Indeed!

What will you do to enable your teams to be ready for the future data-driven workplace? What will we do to ensure that the Defence Team will be ready for the future data-driven fight?

References

America’s SAP User’s Group. (2018) Member Story: Royal Canadian Navy.

Canadian Army. (2021). Advancing with Purpose: The Canadian Army Modernization Strategy.

DND. (2019). The Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Data Strategy

Rouleau, M. (2020). VCDS/DMA Planning Guidance and Digitization, VCD2020-0015391

Statistics Canada (2019). Data Literacy Training.

Experiential Learning: From a CAF Perspective

Photo Credit: Corporal Daniel Chiasson, Canadian Armed Forces photo

Experiential learning is becoming a much more recognized alternative and compliment to pure traditional academic learning.  Experiential learning has been defined by Lewis & Williams (1994) as, “…learning from experience or learning by doing. Experiential education first immerses learners in an experience and then encourages reflection about the experience to develop new skills, new attitudes, or new ways of thinking” (p. 5). “Learning by doing” is certainly not a new concept, though, as we have had “apprentices,”journeymen,” and “masters” in most learning contexts since before we necessarily had words to describe them. The post-activity reflection that is included in this definition aids the acquisition of the new skill, attitude, or way of thinking.

Examples of Experiential Learning

One context where we sometimes use the term “experiential learning” is when we are assessing previous experiences in work and training in order to make a prior learning assessment which can grant individuals with academic credit, entry into an academic or training program, strengthen a job application, or allow entry into a professional body. In job advertisements, we will often see that a certain degree is required, or equivalent work experience. Through this recognition of experiential learning, new opportunities can present themselves for those who do not have the required prerequisites but who do necessarily have sufficient past learning experiences. In the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), we often use and encourage the use of Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) to reduce unnecessary training time and costs required for a member to achieve their qualification. If previous work and/or training experiences show that specific CAF performance objectives have, indeed, been previously achieved through other means, such as within a previous work or training experience, a PLAR can be requested and evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Conversely, there are also organizations outside the CAF who will recognize CAF experiences towards credit or qualifications.

Canadian Armed Forces Professional Development Framework

The second use of the term “experiential learning,” which is likely the more common use in the training and educational context, concerns itself with integrating experiential learning into traditional training and education.  This may include real-life simulations and other learner-centric and learner-controlled activities. The instructor’s role in this context is as a facilitator. We often see experiential learning in the CAF as part of the Training Pillar of the Professional Development Framework, which is illustrated in the figure above. Examples of experiential learning in the CAF could come in the form of simulated live field/air/sea exercises, planning an attack, operating simulated vehicles, typing a memo (as I did in my RMS Clerk QL3 course back in 2005!), firing a weapon, performing first aid on a dummy, taking apart and putting together an engine during training, and using simulated a 360 degree air traffic control center to run through real-life scenarios, as they do at Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Control Operations (CFSACO). In my own occupational training, as a Training Development Officer, we led mock Qualification Standard and Training Plan Writing Boards during our course, followed by real writing boards, under supervision, with real subject matter experts during our on-the-job training.

Experiential learning also occurs as part of the Experience Pillar, as illustrated above. The Experience Pillar is defined as “the application and continued development of the knowledge, skills and attitudes obtained through education, training, and/or self-development in the performance of assigned roles and duties” (GoC, 2018a). In other words, experiential learning happens on the job and throughout our careers. We move beyond simulated vehicles, for example, and operate various types of vehicles in theatre, on various types of terrain, and in various types of weather. In other contexts, such as leadership development, we move beyond role-playing difficult discussions, and move into handling difficult discussions within many different real-life scenarios, in many different contexts, and with many different types of people. Experiential learning in training is excellent for practicing what is to come. Experiential learning throughout our career, and indeed throughout our entire lifetime, continuously develops us and adds depth to our knowledge and skills.

Myself, showing off a simulated Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU) during the Basic Public Affairs Officer Course: Exercise Veritas Thunder, 2012

Discussion

Experiential learning is an important consideration in terms of prior learning assessments. Older workers want their life work experiences to be recognized so that new opportunities can open up for them.  CAF recruits are no longer only younger adults people fresh out of school. Practical abilities and tacit knowledge must be respected and equivalencies must be offered through the process of PLAR in order to avoid training redundancy and to reduce unnecessary training days. There are many occupations in the CAF that have an equivalent in the civilian world, for example, cooks, various types of technicians, and nurses. Granting equivalencies based on experiential learning, whether through work or other life experiences, just makes good sense. In many cases, only training that covers the military aspects of the job may be required to get an individual to the operationally functional point (OFP) in their occupation.

Recognizing education in the younger graduates (or recruits), who may be new to the workplace and lack life/work experiences, and recognizing the life/work experiences of the older population, who may lack traditional academic degrees/training certification, “levels the playing field” and can help to provide the best individual, regardless of age and regardless of how the pertinent knowledge and skills were gained.  In a time when we, in the CAF, are focused on reconstitution, that is rebuilding the numbers we lost due to the lack of recruitment and training during the pandemic, this point seems especially relevant. As Lance Lee, in Spectre’s (1993) article on experiential learning, stated “capability is the bottom line” (p. 135). Indeed, it is!

The future of experiential learning, in terms of enabling experiences in training or in the workplace, looks bright. In fact, it would be hard to imagine one CAF school or qualification that does not have some sort of experiential learning included. In terms of civilian academic and college programs, many are offering experiential learning extended opportunities in the forms of co-ops, internships, and practicum.  

It is highly likely that these practices will continue and expand.  The implications of the greater recognition and value given to experiential learning, that I envision, will be that training and educational institutes could evolve.  It could be more the norm that students come in and out of programs to acquire what, and only what, they need to do their jobs.  They will not invest time or money, or their organization’s money, to relearn what they already know from previous workplace or school learning.  Workplaces will value experience gained equally to, if not more than, academic credentials.  Job advertisements will never list a certain degree as an absolute minimum.  The words “or equivalent experience” will always appear in advertisements- including within CAF recruitment advertisements.

Final Words

I believe that training and education should always include some form of experiential learning. Examples include through simulations, role-playing, working through scenarios, games, field trips, and many other options. Consider your target audience, consider your context, and consider what it is, in the world beyond the schoolhouse (or virtual classroom), that you are looking to achieve. The next time you, as an instructor, consider creating a long PowerPoint deck for your classroom lecture, consider how you could enable “Learning by Doing.” Your students will thank you for it!

References

Government of Canada. (2018a). Canadian Armed Forces professional development framework.

Government of Canada. (2018b). DAOD 5031-1 Canadian Forces Military Equivalencies Program.

Lewis, L.H. & Williams, C.J. (1994). In Jackson, L. & Caffarella, R.S. (Eds.). Experiential
Learning: A New Approach (pp. 5-16). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Spectre, P. H. (1993). Lance Lee: Building self-reliance, character, and boats. Wooden Boat, 114, 52-63. Published by Jossey-Bass Inc.

Sternberg, R. J., Wagner, R. K., Williams, W. M., & Horvath, J. A. (1995).Testing common sense. American Psychologist, 50(11), 912-927.

Military Operational Considerations Affecting Distance Learning Experiences

Photo credit: Major Carl Gendron, Camp Julien, Afghanistan, 2004

In terms of design, development, and delivery of distance learning (DL) for the military, it must be acknowledged that the military is a unique target population which often operates in unique contexts. Due to this fact, members often face unique challenges in relation to their DL courses. Depending on the specific operational situation, members often wish to continue their distance learning while in these settings, assuming time and circumstances can allow. My doctoral research, which focused on the overall satisfaction of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members on their DL experiences, shed some light on the experiences of members working through DL courses while on operations. This research, which was defended in 2020, included a sample of 368 CAF members who had graduated from CAF Professional Military education programs between the dates of January, 2015 and March, 2018.

In this research, I generally defined operational activities as deployments (foreign and domestic), military exercises, mission training, and working in a high readiness state for deployment.  Clearly, based on the qualitative data gleaned from interviews and survey open-ended questions, operational activities did have an effect on CAF members’ DL experiences. Many members stated that operational activities can cause difficulties with DL studies as the operational activities take members away from their normal schedules. “Certainly,” one member stated, “if you are on DL and there are taskings, deployments, whatever, forest fires, anything that can grab you away from work, that will impact your DL experience.” On the other hand, many members praised DL as a mode of delivery that can enable the continuation of professional development during operations.  One member asserted that “it’s possible to continue to engage in the learning process while deployed – if the technology supports it.”  Another stated that “DL is a viable option in various circumstances, such as while on a mission or deployed out of the country.” Another member stated that whether, “we’re looking at deployments, postings, exercises, high readiness plans… DL enables the learning process to continue through all of it.”  Another member, however, stated that some of their, “classmates had to withdraw due to deployments.” 

Several members mentioned the challenges with being able to focus on DL in an operational setting. One Senior NCM, for example, said that “understanding that when you’re in operations and deployments, the environments, the stresses, and the factors of where you are already keep you quite busy.”  One Junior Officer who had completed the Canadian Armed Forces Junior Officer Development (CAFJOD) program, while aboard a ship, stated that it was “virtually impossible” to complete the courses in a timely manner, “mainly due to inflexible work schedules (watch-keeping).”  Another member mentioned that “deployed operations present a challenge in focusing on the material at times.”  Another stated,“I did the ILP [Intermediate Leadership Program] DL while in Afghanistan.  Super busy and dangerous time.  Could not focus on the course as much as needed.”

Accessing the required equipment was sometimes a challenge that members faced on operations.  One member stated that “at sea, DL is very hard to complete, as there are few available computers that are shared between multiple users, and operational requirements have priority over individual training.” One Senior Non-Commissioned Member (NCM) made the pertinent comment that the availability of equipment during training and extended deployments is often dependent on the type of work a member is doing.  He stated, in French, that “…pour les armes de combat, notre travail est principalement concentré sur le travail manuel et de gestion de personnel. L’accès à un poste informatique est difficile […for combat arms, our work is mainly focused on manual work and personnel management. Access to a computer station is difficult].” 

The most common challenges that many members brought up regarding DL during military operations were issues of connectivity and bandwidth.  While one CAFJOD graduate said he completed three courses while deployed to Afghanistan and, “only on the odd occasion ran into any connectivity difficulties,” others reported more challenges in this respect.  Some members stated that they had dropped DL courses due to connectivity and bandwidth issues on operations.  Another mentioned the difficulty accessing good internet connections while on humanitarian relief operations, such as with the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART).

“Restricted bandwidth while sailing,” one member stated, “can significantly reduce, or stop, DL progress.”  One ILP graduate stated that “connectivity while at sea was a big problem… There was also the constant risk that you would lose connectivity altogether and lose your work.” Another stated that “if you’re deployed to Africa or something like that, who knows what kind of connection you would actually have to be able to progress it.”  Another member stated that “HMC Ship’s IT software and/or connectivity has created a lot of headaches for students.” One CAFJOD graduate stated that “bandwidth is often severely restricted, making newer DL hard to access.”  One member stated that there was a submariner on their Senior Leadership Program (SLP) course and that due to being on a submarine, “he could only participate when… surfaced, and even then…there was no real interaction [with peers or instructors].”

A couple of sailors even mentioned that members are using time in foreign ports to fulfill their DL commitments.  One Senior NCM stated that “once I was deployed onboard ship the internet wasn’t very good and [so I] had to do extra work before and download info at a café once we docked in another port. Not ideal.” Another stated that “students spend personal time in foreign ports downloading and uploading assignments,” and that, due to this fact, “their quality of life goes way down.”

Military exercises, mission preparation training, and high readiness states can also cause unique challenges to members pursuing professional development via DL.  One ILP graduate remarked that, during major exercises, it is “hard to write and send essays while living off a tank.”  Being in the field can often cause accessibility issues. One Joint Command Staff Program (JCSP) DL graduate stated that he was required to participate in mandatory field exercises during his studies.  In reference to a lack of course flexibility and connectivity while on exercise, he described the scenario he faced.  “Imagine”, he shared, “having to leave the field, go find a Tim Hortons for their Wi-Fi and have to submit content iaw [in accordance with] an arbitrary and completely inflexible timetable. Ridiculous.”  Another mentioned that members sometimes “use their BlackBerry [work cellular phone] to send essays” in the field.  Another shared that “trying to send in your last few assignments in the middle of the field in WX [Wainwright Exercise] will most definitely leave a bad taste in your mouth.”  Another member stated that “conducting DL while on exercise was extremely difficult and led to considerable corner cutting, reducing the quality of the learning.”  Others mentioned how military activities during DL led to more stress and more difficulties finding time to dedicate to DL and meeting course deadlines. 

Members suggested that granting flexibility in professional military education is paramount in enabling members’ success. Such things as allowing for deadline extensions due to other military obligations and ensuring course design flexibility, such as allowing for the downloading of course content and alternative offline activities for members who may not have access to Internet connections, would be beneficial to the military population in dealing with the military-specific considerations that can influence members’ DL experiences.

Much thanks to the members who shared their first-person accounts to help inform the CAF training and education system and enable our collective continuous improvement.

Reference

Jones, K.A. (2021). Satisfaction of Canadian Armed Forces Regular Fores Members with their Distance Learning Experiences [Dissertation]. Athabasca University.

Technology-Enabled Interactions in Distance Learning : Part 3/3 (CAF Members’ Input)

Canadian Armed Forces medic at laptop in back of a LAV
Photo Credit: DND photo IS2011-1036-02 by Sergeant Matthew McGregor

In the previous two blog articles in this serial (1/3 & 2/3), I focused more generally on the concepts of interaction in Distance Learning (DL). In this entry, I will focus specifically on the qualitative findings that I gleaned from my own mixed methods (qualitative & quantitative) doctoral research, within the context of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Although the mixed methods approach gave rich findings, I have always really wanted to specifically share with a wider readership, the words of the CAF members who responded to open-ended questions in my survey and who took part in the interviews that I conducted. In short, my research into CAF DL satisfaction included a sample of those who graduated between Jan, 2015 and March, 2018, from the Officer and Non Commissioned Members (NCM) professional military education programs, which, at the time of this research, were either delivered solely by DL or as blended learning (DL + classroom). In relation, specifically, to the Joint Command and Staff Programme (JCSP), only graduates of the DL version (with visits to the college) were part of the research sample. While, overall, 78% of these CAF members reported that they were somewhat or very satisfied with their DL experiences, 71.7% stated that, all things being equal, they would choose classroom learning over DL. Some interesting nuances emerged from the qualitative data that I happy to share here, in relation specifically to the three types of interactions in DL. More detailed research findings can be found from here.

Today, I will focus solely on DL interactions. It must be noted that this research was completed prior to the COVID pandemic, and as such, we could potentially expect different responses today, based partially on the quick stand-up many organizations moved to, including the CAF, of desktop Internet videoconferencing as a tool to enable synchronous DL. Some residential courses switched to synchronous virtual classes shortly after the pandemic began.

The first category within the theme of DL course quality, within this qualitative thematic analysis, contained members’ comments and perspectives regarding the three forms of interactions described in the previous two blog entries of this series. The interactions category included the following: 1) peer interaction, including comments about networking, 2) interactions with instructors and staff, as well as, 3) interactions with the course content.

Generally, the quality of interactions came up often in members’ qualitative responses to DL satisfaction, with many reporting that they had felt that they were missing out on what they perceived as rich face-to-face opportunities to meet, discuss, and create relationships with their peers that could benefit them throughout their careers.

Some members felt that the online asynchronous forum discussions were valuable for effective interactions with peers. One, for example, said that “they were excellent. Part of it is because you’re forced to interact.” One member said, “getting in contact online with people like that, you meet a lot of people… so I think it’s good.” Another member said that the connections with the other students were great and stated that they would stay in contact with their classmates. One member said that they liked the flexibility in that they could contribute to a discussion at any time, day or night. In an interview, one Senior NCM offered his positive perspective on one aspect of interactions in DL:

“One of the things that distance learning will enable, when we’re looking at group discussion kind of formats, is typically, when you get people physically in a room, group dynamics always take over. You’re going to have one or two people that will naturally take charge of the room, you’ll have one or two people who won’t say a word even if you come around and poke them with a pen and, then, you get the fence-sitters who can go either way. In the virtual chat room [discussion forum] everyone has a voice and they’re not afraid to express opinions.”

Other members, however, found the value of the DL interactions compared negatively to in-class peer interaction. Some stated that students were often just posting the bare minimum to meet the course requirements and that the forum discussions were not engaging. Many stated that they felt they would learn more in an in-class situation rather than, as one member put it, from, “the cold face of a screen.” One Intermediate Leadership Programme (ILP) graduate said that he found himself, “unable to fully engage with other participants.” Another stated that the DL experience, “isolated the users and did not really allow for positive discussions amongst peers.” One Senior Leadership Programme (SLP) graduate stated that “for leadership and command courses nothing [referring to DL] beats face time and learning from others, ‘Friday night in the shacks learning over beers with peers.’” Another stated that “it’s easier to appreciate other experiences when soldiers are assembled in one location.”

One ILP graduate stated, in reference to DL, that “there is no human component, experience, lessons learned. There is no feeling of camaraderie, team building etc.” Another ILP graduate stated that “the over reliance of computers has taken the “human” interaction away from most courses. The “tech net” used to be formed when sitting in a class with peers from different areas.” Another stated that a negative impact of DL, beyond the immediate training, is the “general group mentorship by rank or trade.” Another member stated that DL does not improve our people skills and, “leads to more people ‘leading by email.’” Several of the JCSP graduates shared that they felt the online forums were more effective after the cohort met face to face during the residential visit halfway through the DL course. Some also felt that, following the program, the students from the residential version of the JCSP seem, “to have a greater network of peers and mentors than DL students.”

Some members found that discussions in DL forums were lacking in depth as it was, as one member put it, “difficult to gauge an individual’s perspective without being able to read body language and identify tone.” Another mused that “you don’t get the facial expressions, you don’t get the gestures, you don’t get the intonations.” As one member described, “some things come across as very pointed where they’re not intended to be.” Another member explained that “text and narrative can be taken out of context and read in many different ways,” and yet another member said that “it’s hard to bring emotion into a conversation through a computer screen or through an online chat forum.”

The Canadian Armed Forces Junior Officer Development (CAFJOD) program and the Primary Leadership Qualification (PLQ) did not incorporate any peer interaction in the DL course design. A Junior Officer who had completed the CAFJOD program stated that it was, “a solo endeavor.” Although he said that discussions with peers, outside of the courses, were encouraged, you “have to sit down and do the course all by yourself.” A graduate of the PLQ course suggested that DL courses, “need to be a little bit more interactive.” When I asked him to explain what “more interactive” would be like, he replied with examples such as, “being able to talk to other students,” and “more networking and bouncing ideas and having to work together.” He also reflected that “maybe through other people you can actually learn the information a little bit better yourself.” When asked if any of this type of interactivity was seen in his PLQ, he stated, “None. There was zero.”

Some Advanced Leadership Programme (ALP) graduates shared their disappointment that there was no longer a residential portion of the ALP in that it was presently delivered solely via DL. One ALP graduate stated, “I am extremely dissatisfied with the DL package. It does not foster networking, nor does it allow us to broaden our experience with other trades.” Another member stated that “ALP should have a small portion by DL and bring back the residential portion since that is where your networking is establish[ed] which you cannot have online. The face-to-face interaction is definitely necessary.”

Interactions with instructors were also seen as an important issue in members’ discussions regarding their satisfaction with their DL experiences. There was a range of levels of satisfaction with instructor interactions. Some said that they communicated with instructors through the messages and online forum discussions on the Defence Learning Network (DLN) / Learning Management System (LMS), some via email, and some communicated on the telephone. One member said that they found the interactions with instructors to be “adequate,” and another said, “effective.” One Senior NCM that I interviewed, who had completed the SLP, stated that the course staff were, “always there to help.”

On the other hand, some members felt that the interactions with their instructors and staff left something to be desired. The interaction, one member stated, was “effective but very brief and not necessarily personable.” In terms of feedback, one PLQ graduate hinted at his displeasure saying that it should be made “mandatory for instructors to respond within a given time period.” A Senior NCM stated, in reference to the interactions with instructors, that he was “not overly satisfied… it was more process management than people management.” He suggested this could be improved by “more feedback on how we’re communicating, more feedback on things that we’re doing, greater interactive sessions.” In terms of the online discussions, another member stated that “the instructors could have been involved. They could have actually chimed in, they could have given some feedback directly in the middle of conversations, they could have redirected conversations or opened up the conversations much more,” and that this probably would have, “elicited a little more.”

A Junior Officer who had completed the CAFJOD program explained that “there’s no instructors on CAFJOD” and that the course is, “entirely self-serve.” He stated that any questions a student may have were to be directed to the Chain of Command.

As for interactions with the course content, members reported that, depending on the different courses, they accessed the content in different ways, such as the following: on the LMS, by downloading pdfs or accessing content through provided links and electronic libraries, both from internal and external sources; and, in some cases, through content and references that were either mailed or emailed. One member said that there were “phenomenal resources” that were “easy-to-access.” A JCSP graduate stated that “the content as provided was easily accessible, you could get it, you could read it.”

As you can see, there were a range of levels of satisfaction with the interactions within the CAF Professional Development Programs for Officers and NCMs and I have, obviously, not represented all comments here. The sentiments within, however, generally speaking, were also supported by the quantitative data. In my opinion, many of the issues that were brought up in this research regarding interactions, could be addressed somewhat with the use of the newly available technologies, such as desktop videoconferencing now available to all CAF members. Even at a physical distance, a blended approach including technologies that enable synchronous interactions via, for example, MS Teams or the DLN virtual classroom, and asynchronous, for example, via the DLN LMS, could offer even more opportunities for valuable learning interactions via DL than prior to the COVID pandemic.

As stated in earlier articles in this series, higher quality interactions, in various forms (i.e., learner-content, learner-to-instructor, and learner-leaner) has the potential to lead to a more satisfying learning experience. While, there may sometimes be roadblocks (e.g., bandwidth, Internet access), we should make all attempts to optimize the training technologies available to us to the benefit of our students.

For further information, including the quantitative data of my research in relations to DL interactions, feel free to pursue my full dissertation linked below. More discussions related to this research’s findings, in relation to training technologies and military-specific considerations for DL, will follow in future blog articles.

Reference

Jones, K.A. (2021). Satisfaction of Canadian Armed Forces Regular Fores Members with their Distance Learning Experiences [Dissertation]. Athabasca University.