Queen Bee Phenomenon: Do Women Tend To Hinder Other Women’s Progress in a Male-Dominated Organization?

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

I had recently heard about the “Queen Bee Phenomenon” which has been said to be a common occurrence within male-dominated organizations and, having recognized the description of these behaviours through some of my own previous encounters, I thought it would be a good topic to explore and share.

The “Queen Bee Phenomenon” tends to be seen amongst women who pursue individual success, within a male-dominated environment, while adjusting themselves to fit within the male-dominated culture and distancing themselves from other women. To further the description, women who act as “Queen Bees” display three main behaviours to achieve one main goal. They: 1) present themselves as more masculine, emphasizing male stereotypical characteristics and downplaying female stereotypical characteristics; 2) they distance themselves (psychologically & physically) from other women- mainly from the more junior/lower-level women; and 3) they legitimize the current gender hierarchy, all in order to achieve individual success and often at the expense of other women.

It would be too easy to attribute these behaviours merely to the flawed female character. The true reasons for this phenomenon, of course, are much more complex. According to a review of research by Derks, Van Laar, & Ellemers (2016), the Queen Bee Phenomenon is not the main cause of gender equality, rather, the associated behaviours are a consequence of gender discrimination that are triggered by the devaluing of women and the negative stereotypes that women are continually encountering within a workplace dominated by men. This reaction is related to social identity theory, where individuals tend to base their identity partially on their gender. When women are in the minority within the higher ranks/positions of an organization, and when stereotypes see their gender as less able or suited to those roles, women often feel a social identity threat. This threat can lead to individual coping mechanisms which aim to improve upon their work opportunities in a male-dominated organization where career options & advancements for women are limited. These coping mechanisms can include such things as distancing themselves from others in the minority group i.e. other women, and working to assimilate themselves into the higher status group i.e. with men. Queen Bees will often disassociate from junior women, criticizing them, find them less career-focused, committed, or willing to sacrifice for their careers as they may have (e.g., not marrying or having children). These Queen Bees will work to build stereotypical characteristics more in line with male leaders.

I have briefly discussed the first two behaviors of a typical Queen Bee, that is, presenting as more masculine and distancing from other women. What about the third behaviour, then, of legitimizing the current gender hierarchy? Often Queen Bees can legitimize the status quo male-dominated companies/organizations by filling the “token” women seats at the senior level. This allows the organization to state that they have no issue with gender integration or equality and then continue on without any efforts to improve on this front. Since Queen Bees have been successful in their careers, using their often-negative coping mechanisms, they may not perceive the lack of fairness for other women in terms of promotion, available flex-time required for family responsibilities, etc. Research has shown that they are more likely then men to reject things like quota policies to benefit junior women (Rindfleish & Sheridan, 2003).

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY

It must be stated that not all successful women will become Queen Bees or exhibit these characteristics. These responses are mainly triggered within male-dominated organizations where women experience social identity threats due to negative stereotypes and gender discrimination. Some women, on the other hand, in the same workplace situation will be motivated to work harder to support women’s programs and be a mentor/support to junior women. These women are more apt to be those who tend to identify more strongly with their gender at work. It is also important to note that the Queen Bee Phenomenon can also be see within other minority groups which are negatively stereotyped in the workplace. “Self-group distancing” is a term used for this.

Queen Bee behaviours can have a negative effect on women senior leaders, junior women, and on the organization overall. Amongst other effects, women leaders who have distanced themselves from other women in the workplace may miss out on the psychological benefits of identifying with other women who can provide support in relation to gender discrimination. Junior women are negatively effected by missing our on having senior women leaders as mentors, roles models, and as support as they climb the organizational ladder. Junior women may feel disheartened by the inability to relate to and receive support from the Queen Bee leader. Organizations can also be negatively affected by the Queen Bee phenomenon as it may limit their growth in diversity within the highest levels. As Queen Bees show more stereotypical masculine leadership styles, due to trying to assimilate themselves in the male-dominated workplace, and since this phenomenon can often stifle the career of junior women, the organization misses out on the diversity of perspective in leadership roles, which would surely benefit organizational outcomes. This also illustrates how having just several “token” women leaders, who are Queen Bees, can actually be detrimental.

This has been a short overview of the Queen Bee Phenomenon, as I have understood it from reading research on the topic. There is plenty more depth and research to dig into if it interests you, starting perhaps with the references below.

Have you seen these behaviours exhibited around you within a male-dominated workplace? Can you identify them within yourself? Better understanding our own behaviours and what factors can contribute to them is a good step towards change. The Queen Bee Phenomenon, of course, is not just a women’s issue. As this phenomenon is a consequence of gender discrimination and negative stereotypes against women, especially within a male-dominated work environment, and as it can have personal and organizational impacts, it is a workplace concern for us all.


Derks, B., Van Laar, C., & Ellemers, N. (2016). The queen bee phenomenon: Why women leaders distance themselves from junior women. The Leadership Quarterly, 27(3), 456-469.

Queen bees: Do women hinder the progress of other women? (4 Jan, 2018). BBC News.

Rindfleish, J., & Sheridan, A. (2003). No change from within: senior women managers’ response to gendered organizational structures. Women in Management Review.

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?


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.

Distance Learning vs Traditional Classroom-Based Learning

Myself, Major Kim Jones, at my previous rank in 2012. MCpl Kathryn Poudrier, Defence Public Affairs Learning Centre, Copyright 2012 DND-MDN Canada

Throughout my time as a Training Development Officer in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), as well as during my studies in the domain of education, I have been asked many times which is better, more effective, and/or more satisfying: distance learning (DL) or traditional classroom-based learning? What does the research say?

The answer is “It depends!” I have experienced excellent examples of DL, as well as poor examples, and I have experienced excellent examples of classroom learning, as well as poor examples. Chances are that you have too! Variables such as the quality of the course design, the effectiveness of the technology and the learning environment, as well as the incorporation of (or lack thereof) quality interactions with instructors and peers all affect the quality of the course, whether it be delivered via DL, face-to-face in the classroom, or in some blended format. So, let’s have a look at what the research has to say.

There have been many studies over the years comparing DL with traditional classroom-based courses, both for effectiveness and learner satisfaction.  A well-known historical theoretical debate took place during the 1980s and 1990s between Richard Clark and Robert Kozma concerning training delivery systems.  On one hand, Clark (1983, 1994) stated that the medium was a neutral carrier of the course content and method, and that the important aspect that could affect the outcome of learning, positively or negatively, was the instructional method.  Kozma (1994), on the other hand, argued that as DL technologies evolved, Clark’s (1983) earlier assertion was just not enough as, “a medium’s capabilities enable methods” (Kozma, 1994, p. 20).  Newer interactive technologies, for example, that enable such things as collaborative learning, can, indeed, influence learner outcomes.

Generally speaking, though, research has found that there is no significant difference in learner outcomes or satisfaction between DL and classroom-based instruction. Indeed, an entire website is dedicated to supporting this conclusion (nosignificantdifference.org). Numerous meta-analyses over nearly two decades have led to this conclusion. Russell (1999) reported, using a meta-analysis of 355 studies, that there was no significant difference in learning outcomes (i.e., effectiveness) based on the mode of education delivery (traditional classroom versus DL) alone.  Several meta-analyses have also looked at learner satisfaction comparing distance education and the traditional classroom. For example, Allen, Bourhis, Burrell, and Mabry (2002) conducted a meta-analysis of 22 studies with a total sample of 3822 learners (after removing three outlier studies).  These 22 studies compared learner satisfaction for distance education to the traditional classroom in higher education.  The meta-analysis concluded that learners found distance education as satisfying as traditional classroom study.

Within my own doctoral research (2020), I delved into CAF members’ DL satisfaction with a sample of 368 CAF members who had graduated from CAF Professional Military Education programs between the dates of January, 2015 and March, 2018. While I didn’t compare DL to classroom learning, it is interesting to note that 78% of survey participants reported that they were somewhat or very satisfied with their DL experiences and 16% reported that they were somewhat or very dissatisfied with their DL experiences.

Although this sounds rather positive for CAF DL, it is also very interesting to consider that when asked, with all thing being equal (e.g. time required), which mode of delivery members prefer, classroom or DL, 71.7% said that they would choose classroom learning and 28.3% said that they would choose DL. There are multiple reasons why this could be and some could be CAF-specific, such as high operational tempo, technology issues, etc. I did find, however, that course quality and design variables, such as instructional methods, course materials, technology effectiveness, and interactions with peers and instructors were all predictive of DL satisfaction. Additionally, as some members reported having difficulty juggling their work and home life with their DL, support from the Chain of Command (often in terms of hours provided to devote to DL) was also a significant predictor of DL satisfaction.

As DL tools continue to evolve, we now have new ways to interact with learners at a distance. While we continue to improve upon our DL offerings, one thing is shown over and over in the research. There is no significant difference in the effectiveness of learning, depending solely on whether the learning is in the classroom or via DL. The differences are most often found in the quality of the design, development, and delivery of training & education. Effective technology, fulsome and valued interactions by a skilled facilitator (either synchronously in a virtual classroom or asynchronously in a discussion forum), and high quality design should equate to effective learning with satisfied learners regardless of delivery method.

I propose that we put this decades-old debate to sleep and focus our energy on making all of our training & educational offerings the best learning experiences possible, regardless if the delivery is through distance learning, within a traditional classroom, or some mixture of both.


Allen, M., Bourhis, J., Burrell, N., & Mabry, E. (2002). Comparing learner satisfaction with distance education to traditional classrooms in higher education: a meta-analysis. American Journal of Distance Education, 16(2), 83-97.

Clark, R.E. (1983). Reconsidering research on learning from media. Review of Educational Research, 53(4), 445-459.

Clark, R.E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, (2), 21-29.

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

Kozma, R. B. (1994). Will media influence learning? Reframing the debate. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 7–19.

Russell, T. (1999). The no significant difference phenomenon: as reported in 355 research reports, summaries and papers: A comparative research annotated bibliography on technology for distance education. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University.

Psychological Safety in the Workplace

During the past year, in my work context at DND/CAF’s Chief, Professional Conduct and Culture, I have been hearing about, thinking about, learning about, and strategizing about “Inclusion.” What is it? How can we, as a Defence Team, become more inclusive? What behaviours can I practice in my everyday life to make those around me feel more included?

One definition of inclusion that has been used in the DND/CAF is as follows: “a collective culture in which people feel valued, respected, connected, psychologically safe, involved in decision-making, recognized as having unique characteristics that contribute to organizational success, and empowered to bring their authentic selves to the workplace.” (CPCC, 2021)

This is a great vision of a preferred future state for us to work towards, and as I have witnessed over the past year, these efforts are already well underway in DND/CAF. Let’s pull out one term from the definition of inclusion to consider further: “psychological safety.” According to Timothy Clark, psychological safety is the ability to interact with others without fear of negative consequences. In other words, it’s not socially, emotionally, politically, or economically expensive to be yourself.”

As shown in his diagram below, he proposed 4 increasing stages of psychological safety. First, we could feel 1) included, then 2) safe to learn, then 3) safe to contribute, and then, ultimately, 4) safe to challenge the status quo without feel of reprisal or being made to feel embarrassed. As shown in the diagram, this fourth stage is where innovation can take place. What a worthwhile goal when, frankly, we don’t already have all the solutions figured out! When we understand that new, creative, and valuable solutions can come from all levels across a diverse workforce, we start to understand the immense value of what can come from a psychologically safe workplace, in which even the ultimate stage of this model, “challenger safety,” is assured to all individuals- regardless of rank, trade, gender, age, sexual orientation, country of origin, etc.

So, how can we build psychological safety in our workplaces? I will share some brief examples of actions you can take, to grow the four stages, as suggested by Timothy Clark (2020).

#1: To make others feel included: introduce yourself; ask twice as much as you tell; express gratitude and appreciation; ask for feedback and for help; create bonding opportunities; and ask about others’ needs and challenges.

#2: To make others feel safe to learn: make learning collaborative; share what you have been learning, your past mistakes, and your learning goals; de-stigmatize failure (it’s often the most effective way to learn!); ask for feedback and embrace it- regardless of where it comes from.

#3: To make others feel safe to contribute: recognize accomplishments; celebrate small wins; shift from tell to ask; give “stretch” assignments; help others see their strengths; accept bad news; and reward those who take on additional responsibilities.

#4: To make others feel safe to challenge the status quo & innovate: assign the role to someone to dissent/ to challenge a certain course of action i.e. give them license to disagree; model and reward vulnerability; create diverse teams; challenge your own decisions; put a hypothesis on the table; and bring in additional outsider views.

If we wish to advance towards a more inclusive workplace environment that is more welcoming to diverse people with different skills and experiences, we must all make deliberate efforts, both personally and organizationally, towards increasing psychological safety. Whether the context is in a field unit, a hanger, on a ship, in a school, within the HQ cubicle farm, or at home in a video-conference with colleagues, we can all make small behavioural changes, such as those recommended by Clark (2020) above. These types of small efforts can strengthen our teams. On the larger organizational scale, these multiplied efforts can, indeed, lead to advancing towards a more inclusive workplace and the overall cultural transformation so many of us are now seeking.


Clark, T. (2020) The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Behavioral Guide.

CPCC. (2021). Initiating Directive on the Integration of the Measurement of Inclusive Behaviours in the Defence Team.

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.


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?


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


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!


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.


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

Effective Leadership During Times of Change

What are the characteristics of a good leader?  What behaviours does an effective leader practice?  Is the specific context an important factor to consider in relation to effective leadership styles? Does a period of change call for a specific type of leader?

It seems to me that, currently, there are required changes everywhere I look. In fact, change seems to be the only constant. In the DND/CAF, we are working towards a much needed culture change, including building a more diverse and inclusive environment. In the larger Government of Canada, including within DND/CAF, there are modernization efforts in terms of the required shift towards becoming more digital. Since the start of the COVID pandemic, an exodus to home offices led to many changes in the ways in which we work and in the ways in which we train and educate. One could argue, as I would, that a climate of change requires strong transformational leaders at the helm in order to champion bold and innovative solutions. Influential leaders who motivate followers to enable transformational visions are required in order to make real headway. Emotional intelligence is also a crucial aspect of effective leadership, in that, it is required to build strong and productive transformational teams.

According to Gill (2011), four dimensions tend to emerge in leadership thinking and research: the intellectual, the emotional, the spiritual, and the behavioral.  They propose that “effective leadership requires vision and a sense of mission, shared values, strategy, empowerment, and influence, motivation, and inspiration” (Gill, 2011, p. 64).  There have been many theories postulated and research conducted aimed at better understanding what traits and behaviors are effective in a leader. Indeed, this is a question that has always interested me and, although I have done my fair share of reading on the subject, I have equally learned about effective and ineffective leadership by watching those around me.

The “Great Man Theory,” which is aged merely by the gendered name, was an early leadership theory that suggested that one is born with specific traits that lend themselves to successful leadership. Empirical studies, however, “have not established a definite link between particular traits, or groups of traits, and effective leadership” (Stewart, 2006, p. 5). That is, there is no one set of innate distinguishing traits that automatically lead to effective leadership. Effective leaders can come in a variety of shapes, sizes, genders, and backgrounds. An effective leader can have a soft voice or a booming, loud voice. For those who are willing to work to improve upon their leadership behaviors and skills, these can develop over one’s lifetime through practice and learning, including learning from one’s mistakes!

Transactional and transformational leadership have been widely researched and it has been found that transformational leaders enjoy more success, in terms of committed and harder working followers and achieving higher profits and organization victories, than transactional leaders (Johnson, 2005, p. 232). Transactional leadership exchanges rewards, such as financial, recognition, and high scores on performance evaluations, for labor and obedience of followers. This type of leadership answers to the basic requirements of employees. Transformational leadership, however, goes beyond the basic needs of the followers and answers to the higher-level needs such as self-esteem, pride in one’s work and personal growth (Johnson, 2005). While transactional and transformational leadership are quite different, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive and, in fact, they can be complementary (Leithwood & Poplin, 1992). A transformational leader may use transactional tactics skillfully to benefit the organizational vision. The distinctions made between transformational and transactional leadership is often similar to the distinctions made between the roles of leadership and the roles of management (Stewart, 2006).

So, what is transformation leadership? Bass, Avolio, Jung and Berson (2003) described the four main characteristics of a transformational leader: 1) A transformational leader is the demonstration of idealized influence. They act as role models, their followers respect and admire them. They place their followers’ needs ahead of their own. 2) A transformational leader inspires motivation. They arouse team spirit in their followers, they are enthusiastic and optimistic and they develop a desired future vision. 3) A transformational leader is intellectually stimulating. They stimulate creativity and innovation within their followers. They encourage their followers to reframe situations to find new solutions to old problems. 4) A transformational leader gives individualized consideration. They act as coaches and mentors and they foster professional development and growth in their followers. They tailor their approach to their followers’ unique needs and desires.

Research has also shown that one’s level of emotional intelligence is more highly associated with effective leadership than IQ.  According to Sternberg (1996), “IQ accounts for as little as 4% of exceptional leadership, job performance and achievement; emotional intelligence (EQ) may account for over 90%” (as cited in Gill, 2011, p. 79). “Effective leaders ‘win people’s hearts.’ They use their personal power of emotional intelligence rather than position power (authority)” (Gill, 2011, p. 81). The dynamics between personal power (emotional intelligence) and positional power (authority) are interesting to consider. Certainly, one could assume that a combination of both personal and positional power would be desirable in order to optimize leadership effectiveness.

We, as humans, tend to be, in all different fields and contexts, resistant to change due to often long histories of operating under the context of status-quo.   Many changes are now required for us to keep up with the rapidly evolving society and work place.  Leaders with a vision for change that demonstrate the characteristics and behaviors of a transformational leader are required in order to overcome the all-too-common resistance to change, to rally and motivate personnel towards the desired future vision, and to hold the group momentum to achieve the stepping stones that lead towards the desired future vision. As Burns (1985) stated, “transformational leadership is more likely to… emerge in times of distress and change while transactional leadership is more likely to be observed in a well-ordered [and status-quo] society [or workplace]” (as cited in Bass et al., 2003, p. 208).  Bass (1985) went on to argue that “transformational leadership energizes groups to persist when conditions are unpredictable, difficult, and stressful” (as cited in Bass et al., 2003, p. 216).  

While it may be true that transactional leadership can be effective in a status-quo work environment, a vision for change and transformation requires a leader who will inspire followers to overcome their resistance to change, to work towards an organizational vision even during difficult periods and, generally speaking, do more than the minimum required to receive their pay cheque or positive yearly evaluation.  Evidence resulting from more than 100 empirical studies found that transformational leaders are more effective than transactional leaders and that their followers tend to be “more committed, form stronger bonds with colleagues, work harder and persist in the face of obstacles” (Johnson, 2005, p. 232).  The motivation of the followers, in this leadership model context, can actually seem to create an “increased capacity for achieving the mutual purpose” (Stewart, 2006, p. 9).  In other words, as in the phrase coined by Aristotle, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” As it becomes more common for staff shortages in our current context, maximizing the effectiveness of teams becomes another valuable by-product of good leadership. Transformational leadership with its resulting employee motivation is then required to shepherd organizations, in whatever particular change context, into a bright and changed vision of the future. 

In times of change, it is also important that leadership put forward a strategic vision and implementation plan to lead the institute in a direction which will enable the organization to thrive and remain relevant.  Bates (2000) makes the point that this strategic vision should come from the senior leaders and management. He warns that sometimes consulting too much can just water down the vision. “The danger… is that bold, innovative plans that will take an institution into new directions will be watered down and rendered meaningless by attempts to please everyone” (p. 34).  An interesting consideration, indeed. While consulting and learning from external stakeholders and lower levels is certainly valuable in shaping the vision, the strategic vision should, ultimately, be authored, communicated, and pushed forward by transformational leaders who have the personal behaviors and skills necessary to champion that vision and who will then go on to influence, motivate, intellectually stimulate, enable, and encourage their teams, making use of their emotional intelligence and personal power in order to advance the necessary steps towards achieving the ultimate future vision.

Are your organization’s leaders, as a collective, up to the task of effectively leading through required changes? Are you, as a leader, up to the task?


Bass, B. M., Jung, D. I., Avolio, B. J., & Berson, Y. (2003). Predicting Unit Performance by Assessing Transformational and Transactional Leadership. Journal Of Applied Psychology, 88(2), 207-218. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.88.2.207

Bates, A.W. (2000). Managing technological change: Strategies for college and university leadersSan Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.  Chapter 2, pages 36-58.

Burns, J.M. (1978). Leadership. NY: Harper & Row.

Gill, R. (2011). Redefining leadership: A new model. In R. Gill Theory and practice of leadership (pp.91-123). London: SAGE Publications.

Johnson, C. E. (2005). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership: Casting light or shadow. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications. Retrieved from http://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/59330_Chapter_7.pdf

Leithwood, K. A., & Poplin, M. S. (1992). The move toward transformational leadership. Educational Leadership, (5), 8.

Stewart, J. (2006). Transformational Leadership: An Evolving Concept Examined through the Works of Burns, Bass, Avolio, and Leithwood. Canadian Journal Of Educational Administration And Policy, (54), 1-29.

Zigarelli, M. (2013, August 17). Ten Leadership Theories in Five Minutes.  Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKUPDUDOBVo

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.


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