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Today’s Training and Education (Development) Revolution: The Future is Now!

April 16, 2010

The challenge the Army faces today is not one of over-thinking situations; rather, it is the failure to think clearly in situations that require sound judgment at junior levels, and leadership’s hesitation to believe that juniors can or will think clearly. Soldiers and junior leaders who are trained or conditioned to “look” at the situation—i.e., to assess, exercise judgment and make decisions—are more decisive, deliberate and correct in their actions. This is particularly important in the complex environment of full-spectrum operations. The most important capability needed for the Army Future Force may well be thinking Soldiers and junior leaders who seek after the “why” of a situation, task or directive, to understand and make better use of the purpose behind it. And the future is now.

In light of this, thinking young men and women who have been taught the purpose behind military operations understand that anarchy leads to failure, while unity of purpose is more likely to lead to success. An organization of thinking individuals, working in unity of purpose with a strong understanding of intent, is more readily able to adapt to the unexpected realities of today’s mission sets. Therefore, the Army is adopting a new approach to training and education called Outcomes-Based Training & Education (OBT&E) and evolving two teaching methods—the Combat Applications Training Course (CATC) and the Adaptive Leaders Methodology (ALM)—under the OBT&E umbrella.

OBT&E—which evolved out of the efforts of the 198th Infantry Brigade at Fort Benning, Georgia, 2006–08, in the approach they took to developing new infantry Soldiers—is now being embraced as doctrine by the Army. Simply put, OBT&E looks for results; much like mission orders or mission tactics executed with little or 2 no oversight from higher headquarters, it puts a greater burden of professionalism (including accountability for prior knowledge and training) on the shoulders of the student, with guidance from the instructor. OBT&E is best described as “developmental training,” i.e., development of the individual within the training of military tasks.

Behavioral changes are not lasting if we fail to strike at their antecedents. Until relatively recently, these causes were not well understood, so there was little the Army could do to influence methods of developing Soldiers in meaningful ways. This began to change based on research done since about 1970. Today, the Army has to account for the fact that the actions we take at the earliest points in a career and thereafter, in a sequential and progressive fashion, manifest themselves much later.

To counter an array of national threats and opponents, using practices that range full spectrum, a synthesis of Army courses into “learning organizations” is needed. To meet this educational end, current educational and training ways and means must be assessed, evaluated and changed. Weak spots and points of failure in leader and Soldier education and training must be identified—all in the interest of retooling the system in ways that facilitate the development of officers who are intuitive and adaptive.

Acknowledging the need for change, the Army has begun an evolution in the way it develops—accesses, trains, educates, promotes and selects—leaders and Soldiers. Its recently published training doctrine, Field Manual (FM) 7-0, Training for FullSpectrum Operations, states:

Traditional training and education may not meet all the needs of an expeditionary Army; as appropriate, training and education must adapt to the needs of a new operational environment. The training and education requirements are different for a full spectrum‐capable force. Development of new approaches may be necessary to ensure Soldiers and Army Civilians are confident in their ability to conduct full spectrum operations anywhere along the spectrum of conflict with minimal additional training. For example, Outcome‐Based Training and Education is supposed to develop individuals and organizations that can think and operate in complex environments. Used in initial entry training, its goal is to develop individual confidence, initiative, and accountability in addition to mastery of skills, instead of just minimum baseline level of performance. The focus is on the total outcome of a task or event rather than on the execution of a particular task to a standard under a given set of conditions. Given operational expectations, it is supposed to develop tangible skills—such as marksmanship—and intangible attributes—such as creativity and judgment.

In the past, the “competency theory” of learning dominated course curriculums, and there remain signs of it today in leader development. Competency theory is a product of the old Industrial Age outlook that once, by necessity, governed the way military forces prepared for war. During the time when we relied on a massed 3 citizen army made up of draftees, this “assembly line” mentality made sense, but the disadvantage was that this emphasized output more than the individual quality of the product. Today, some leader-centric programs within the institutional Army in general still reflect the old assembly-line approach. Order and control are central to programs of instruction (POIs) that use the competency theory as its foundation.

Leader development for the full spectrum of 21st century military operations must be based on quality, not quantity, at every grade level. The rule should be, “Soldiers deserve and require trained leaders.” Schools must constantly put students in difficult, unexpected situations, and then require them to decide and act under time pressure. Schooling must take students out of their “comfort zones.” Stress—mental and moral as well as physical—must be constant. War games, tactical decision games, map exercises and free‑play field exercises must constitute the bulk of the curriculum. Drill and ceremonies and adhering to “task, condition and standards” (TCS)—task proficiency—in the name of process are not important. There are many tasks for which TCS is still relevant. But under CATC and ALM, the emphasis is on growing the decisionmaker by explaining the reason for the task and teaching in the context of a problem-solving exercise. Higher command levels overseeing officers’ and noncommissioned officers’ (NCOs’) schools must look for flexible courses guided by outcomes rather than inputs while allowing instructors to evolve their lesson plans using innovative teaching techniques and tools for an ever-changing environment. Those leaders who successfully pass through the schools must continue to be developed by their commanders; learning cannot stop at the schoolhouse door.

The question that arises repeatedly is, “How does one teach in an OBT&E environment?” There are two techniques that answer this question: CATC is better for lower-level/individual Soldier-centric tasks, and ALM is focused more on leader tasks; both approaches focus on growing decisionmaking. OBT&E is the guiding philosophy from which CATC and ALM were developed as ways to teach and reach outcomes.

In both CATC and ALM, Army standards remain the baseline for training; however, they are no longer the primary or exclusive goal of training. Within this idea is the realization that a generalized standard designed for the success of the Army at large may be less than is required for the success of the individual or small unit in unique situations. In this manner, the task to be trained is looked upon as an opportunity to develop Soldiers, primarily by creating a foundation of understanding that allows them not only to perform the task to standard but also to take ownership of the task and to exercise problem-solving skills.