Military Learning in the 21st Century

Education has been changing ever since parents began teaching their children basic skills at a time that they were living in caves and throwing spears. The evolution of learning has seen the introduction of schools, calculators, and computers. It is in the twenty-first century, however, that people have seen some of the most important innovations in modern-day education.

It is modern-day technology that has been both to the benefit and the bane of modern-day education. These changes in attitudes and technology in education also affect how the military engages in teaching and learning.

Everyone Has the Basics

The most solid part of military education is that it can seldom make things worse as, by the time an officer is taking courses at a military college, they already have a primary and secondary education to build on.

Military learning, however, has been criticised within its own system for not being capable of giving officers the skills they need to make the decisions they will need during their careers.

What is the Problem?

So, what is the issue here? Are military colleges not enough like private ones or are they too much like them? First, what is most evident about what senior officers have to say about colleges in the USA is that, although they meet both military and academic requirements, they are not producing officers who can actually command.

The primary issue behind this is likely that both officers and soldiers come from basic training that instils the importance of obeying orders and putting the military above everything else, even their own lives. This is a taught behaviour that would actually make it harder for officers and soldiers to command others, and not easier.

When people are told from day one that the corps is all-important and that disobedience costs lives, their thoughts and behaviour are altered to have complete and total faith in the chain of command in addition to the organisation employing them.

This can only result in a person who is, for lack of a better term, programmed to take orders. Being then taught to give them contradicts that programming, making it very difficult for a soldier to actually give orders when they are trained to take them.

Torn Between Two Sides

It has been shown that military learning centres attempt to meet both minimum military criteria they require and those required by law for Masters and PhD programmes. The conclusion of the former faculty dean of the US National War College is that neither is accomplished with any level of success.

So, is military college too similar or too dissimilar to private post-secondary education? The truth is that the execution of the learning process is really the only difference between the two and that the biggest issue that the military is having is more on the military side of things, rather than on the learning end. That does not mean there is not a problem with both sides of this equation, however.

Funding is a Problem

What has not helped military colleges, though, is a lack of proper funding to enable the production of well-educated officers. They’are really just getting by and meeting the minimums on that end.

Budgets and money may not seem to have a big impact on education and learning, but members of the military routinely end up dealing with some of the most advanced technology on the face of the planet. It would probably be a good idea if they actually saw some of it in college.

Allowing them to also access more online help might also encourage better results. Providing information, so that they do not ask themselves questions like is legit can aid them in attaining better learning and education.

A New Approach?

It is how the military approached learning in this century that will decide how it functions in the future that will be essential in how future officers deal with some of the most critical decisions that can affect hundreds or even thousands of people.

How does one teach a soldier or an officer to be able to make the right choices at a critical time? How does one teach them how to be a leader? The truth is that no one can learn to be a leader, but it is possible to give them the tools they need to be one.

It is on that end where military learning in the 21st Century should start leaning more towards comprehension then memory. One solution that military colleges are looking to on both sides of the Atlantic is to be more focused on more on-the-job training, even at the expense of higher learning.

This argument seems credible, but it also belies a slippery slope where officers learn the business in the office and nowhere else. The danger here is that officers end up without degrees that are meant to educate and inform the individual. Without it, ignorance can easily start to creep into a military office, inevitably leading to problems.

Everybody Suffers From the Peter Principle

There are also issues shared by those in command and those in positions of authority in the military and private companies. The Peter Principle is an often-used idea by many in business to describe the inevitable situation that a person will eventually be promoted but will be less competent in this new position. This is the very complaint that senior officers have when it comes to the people rising to the upper hierarchy of military command.

As such, there may be no resolution to this issue, as it a fundamental flaw in virtually all of modern society’s many pyramids. As in many other fields, senior officers may simply have to learn to sink or to swim.


In the end, what is certain about modern military learning is that it is not perfect and needs to be adapted to today’s needs to produce better officers and soldiers. The best way does appear to be to at least maintain a basic and balanced approach between education and military training.

What officers might need to see as a major change, however, is to have more on-the-job training and to have a different basic training that allows them to think more independently. What might also allow them to have better skills going into command is to have courses specifically built around that very ability.


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