Military Review English Edition September-October 2014 - Page 39

NCO 2020 F or Army noncommissioned officers (NCOs), attendance at each level of professional military education (PME) is a training requirement for career progression. Essentially, NCOs are required to attend schools and demonstrate professional acumen and mastery of a broad set of military skills to achieve promotion to the next higher grade. Historically, the Army has trained enlisted soldiers using an instructor-centric, group-paced instructional approach, where soldiers are assessed on their ability to master tasks under specific conditions using explicit standards of performance. Noncommissioned Officer Education System (NCOES) training centers and academies continue to offer training in what is, for the most part, a lock-step fashion, where the level of rigor and challenge is not tailored to the individual. Lock-step training can be beneficial for certain situations, but not all. For this reason, there is a need for innovation in the NCOES; it needs to change its approach to education. In spite of advances in educational technology, NCOES courses continue to train NCOs by relying too much on lockstep, instructor-led training, which is a dated approach to adult education.1 Self-Paced Instruction in Army Courses The Army has from time to time used and conducted research on the effectiveness of self-paced instruction, more commonly known as self-paced learning (SPL), for certain courses, but self-paced approaches have not been applied broadly in the NCOES. Unfortunately, much of the research is over 30 years old. One early study, by the Army Research Institute in 1975, was published as Analysis of a Self-Paced Instructional Program in the Clerical Field. 2 This study found that the use of self-paced instruction to train clerical personnel increased learner motivation and satisfaction among trainees. The study cited reductions in training time and required instructional support as benefits of self-paced instruction. Another Army Research Institute study, The Acquisition and Retention of Visual Aircraft Recognition Skills, published in 1976, concluded that self-pacing in training resulted in better trainee outcomes for higher aptitude trainees.3 If SPL was found to reduce overall training time while contributing to better training management in MILITARY REVIEW  September-October 2014 military schools in the 1970s, could this approach also work well in the distributed learning environment of the 21st century? Recent civilian and military studies of SPL suggest that self-paced NCOES courses could accelerate learning, provide tailored content to meet the needs of soldiers, and lower overall training costs.4 Innovative courses and instructional approaches could lead to improved learner satisfaction and value for the training received.5 The differences between SPL and group-paced instruction are well known and understood. In SPL, individuals have a degree of control over how quickly they move through the instructional material. In group-paced instruction, the instructor controls how fast trainees moves through instruction. The two approaches need not be mutually exclusive. An NCOES course that combined aspects of both approaches could retain some instructor-led portions while also allowing students to quickly move through content on concepts they had already mastered. Design of Learning For either approach to learning—self-paced or group-paced—it is important to consider factors that affect overall effectiveness with regard to how well a course meets the needs of learners.6 Designers of both SPL and group-paced courses should consider the following: Relevance of course content to the job requirements Motivation of trainees to learn Opportunities to practice the skills or tasks taught Supervisory support back on the job or at home station. Instructor skills to facilitate learning Evaluation and revision of the course as necessary to achieve objectives The design of SPL courses should feature concept-oriented, scenario-driven, and project-based learning that supports increased levels of learner interest and engagement. In the NCOES, self-paced content development should focus on constructivist design features, where students are required to address real-world problems and situations.7 The term constructivist is used here to describe a learning experience characterized by an engaging • • • • • • 37