Byron's Babbles

Education: Our Military Mission

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 5, 2014

IMG_0509.JPG While flying home from Calgary, Alberta Canada today I had the chance to finish reading Tom Vander Ark’s amazing book Getting Smart. In his book he give vivid descriptions of the ‘digital revolution’ coming in our educational system. One part of the book really jumped out at me and reinforced the topic of using relevant contexts to improve student achievement and performance, and increase student motivation and engagement. Vander Ark tells the story in the book of how the U.K. ministry of defense has tapped Lockheed Martin to train all of its aircrew for the next 25 years. There are at least four things that K–12 education can learn from the military and specifically the relationship with Lockheed. First, they really understand how to differentiate. Something that education and specifically many teachers still struggle with. We should be using Lockheed Martin to help us understand how. In their model, Lockheed Martin creates rapid pathways to mastery and the flexibility to test ways to blend different components and types of learning for different types of students.

Secondly, some of the training is conducted to simulate the stress of realistic situations, but with the safety to fail. Our facilitation of learning needs to use more real-world-connected learning—more opportunities for students to see why learning matters and to experience the consequences of actions. It is why my own research in the effects of using agricultural science to teach biology concepts is so important. Students learn at a much high level when taught in relevant contexts with high rigor. Simulations, internships, lab experiences, inquiry based and problem based learning, can all help make learning real. This in turn has the students solving real world problems. Third, the military is really good at job training and preparation. We need to step up our game in the area of Career and Technical Education (CTE) in the United States. The military takes a systematic approach to certification. As a former CTE I know the value of these programs. The problem is there is a great deal of variation in the quality of programs from school to school and state to state. These programs need to be leveraged to not only provide certifications, but also the relevant context for teaching the core subjects of math, English language arts, science, and social studies.

Finally, the military is an outstanding example of a learning organization. By learning organization I mean an organization that is constantly learning from others, the team members are learning from each other, is free from risk of failure, and is able to put lessons learned into play. The military has perfected the art of being a reflective practitioner; something we know is important as educators, but rarely take, or make, time to do. The military after action reviews are something that every teacher and school leader should take time to study and learn from. Additionally, the military is great at forming partnerships and have systems in place to learn at a high level from those partnerships.

In conclusion, we need to leverage the partnerships we have in our own states and communities to help us provide the four things we have learned will help us achieve Getting Smart!


Vander Ark, T. (2012). Getting smart. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.

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