In a time of uncommon change for all of us, the Defence Academy’s Technology and Business Faculty is driving forward with ideas of innovation and a newly formed blended approach to training.
A diverse Faculty offering over 900 courses to over 19,000 students per year, the Technology and Business Faculty has been driving online delivery and innovation beyond the current necessity of COVID-19 restrictions. For example, the Defence Trainer course, one of the Academy’s most significant in terms of volume with 3000 students every year, has recently completed an 18-month make-over. Under the new programme, Defence Trainers across 25 MOD training establishments will now teach a three-stage programme: Stage 1 is entirely digitised and available on the DLE; Stage 2 comprises practical teaching, delivered face-to-face (F2F) in the classroom; Stage 3 is a combination of teaching practice and consolidation, delivered in the workplace. This split emphasises the blended approach to delivery and the importance of facilitation and experience as the capstone of the learning process.
Within the Academy’s flagship Information Warfare Group, the Defence Cyber School team have been working flat out to redesign 8 modules of the Cyber Foundation Pathway (CFP) for online delivery during the first six weeks of lockdown (Note: the Cyber 101 entry-level module was released earlier). Over 1000 students have already completed CFP courses over the lockdown.
The Defence Simulation Centre exhibited inventiveness by developing an online war-gaming approach using Google Slides, allowing participants to access and interacts with relevant maps. With no cost, no application to download and no learning curve required, this approach has already been adapted by the 1st Battalion Mercian Regiment and successfully promoted on their innovation twitter feed, with 3600 views and 13 retweets.
The Ammunition Technician Electronics Development course (ATED), a practical advanced electronics course training the highest level of Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (IEDD) operators, exhibited great ingenuity to continue to deliver this course. Six students worked remotely in labs across Shrivenham under the guidance of a Cranfield University Lecturer instructing in a separate remote location. Additionally, a Senior Ammunition Technician was on hand in Shrivenham to assist during practical tasks to ensure safety, while maintaining Government guidance on social distancing.
The Battlespace Technology Course was redesigned to educate 48 majors prior to deployment into the most demanding capability and acquisition roles. This was achieved using a “flipped classroom” approach, with much of the core knowledge being garnered through remote learning ahead of F2F teaching and with social-distancing measures from September.
Enrolments in the Business Skills College (BSC) have increased 20 percent leading into May 2020 compared to the same period last year. The Capability and Acquisition course delivered a pilot webinar to 77 MOD and international delegates using the new Defence Academy learning platform, Adobe Connect. Despite some minor technical teething troubles, the participants were forgiving and interaction excellent, with all attendees saying they would recommend the session to others.
With a long history of quality e-Learning delivered through the Defence Learning Environment (DLE), the BSC is looking to capitalize on the increased demand for students to refresh or build new skills as the MOD’s approach to functional management and professionalisation has grown. Urgent demands from the commercial function for refreshers on UK procurement regulations, to support BREXIT planning, and to induct new cohorts of commercial officers were also met during the COVID-19 lockdown period, using the first pan-MOD virtual classrooms. Five sessions have now been delivered, receiving excellent reviews. ‘Bite-size’ learning aids are also now being produced and hosted on DLE, using material from related courses to generate videos of narrated PowerPoint slides.
In all, online and remote teaching can have as many forms as the F2F instruction that preceded it. When all of these methods are blended, the effect can be extremely powerful and the learning experience for both student and teacher revolutionised. A large proportion of students said they enjoyed the advantages of virtual delivery and noted a significant increase in knowledge. These lockdown months have provided an opportunity to innovate towards a new alternate normal as we learn the lessons to deliver world-leading Professional Military Education.