Following the leader: the social character of learning in the Australian Army

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Talbot, Steven
O'Toole, Kathleen Margaret (Paddy)
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Common Ground Publishing
The complex environments in which modern soldiers operate require high functioning individuals who are able to adapt and apply their knowledge, skills and experience in a variety of contexts. In order to adapt to challenges associated with increasing complexity and take advantage of its various knowledge bases, the Australian Army has pursued a goal of becoming a learning organisation. Drawing on data collected from 20 unstructured group discussions conducted with over 150 Army personnel, this qualitative study explores the significance of leaders (usually commanding officers but also instructors) as ‘creators’ or ‘shapers’ of learning environments within their units, and the extent to which they facilitate learning by their staff. Findings suggest that the creation of learning environments (within units) often occurs in an ad hoc manner, reflecting the personalities or dispositions of leaders, rather than reflecting an organisational commitment to ‘empowered’ learners. Consequently, soldiers’ abilities to make and learn from mistakes, ask questions, and display initiative fluctuated according to their posting. However, in contrast to the top-down approach to facilitated learning and empowerment often reported in the literature, findings also suggest that subordinates facilitate learning for leaders. Thus, the paper extends the theory of facilitated learning through leadership by acknowledging the recursive nature of empowerment and the agency of subordinates in shaping their learning environment.
Education, Learning environment, Facilitated learning
Talbot, S. & O'Toole, K.M., 2009. Following the leader: the social character of learning in the Australian Army. International Journal of Learning, 16(2), 349-360.