The Marine Corps Training and Education Command (TECOM) and the Human Services Engineering Division of D&S Consultants Inc. (DSCI) recently organized and conducted a practical demonstration of portions of its emerging Small Unit Decision Making (SUDM) instructor development techniques. By all accounts, it was a successful implementation of some promising techniques. Cognitive Performance Group was privileged to be selected to deliver some of the instruction and participate in the event.
Located deep in the heart of Prince William County Forest is a Marine training site, where members of the 1-24 Marines assembled to learn about the instructional and assessment strategies. The intent was to immerse instructors in a learning experience that would make them more capable instructors. As a result, the instructors would produce small unit leaders who are perceptive, adaptive and resilient when faced with novel or ill-structured problems. The IDS was an active learning environment, where trainees took responsibility for the pace of learning and the learning outcomes. The deeper they got into the program, the greater their expectations for more effective learning strategies. Cognitive Performance Group supported several of the instructional modules. Jennifer Vogel-Walcutt presented the concepts of metacognition and stages of learning. These topics provided a framework for understanding the nature of cognitive readiness and added to the learners’ vocabulary. Marine instructors perceived an outcome-based approach resulted in mastery and proficiency. Bill Ross applied both direct- and indirect instructional methods to present information about the scenario design process and Concept Map assessments.
One Marine Gunnery Sergeant commented on the several stages of learning, “The direct instruction was about knowledge acquisition and this was painful to sit through. New knowledge is inert and we needed to find a way of realizing its potential.” In stage 2, the solution involved analyzing a tactical narrative for its cognitive components and using them to design a training case. Hands-on, problem solving activities were introduced in small group sessions where peer-to-peer learning and coaching were combined to support learning. In these sessions, the learners solved problems based on a validated, decision-centered vignette. In stage 3 of active learning, the Marines took responsibility for learning and reflecting on their scenario design activities. In this respect, they achieved one of the demonstrations key outcomes, adopting learning strategies despite ambiguity and content loading.
The final activity was called the Forensics of Concept Maps (Cmaps). For this activity, the Marines evaluated a set of CMaps that were a model of a thinking enemy, one of five mental models identified for the perceptive Infantry Marine. The Cmaps were drawn from a population with a range of ability levels from beginner to high proficient. Using a job aid and a set of scoring criteria, the small groups reviewed and assessed representations of individual mental models. Each group applied the criteria and provided a rationale for determining the stage of development, which was depicted. One participant commented, “I didn’t understand how to use Cmaps before this practical application. Now I see how they tell you more than what someone knows. This might also tell me how they think and where they need training to improve.”
CPG contributed and learned from this well-orchestrated demonstration of learning and assessment methods. The feedback from the participants was positive and insightful. From the perspective of our team, this select group of Marine instructors was able to develop a new set of skills, which should benefit them well beyond their upcoming deployment. Their mental models of how to instruct and assess stages of development have grown significantly.