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Article – The Value of Professional Military Education and the Context of Mastery of the Profession of Arms

Image courtesy of the ADF

If Professional Military Education (PME) is to become a sustained and sustainable component of Australian Army culture, it must first become embedded within the ongoing training and education culture of the Army. A compelling and enduring ‘value proposition’ needs to be established for it.  It must be engaged with deeply and intellectually and, moreover, it must become acknowledged and rewarded until excellence in PME is viewed as an integral component of a successful Army career.

Of course, there are a great many ways in which such engagement might occur. It can be enforced as another mechanism, or component of a broader training continuum. It can be encouraged as an additional ‘value add’ to the existing and well-structured training curriculum, or it can become embedded into the very fabric of the professional culture that is being developed.  Indeed, the Army Research and Development Plan 2016: Arts and Humanities describes PME as; the ‘why’ of the Australian profession of arms (p.14). In addition to this, both the ‘Army Contract with Australia’: I am committed to learning and, the statement of ‘Army Values’: …to explore opportunities and embrace innovation to improve Army and our service to our nation, directly or indirectly assert a ‘commitment to learning’ and the ‘exploration and embrace’ of innovation. In this context, it may well be considered that the foundations have been laid for cultural change. It is now time to build upon them.

It is within this context that it is worth seeking a better understanding of the phrase ‘Profession of Arms’. It is also worth providing some consideration of the notion of being a ‘profession’. It may be that at least one pathway to the embedding of a culture of PME in Army lies in such a definition, which could then be acknowledged and deliberately enhanced by the ‘professionals’ within.

In this respect, it is by defining a ‘profession’ and establishing a clear set of values, behaviours and expectations of its membership that, overtime, a culture of professionalism, into which ‘education’ is embedded, may be developed.

Defining the Profession of Arms

If the ‘Profession of Arms’ is a profession then what are the defining features it must possess? Is ‘education’ one of these defining features and, if so, does the Army possess it? Saks (2012), informs us that the; task of defining a profession seriously began with the taxonomic approach of the 1950s and 1960s (p.2). He further tells us that this ‘taxonomic’ approach took on two broad variants, one of which relied on the establishment of; ad hoc lists of attributes of professions (p.2); the other, more ‘functionalist’ approach seeking to; establish a functional relationship between professions and society (p.2).

What is of importance here is that both definitions assert the importance and value of ‘knowledge’ in the determination of a role or occupation as a ‘profession’, whether it is listed as a component inherent in the role of the professional or, of more functional value, in describing their complex relationship with society.

Knowledge and the Profession

Professions Australia’, defines a profession as:

…a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards and who hold themselves out as, and are accepted by the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level, and who are prepared to apply this knowledge and exercise these skills in the interest of others.

In this respect, then, if the role of ‘mastery of arms’ is defined in terms of its being a ‘profession’ then clearly, central to that profession must be the acquisition and employment of a ‘widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level’.

How well do we prepare for the unknown? (Image via ADF)

The acquisition of such a body of knowledge has both a pragmatic as well as an intellectual driver. As noted in the 2016 Ryan Review: A Study of Army’s Education, Training and Doctrine Needs for the Future:

The Army trains its personnel to respond instinctively to tactical threats and to constantly repeat desired responses with a high degree of accuracy, individually and in teams. However, when potential threats are unknown or yet to be experienced and recorded, the appropriate response to this threat cannot necessarily be trained. Educated soldiers have the skills needed to adapt to new and unfamiliar situations, thereby enhancing Army’s capability. (p.31)

It is at this point worth considering the idea that battles are won in the planning as much as in the execution, perhaps even more so in the planning. Moreover, it is likely that it is rigorous, intellectually informed and considered planning at the strategic level, further developed and enacted at the operational and tactical levels that is central to victory in war.  If this planning is to be effective, then it must be carried out by those members who are ‘professionally and deliberately’ educated (as well as trained) to this purpose. If it is training that teaches them what to do and when to do it, it is education that provides them with the intellectual framework to enable them to distinguish between knowing the doctrine and applying it.

As the 2016 A Study of Army’s Education, Training and Doctrine Needs for the Future further asserts the;

…attainment of skills is generally achieved through apprenticeships, which primarily engage in physical work, as opposed to the intellectual work of professionals gained through rigorous study of first principles, ideas and concepts. (p.33)

Conclusion – Embedding Education in our Culture

The embedding of a culture of professional military education can only be achieved in practice by deliberately designing it into the curriculum (the Learning Management Packages) that defines the military education and training experience.  Of course, this can be achieved in a number of ways, including the issuance of statements of expectation and the design and delivery of pre-developed packages that are sent out to Units for their implementation. Challenges will come. Whilst these approaches have great merit, particularly where they might be mediated by technology to enhance the learning experience, they will always run the risk of being seen as an ‘additional’ component of the training experience, as opposed to an intrinsic one.

If the approaches described in the previous paragraph might be viewed as ‘tactical’ responses then perhaps there is value in considering another, more strategic, approach. In this respect, it may be that the education relevant statements that make up both Our Contract with Australia and Our Values could be developed into a set of ‘learning outcomes’ that might be supplied to individual training establishments; the challenge being that they be deliberately designed into the current learning management packages and assessed accordingly. Thus, as opposed to being an external ‘bolted on’ component of the training, they can become an unavoidable and integrated component.  If designed into curriculum in such a way then they would be taught for, and measured in the successful completion of a training (and education) activity. It may well be that the future success of professional military education in Army lies not with its separation from the training regime but its identification as being a fully integral component of a ‘whole of soldier’ learning experience.


Kevin Ashford-Rowe is an experienced Army Reserve Officer posted to Headquarters Forces Command.  He is also a Professor and Director of the Learning and Teaching Centre of the Australian Catholic University where he is the Service Lead for Learning and Teaching.

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The Cove is a professional development site for the Australian Profession of Arms. The views expressed within individual blog posts and videos are those of the author, and do not reflect any official position or that of the author's employers' - see more here. Any concerns regarding this blog post, video or resource should be directed in the first instance to hello@cove.org.au.