Using the Experimental Learning Model to Develop a Deeper Understanding of the Profession Prior to Start of Studies


  • Katri Kütt
  • Juhan Aus



experiental learning, feedback, reflection, student-centered teaching, teaching in higher education, case study


At the Estonian National Defence College (ENDC), junior officers begin their studies with an introductory course. The aim of this extracurricular course for first year students is to harmonise the basic tactical skills that are necessary to proceed with their studies. The average dropout rate in the first year is around 30%, with “wrong profession” being cited as the main reason. It seems to indicate that the introductory course has not served its aim as the focus has been on low level tactical skills and the learning process teacher-centred with a “foggy” methodological background. In 2017/2018, the ENDC organised a pilot course where the focus was on the student- centred approach, an experimental learning cycle, handing over responsibility for learning to students and integrating subjects. The aim of the course was to give first year students a deeper understanding of the tasks and the role of an officer and to even out their basic tactical skills. The modified introductory course comprised three modules, each focusing on a different theme: introduction, teaching and battle drills. In Module 1, the cadets worked on administrative documents and participated in a seminar on leadership to prepare them for upcoming tasks. Module 2 focused on teaching skills and cadets were tasked with training each other in weapon skills and battle drills. Module 3 focused on combat activities (platoon attack, defence etc.), with second year cadets acting as coaches for the first year cadet-leaders during the planning and execution phases and also being responsible for holding after action reviews. After completing the introductory course, the first year cadets (and all the instructors involved) were asked to give feedback in the form of open questions. 70% of the first year cadets (N = 43) gave positive feedback about the course, mainly highlighting independent teaching and leadership experience. Another consistent theme throughout the cadets´ answers was about the feedback they received with regard to their own performance and the opportunity to reflect on those situations with older cadets. On a more critical note, the students indicated feeling that their teaching and leadership skills were not good enough to take on that kind of responsibility and that they were not particularly satisfied with the result. All things considered, the course provided a good overview of what their future jobs might entail. In addition, the second year cadets (N = 35) were asked to reflect on their experience as coaches and observers. Most of their responses focused on their own development as coaches, giving feedback and conducting after action reviews. They were also impressed by the cadets’ gradual improvement in the course of just one week and seeing how reflection actually worked. The feedback from teachers and the planning team (N = 7) concluded that the aim of harmonising cadets’ tactical skills had not been achieved. Based on the feedback, it is possible to conclude that the course fulfilled the aim of providing the cadets with a deeper understanding of their future job and gave an indication of the current level of their teaching and leadership skills. However, the harmonisation of tactical skills was not as successful. The feedback from teachers also indicated that there is a need for better demonstrations during the cadets´ performances. In addition, cadets were reported to be more satisfied with being in charge of the situations (teaching and leading) and valued the experience highly.


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