Thursday, August 30, 2007

Making Marines to a Common Standard

“We do two things for this nation, we make Marines and we win battles” - Gen Charles C. Krulak

“Our most critical task is to make Marines who are ready to accomplish the mission and embody the qualities associated with the title “United States Marine.” – Gen James T. Conway

Training Command Mission - To coordinate, resource, execute and evaluate training concepts, policies, plans and programs to ensure Marines are trained to a common standard in order to meet the challenges of present and future operational environments.

TECOM Makes Marines

When I tell Marines I am from TECOM, the Marine Corps’ Training and Education Command, inevitably someone will riff on the old joke: Q: What are the most de-motivating words you can say to a Marine Corps Formal School Instructor? A: “Hi, I’m from TECOM and I am here to help.”

While this is told in jest, many Marines believe that TECOM is little more than a useless layer of bureaucracy that serves only to get in between the training Marines need, and those tasked to provide the training. That perception is based on the opaque nature of what goes on inside TECOM. This article will shed some light on what TECOM does, why we do it, and why what we do is actually of value to the Marine Corps and to individual Marines.

Gen Krulak’s words to Congress stand as TECOM’s unofficial motto: we make Marines. While no one at TECOM will be awarded the Silver Star or Purple Heart for their actions here, the Marines and civilians at TECOM nonetheless provide a vital service to the Marine Corps. TECOM takes the civilians provided us by Recruiting Command and transforms them into MOS-qualified Marines. Those Marines, trained by TECOM, are the ones who fulfill the other half of Gen Krulak’s observation: they win battles.

Who decides?

Who decides what is and is not a standard for an event in an MOS? The best answer to that question can be found in a “sea story” from a recent standards writing conference. While debating what tasks were appropriate for a recently created MOS, one of the participants, a Captain, had an epiphany: “You mean to tell me that it is knuckleheads like me who say what skills have to be taught to these Marines?” The short answer is: “yes.” Who else but Marines who are doing the job or supervising the job know what the job entails? Experienced Marines write the events that go into the Training and Readiness Manuals (T&R Manuals), then other experienced Marines at the school houses take those standards and write the learning objectives for the curricula that are taught.

Writing Training and Readiness Manuals

In order to impose some structure on this process, TECOM uses the Systems Approach to Training (SAT) mandated by Marine Corps Order 1553.3A. The Marine Corps’ Systems Approach to Training is based on the Interservice Procedures for Instructional Systems Development (IPISD), published in 1975. That document first laid out the basis of the SAT process: Instructional Systems Development based on the “ADDIE” Model. It is possible to expound at length about the ADDIE model of curriculum design (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate) and talk about theories of adult education, but that discussion is really only interesting to PhDs in Education. The Systems Approach to Training can be summarized as asking Marines to list what they do; turning each one of these tasks into statements, each with one verb and one object; then further breaking these statements down into the individual steps that must be performed to complete the task. Standards writers list the conditions under which the task must be performed and determine an objective standard to which the task must be performed. These elements are combined to create a training and readiness manual.

Chapter 1 of all Training and Readiness Manuals produced by Ground Training Branch contain a discussion of the importance of the training and readiness program. “The T&R Program is the Corps’ primary tool for planning, conducting and evaluating training, and assessing training readiness. Ultimately, this will enhance the Marine Corps’ ability to accomplish real-world missions. Subject matter experts (SMEs) from the operating forces developed core capability Mission Essential Task Lists (METLs) for ground communities derived from the Marine Corps Task List (MCTL). T&R Manuals are built around this METL and all events contained in T&R manuals relate directly to this METL. This comprehensive T&R Program will help to ensure the Marine Corps continues to improve its combat readiness by training more efficiently and effectively.” That said, the entire training and readiness program depends on the operating forces having well written events with solid performance standards contained in the manuals.

Drafting Solid Events

Training and Readiness Manuals contain “events” that describe things that a Marine is expected to do in his or her military occupational specialty. The event title is a description of the event to be performed. The title is exactly one transitive verb and a direct object. The verb must be an observable action, so verbs like “understand” or “know” are not appropriate.

The event below is not “evaluation coded,” which means that it is not one by which the entire unit is judged for combat readiness. The “sustainment interval” is the period of time in which the Marine must display mastery of this event. “Grades performing” is self explanatory. The “initial training setting” is where the event will first be introduced to the Marine, either at a formal school, on the job, or through distance learning.

The “condition” lists those situations under which the Marine will be expected to perform the event and the gear that will be required. The “standard” will be addressed in detail below. “Performance steps” are those discrete “muscle movements” when performed in sequence or as a whole result in the accomplishment of the event.

Training and Readiness Event Example

4421-UCMJ-1044: Prepare court-martial convening orders
CONDITION: Given a Request for Legal Services (RLS), a charge sheet, references, a computer, and current Marine Corps standard word processing and database software.
STANDARD: Ensuring a convening order is created without formatting, grammatical, or contextual errors.
1. Review references.
2. Ensure member's information is correct.
3. Type court-martial convening order.
4. Proofread completed convening order.
5. Make corrections, if necessary.
6. Submit completed convening order for signature.
7. Make appropriate number of copies.
8. Place original convening order and charge sheet in the case file.
9. Update database.
10. Retain file copy.
1. JAGINST 5800.7C, CHAPTER 1 Manual for Judge Advocate General (JAGMAN)
2. MCM Manual for Courts-Martial

Figure 1.

The Importance of Strong Standards

Having written or edited more than 3000 individual and collective events in different T&R Manuals, I can confidently assert that the most difficult part of drafting events is coming up with the standard. The SAT Manual states that a standard “can cite a technical manual or doctrinal reference (e.g., accordance with FMFM 1-3), or the standard can be defined in terms of completeness, time, and accuracy.” For Individual Training Standards (ITSs) or for the first iteration of T&R Manuals, many included a standard of: “in accordance with the reference.” At the time, this standard was considered acceptable.

Upon consideration, Ground Training Branch determined that “in accordance with the reference” did not contribute much to a Marine or his commander’s conception of how that Marine should perform the task. Many events have multiple references, and some references are quite voluminous. Telling a Marine that he should be able to do something “in accordance with” a reference without citing specifically which reference, or where the standard can be found within a reference, does not assist in the training or readiness of the Marine. In fact, inadequate standards transform the training and readiness manuals containing them into impediments to training. Consequently, Ground Training Branch (GTB) adopted a policy that “in accordance with the reference,” would not be acceptable as a standard. Exceptions are provided in those rare instances where a technical skill requires that a Marine consult a specific, open technical manual (TM) in order to accomplish the task.
Since “in accordance with the references” can no longer stand alone as a standard, it was necessary for TECOM GTB to provide some additional guidance. The best shorthand for writing standards is for a subject matter expert to imagine that she is observing the Marine do the task. Then, that SME must put into words how someone would know that the Marine has completed the task. In the words of the SAT Manual: “The standard must be realistic in order to expect the student to perform the behavior based on the instruction provided. A standard is deemed realistic when the time, accuracy, and completeness criteria allow for successful completion.” Let’s look at each of these elements that make up the standard of a T&R event.

“Time” is a straightforward metric. If the reference calls for the task to be completed “within 24 hours of receipt of the order,” or “prior to crossing the line of departure,” or “within 6 seconds of hearing the alarm,” then a Marine who completes the task after that time has failed the event. “Completeness” is also straightforward. Some tasks are only complete “after every block is annotated” or “so that every piece is sorted” or “so that every round is expended.” The difficult part of writing standards for T&R events can be found in the concept of “accuracy.”

Some events readily lend themselves to “accuracy.” For marksmanship and gunnery, accuracy is easily determined. Either the shot hit the target, or it did not. For communications, either comms are established with higher and with subordinates on a particular frequency or they are not. But for some occupational fields, accuracy is elusive. How can imagery analysts know they have accurately assessed the location of the enemy? How can IO Marines know they have changed the perceptions of the enemy regarding United States activities? How can public affairs know that their audiences have accurately received the messages being sent? The answer in each case is: it is impossible to know while the Marine is performing the event. Does that mean “accuracy” standards cannot be written for these types of OCCFIELDS and their events? No, but accuracy standards are more challenging for the SMEs who must write them.

Writing accuracy standards is where the experts have to call upon all their experience and imagination. The SMEs have to assess whether a well-trained Marine doing the task according to the performance steps has a reasonable expectation of accurately accomplishing the task. In other words, if an Imagery Analyst does the event following the performance steps 1 to 15, will he accurately assess the location of the enemy? Will the Information Operator put out a message that will be well received by the population? Will that Public Affairs Marine influence the perception of the enemy? If, in the SMEs judgment, the answer to the question is “yes,” then they have written a good T&R event. If the SMEs cannot answer that question, they need to re-evaluate whether that event should even be included in the T&R Manual.

The other consideration in drafting a T&R event and the standard imbedded in the event, is whether an inspector, unfamiliar with the occupational field, can watch the Marine performing the event, and determine if that Marine is doing it to standard. Call this the “ignorant observer” test. If an ignorant observer can take the text of the T&R event, watch the Marine do the event and can determine whether that event is being done to standard, then that event is well written.

The best standards will combine as many elements as possible. If a Marine performs a T&R event to a standard that combines the elements of accuracy, time, completeness and clarity, the Marine Corps can be confident that the Marine is technically and tactically proficient in that event. Figure 2 is a Venn diagram that graphically displays a solid standard with four different types of elements. A Marine whose performance meets all four elements of the standard and essentially falls into the center of the Venn Diagram, is a well trained Marine.

Turning T&R Events into Formal School Training

Curriculum developers take the manual that has been typed into the Marine Corps Training Integrated Management System, and turn all the individual tasks into terminal learning objectives (TLOs). The writing of other learning objectives requires that the curriculum developers perform a “learning analysis.” “A Learning Analysis must be performed for every task covered in new courses. Additionally, each new task added to either the Individual Training Standard (ITS) Order or Training and Readiness (T&R) Manual, and taught at the formal school, requires a Learning Analysis.” The output of the learning analysis is 1) learning objectives, 2) test items and 3) method of instruction and media used for instruction, all of which turn up again in the Program of Instruction submitted to TECOM for approval.

The performance steps for the events in the T&R Manual become enabling learning objectives (ELOs). A terminal learning objective is what the Marine should be able to do at the conclusion of the class. An ELO can be something the Marine can do as part of a larger task, just as removing the bolt carrier group is part of disassembling the M16A2. An ELO can also be some knowledge that a Marine must have in order to perform a task to standard, such as knowing the lifesaving ditty “Stop the bleeding, start the breathing...” before treating a casualty.

The curriculum developer must make every effort to duplicate the conditions and standards in the T&R Manual when constructing the learning objectives. Training under the conditions the student will encounter in the operating forces makes the training realistic and relevant to mission accomplishment. Realistic training also relieves the unit that gains the Marine from having to spend valuable time and resources re-training.

Multiple choice and matching tests are easy to grade, but are almost worthless in evaluating whether a Marine can perform the events in an MOS. What is a better test of a Motor T Marine’s ability to disassemble a carburetor: selecting the steps for disassembly from a list or actually disassembling one? A Marine should never hear and no Marine should ever have to say: “Forget what they taught you at school, this is how it is really done.” Those words are an indictment of the entire training apparatus. TECOM must work so that no Marine ever has a cause to utter those words.

Evaluation is critical to the learning process. In the words of the SAT manual, “If the task is important enough to dedicate resources to teach, it is equally important enough to dedicate resources to evaluate. Test items are designed to determine if the learner has acquired the KSAs (knowledge, skills, attitudes) to perform an objective or task. This promotes learner development by providing feedback to the student and enabling the student to demonstrate mastery. Evaluation is also critical to maintaining or improving the effectiveness of instruction.” Further, each learning objective must be evaluated. “When determining what test items to use, the idea is to measure all learning objectives. Formal evaluation of learning objectives is accomplished by testing each learning objective. (Emphasis in the original)

After compiling the list of TLOs and ELOs, the curriculum developer must determine the time necessary to teach and evaluate each learning objective as well as the maximum number of students who can effectively receive instruction from the one instructor in that learning objective. The curriculum developer must also list the resources necessary for training each learning objective. The time required to teach all learning objectives, the manpower required to teach all the learning objectives and the resources required to teach the throughput of students is rolled up into one document called the “Course Data Description.” TECOM and Manpower use the CDDs for all formal courses around the Marine Corps to determine the budget and the personnel required to execute the necessary training.

The last step: Evaluation

The “Evaluation” step of the SAT model of curriculum development is concerned with evaluating the training of the learning objectives. Since the Marine Corps is committed to victory on the battlefield, evaluation is zero-sum: either the Marine is well trained and capable of winning or not. If a Marine is not well trained, the entire training pipeline must be subject to scrutiny.

In fact, TECOM performs “soup to nuts” evaluation of training. Training standards are evaluated every three years, and the POIs based on those standards are evaluated yearly at course curriculum review boards (CCRB). Further, Marine Corps Lessons Learned is open 24/7 for input that is mined for training gaps by the TECOM Lessons Learned Integration Division (T-LLID). TECOM IG reviews schoolhouse fidelity to the approved POIs by comparing the POI and the T&R Manuals to Master Lesson Files maintained by the schools and by observing classroom instruction. Finally, TECOM participates in OAGs to hear directly from commanders about training. Standards and instruction are reviewed continuously.

Peace, More Sweat; War, Less Blood
The Chinese Army has an old aphorism, which, directly translated, is: “peace, more sweat; war, less blood.” These words describe the mission of TECOM. We make Marines, and then we sweat them in training so that the Marine Corps can win battles with minimum casualties. To that end, the Marine Corps has adopted a paradigm of training development that identifies the skills Marines must perform to what standard and under what conditions, captures those behaviors in a manual, constructs training to reflect the conditions in combat, then continuously evaluates the process. Ultimately, the goals are well-trained Marines, well-trained units and SNCOs who say “remember what you learned in school? That is how it should be done!”