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On how the British Army does it

Since Samizdata, along with the rest of the Anglosphere, seems to be in us-Brits-great-or-what? mode today, please permit me to mention here that over on my Education Blog, I did a piece about the British Army as a teaching organisation, based on a conversation with a friend who is a captain in it. If what you’re now thinking is: “Wow, those Brits, how do they do it?”, well, I think this little piece goes some way towards answering that question.

At the centre of the piece is an accronym: EDIP. This stands for: Explain, Demonstrate, Immitate, Practice.

The other key principle “embedded” – to use this month’s mot du jour – in British Army practice is that the best way to learn something is to teach it. Quite junior officers start the “high powered” bit of their army careers by instructing at Sandhurst, and Sergeants and Corporals do most of the day-to-day training of the soldiers. At the end of it the soldiers may not be completely in command of what they’re doing, but the men who’ve been teaching them have it ingrained into them. Soldiering can be taught, and so can leadership, and this is how.

The thing I remember most vividly about that conversation was, well, how vivid it was. The question “Education – How about that then? – How does the army go about doing that?” is just about the best way for a civilian like me to get inside the head of a soldier that I could possibly have picked. “So, what’s it like killing people?” is useless by comparison. (a) It’s insulting. It makes it sound like that’s the thing they most like doing. (b) Half of them don’t know. (c) Those that do have no way of really telling you. And above all (d) they don’t want to talk about it. But asking them about how they teach is, as I said in my original piece, like taking the cork out of a shaken champagne bottle.

I want to do a lot more pieces like this one, about actual teachers and how they set about it, for my Education Blog, but so far have only done one more, about my friend Sean Gabb. So if any Samizdata readers are doing any teaching, of any sort, in the London area or near offer, and of a sort they wouldn’t mind me sitting in on and/or writing about (I promise to accentuate the positive – almost all teachers are doing some good things), please get in touch.

8 comments to On how the British Army does it

  • Larry

    We probably got it from you, Brian, but that’s the way US armed forces do it, too. The top 3 guys in my USAF pilot training class (incl yrs trly ;)) were immediately sent to Pilot Instructor Training. Terribly disappointing. The #4 dude got a fighter assignment. If I had been trying my best before, the fact that I had to teach this stuff intensified this effort tenfold. I learned a lot, probably more than my students did.

  • Larry

    Correction to my last. I definitely learned more than my students. They were under my thumb for only 6 months. I learned from them for almost 4 years.

  • Brian Micklethwait


    Thanks for these comments. Any chance of you expanding upon them? I could definitely use such thoughts at my Education Blog. Either put them here, and I’ll copy and paste, or email me by pushing my name in blue below this. If not, no worries, and thanks for what you did say.

    In general, all teachers (or for that matter students who can tell of how they are/were taught), of all varieties, please note the above. My education blog is getting a little too “what I think about the government’s education policies” just now. So, any ballet instructors? Driving instructors? Teachers of the art (science?) of bomb disposal? Art students? And of course I’m always interested in home educators. Just so long as I can focus on how teaching (and by extension “education” itself) is actually done, rather than just why the government shouldn’t meddle in it so much, blah blah, which is true of course but which can get tedious.

  • --gearweasle

    EDIP, Explain, Demonstrate, Imitate, Practice:
    another child of WWI ‘s Charles R. (Skipper) Allen’s four step training method for training shipyard workers in the United States, and revamped in WWII by AT&T’s Michael J. Kane (working for the US’s Training Within Industry program).

    Kane’s revamped method was Allen’s four step method expanded to seven steps:
    1. Show workers how to do it.
    2. Explain key points, tricks , knacks
    3. Let them watch you do it again.
    4. Let them do the simple parts of the job.
    5. Help them do the whole job.
    6. Let them do the whole job –but watch them.
    7. Put them on their own.

    Anyway, the USA in 1940 had just realized it needed to begin production on a massive scale, and was going to have to train millions of people in war work, while losing millions of trained people to the armed services. Training Within Industry, an advisory service formed by the National Defense Advisory Commission, developed eventually _three_ training programs (JIT, Job Instructor Training; JM, Job Methods; and JR, Job Relations), which was well written about by Bird McCord in:

    Chapter 32: Job Instruction
    Training and Development Handbook 2nd Edition
    a guide to human resource development
    edited by Robert L. Craig
    sponsored by the American Society for Training and Development

    ISBN 0-07-013350-6

    The easy read of the “J” Programs is the 1943 Reader’s Digest (US editions, sorry) series of three articles over the months of September, October, and November. Gives good feel for “how they did it”, that is, how they trained the trainers to train the people who did the jobs, and how to train them how to look at the jobs.

    And for a fascinating overview of what it meant to conceive and start up these gigantic coordinated industries –just for airpower– read General Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold’s “Global Mission”. Wowser.

    postscript. come to think of it, EDIP is only the JIT portion of the “J” Programs; they also worked on worker relations(Job Relations), and motion economy training (Job Methods)

  • Larry

    Happy to help, Brian. I’ll cogitate on it a little and email you.

  • Larry

    Btw, for a hilarious take on education, check out Sgt. John “Jack” Steele, Adjunct Professor of Law at
    parkwayreststop.blogspot.com/2003_03_30__parkwayreststop_archive.html#91681600. DO NOT be attempting to ingest food or drink while perusing this series!

  • Larry

    Arrrggghhh. After the dot, add #91681600.

  • Very interesting post