Following the Leader: The Social Character of Learning in the Australian Army

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The complex environments in which modern soldiers operate require high functioning individuals who are able to adapt and apply their knowledge, skills and experience in a variety of contexts. In order to adapt to challenges associated with increasing complexity and take advantage of its various knowledge bases, the Australian Army has pursued a goal of becoming a learning organisation. Drawing on data collected from 20 unstructured group discussions conducted with over 150 Army personnel, this qualitative study explores the significance of leaders (usually commanding officers but also instructors) as ‘creators’ or ‘shapers’ of learning environments within their units, and the extent to which they facilitate learning by their staff. Findings suggest that the creation of learning environments (within units) often occurs in an ad hoc manner, reflecting the personalities or dispositions of leaders, rather than reflecting an organisational commitment to ‘empowered’ learners. Consequently, soldiers’ abilities to make and learn from mistakes, ask questions, and display initiative fluctuated according to their posting. However, in contrast to the top-down approach to facilitated learning and empowerment often reported in the literature, findings also suggest that subordinates facilitate learning for leaders. Thus, the paper extends the theory of facilitated learning through leadership by acknowledging the recursive nature of empowerment and the agency of subordinates in shaping their learning environment.


Keywords: Learning Environment, Learning Organisation, Facilitated Learning
Stream: Organisational Learning, Organisational Change
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Following the Leader


Dr. Steven Talbot

Defence Sociologist, Land Operations Division, Defence Science and Technology Organisation
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Steven Talbot works within the Human Sciences Discipline in the domains of social and organisational learning. Whilst at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), he has been examining issues relating to organisational learning, learning organisations, individual and collective training, as well as lesson capture and dissemination. Steven has a PhD from Flinders University of South Australia. His latest publication 'Anecdotally Speaking: Using Stories to Generate Organisational Change' (2008) explores issues relating to the use of anecdotes circles as a vehicle for data collection and intervention design within Defence.

Dr Paddy O’Toole

Director of Postgraduate Studies, School of Education, Flinders University
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Paddy O'Toole is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Flinders University in South Australia. Paddy's research areas include organisational learning, knowledge retention and organisational structures. More recently, Paddy has been examining the significance of risk management, trust and governance and their impact on learning within the Australian Army. Paddy has a PhD from Flinders University. Her latest publication 'Anecdotally Speaking: Using Stories to Generate Organisational Change' explores the use of anecdote circles as a vehicle for data collection and intervention design within Defence.

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