‘Goodbye Mr Chips?’ Modernising Defence Training for the 21st Century

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Better practices are needed to improve the effectiveness of defence training.

Training is crucial for enabling UK Defence to deliver operational success, and broadens the potential talent pool by allowing Defence to recruit people who can develop the necessary skills, rather than simply competing for pre-trained talent (which often is in short supply). The breadth and scale of military training is significant, with a clear management process – the Defence Systems Approach to Training (DSAT) – in which requirement-setters identify training needs that are passed to delivery authorities, who design and deliver the training; the requirement-setters then review the training to ensure that it provides what is needed. While this sets a structured framework for training, there are challenges Defence must overcome to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its training system. These challenges exist across several areas: culture; system governance; processes; training delivery; the wider learning environment; and workforce capacity.

Pockets of good practice exist in Defence, and much could be gained from sharing these more widely, but lessons should also be learned from training practice outside Defence. This paper identifies improvements in four key areas to help modernise Defence training and prepare the armed forces for the challenges to come:

  • Upskilling the whole training workforce by improving the training given to any personnel engaged in training others (‘train the trainer’).
  • Improving training delivery through more personalised ‘learning journeys’, active learning and greater use of technology.
  • A better understanding of Defence training as a system and as a crucial component of military capability via clearer lines of accountability, better use of data, and mechanisms allowing training to be more responsive to changing individual and organisational needs.
  • Partnering with external organisations that can complement Defence’s skillset by supplying adult education (andragogical) expertise.


Note: An update was made on 30 October 2023 to include an Acknowledgements chapter and modify the title. The earlier version of this paper was entitled ‘“Goodbye Mr Chips?” Modernising Defence Training’.



Paul O’Neill

Senior Research Fellow

Military Sciences

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Major Patrick Hinton

Former Chief of the General Staff’s Visiting Fellow

Military Sciences

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