A historic event in the ESDC model of training: the first synchronous learning – Advanced Modular Training
Mr Dirk Dubois, head of the European Security and Defence College (ESDC), remotely opened the first module of the Advanced Modular Training (AMT) on 3 June 2020. In doing so he recalled that one of the ESDC’s objectives is to ‘help promote professional relations and contacts among the participants in the training and education activities’ (Article 3(j) of Council Decision 2016/2382 establishing an ESDC). Traditionally, this happens through residential, face-to-face, conventional classroom interaction. However, by mid-March, this approach proved impossible, for a good reason – COVID-19 crisis. AMT is scenario-based practical training aimed at helping personnel working in positions related to Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) to perform their duties to high standards. The audience of the course are experts such as staff and policy officers or advisers in Brussels-based crisis management structures, permanent representations of the Member States (MS) to the EU, CSDP missions and operations and EU delegations. These positions are filled with personnel who rotate regularly and need to get up to speed as quickly as possible at the beginning of their tour in order to be effective in their jobs. This was the main reason for which the ESDC, in consultation with EU Military Staff (EUMS), took the decision to immediately deploy a blended AMT. Blended meant several aspects. Firstly, the first module of the AMT (AMT1) was to be conducted via distance learning and the second module (AMT2) in a residential format. Secondly, AMT1 was a blend of asynchronous and synchronous learning sessions. AMT1, hosted on the ILIAS ESDC eLearning Platform from 1 to 25 June 2020, was successfully concluded. The module was spread over one month, not including a preliminary two-week refresher period, when participants got prepared, studied the scenario used for group work and familiarised themselves with the virtual classroom environment. Each week of AMT1 had a distinct focus but a similar structure. In terms of content, the course covered the integrated approach to conflict and crisis (week 1), conflict analysis (week 2), initial phase of CSDP crisis management procedures (week 3) and subsequent phases of the CSDP crisis management procedures (week 4). As far as the methodology was concerned, the virtual, distance-learning format of the module had both advantages and disadvantages. Advantages include the possibility to learn at one’s own pace, more time for reflection and consolidation of skills (topics being tackled iteratively, through distinct methods), and the option to ‘stop’ and reflect on a memorable takeaway from a certain expert or ‘fast forward’ and skip a recorded lecture when the speaker did not convince. No less important was having access to experts either through the pre-recorded lessons (e.g. from the UN HQ in New York) or key lecturers (e.g. General Kostarakos from Greece). The disadvantages were those we anticipated and assumed: difficult interaction, secure connectivity problems, the side effects of the confinement or participants’ hybrid working regimes (teleworking and in office). Each week was structured in a flipped class model, with asynchronous and synchronous sessions. In the first part of the week (Monday, Tuesday) participants asynchronously self-paced their learning, taking a tailored e learning module, watching pre-recorded lectures and completing individual assignments. In the second part of the week, participants interacted in synchronous sessions in plenary (Tuesdays, when they asked the experts questions arising from their self-paced learning), in breakout rooms (Thursdays, when they worked in group various scenario-based assignments) and then again in plenary (Fridays, when experts provided feedback to the group work). Sixty-three participants from the member states, European External Action Service (EEAS), EUMS, Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC), EU delegations and CSDP missions and operations dedicated more than 40 working hours to the AMT1 module. More than 40 experts from the EEAS HQ, EUMS, MPCC, Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability (CPCC), Kennedy Institute (Ireland), Centre for Defence Higher Studies (Italy), SWEDINT and HSJWC recorded and made available their presentations, which required a lot more time than lecturing on a regular course. Finally, even though it was difficult, course participants managed to network at distance, even beyond the ‘confinement’ of the formal aspects of the course. A big THANK YOU to all course participants, experts and facilitators directly involved in the course preparation and execution.