History is full of lessons of when a moment of sudden change has radically altered the balance of military power because we’ve been too busy focusing on the past. For example, as a deterrent to another World War, The Maginot Lines were built across France after World War I. These were a system of deep trenches and forts at selected locations designed to stop a conflict that was exactly the same as the last one that had been experienced. As the famous saying goes ‘Generals are often fighting the last war,’ and this proved to be the case when World War II started. The invading German forces simply chose to ignore these defences using new tactics and new technologies to expose the defensive strategy as ‘old thinking’.
‘Old Thinking’ is a real challenge for all industries. We’re often so busy looking back at the past, we don’t realise we’re doing it and it often takes something like a crisis, to expose this thinking. That’s why it’s called a crisis – it changes our everyday life forever. COVID-19 means we’re currently living through one of those moments and this challenges many areas of ‘Old Thinking.’ Every day something new changes or we need to apply a new approach and we look at the world as it was before COVID and after COVID. During these moments of crisis and change we are put in a constant state of tension; how much do we adhere to old thinking and how much do we adapt to the ‘new world’?
A form of old thinking can be seen with how Defence has traditionally trained its people. Before COVID-19 our general assumption was that ‘real-life’ training was the best form of training. This meant simulations that trained troops with exercises as close to ‘real-life’ as possible were seen as the best form of training. As a result, most solutions seek to accurately emulate ‘real-life’ as much as possible. How this training is delivered is also often set up as a direct replica of traditional education systems. For example, people using virtual training systems generally use them in centralised, classroom conditions based on models of traditional learning.
With lockdown, we’ve had to think about everything we do, and, in many situations we’ve needed to think about how to do things differently. For Defence this means thinking about how it engages with its people. If everyone is at home for vast periods of time, how do you keep your people ready – how do you keep them fit, how do you keep them motivated?
Technology has been a big component of how we’ve all responded to the circumstances of lockdown. Online networks have exploded, the demand for face-face, online communication has grown to levels never thought possible before COVID-19. Virtual meeting tools have gone from being a means to facilitate business to the cornerstone of social communication for family and friends.
The Virtual world has also seen a huge surge in demand as game streaming has expanded and enabled people to interact with each other in different ways online – be they video games, concerts, or on-line festivals. These things do not and will not replace the importance of real-world connections, but they do highlight the possibilities of adding digital engagements more heavily into how we live our lives now in the COVID-19 world. So, right now, we are experiencing a paradigm shift in the way that we combine digital and real-world engagements.
A paradigm shift occurs when we see a fundamental change in our understanding or assumptions. This is happening in how defence trains and prepares its people. The way Defence has designed and implemented virtual training has been exposed as ‘Old Thinking’. Lockdown really illustrates the value of virtual training and this isn’t from trying to make experiences that directly try to emulate the real world from a centralised location. Instead, we’ve seen the value of virtual training is that it allows people to access simulations that are representations of the real world. Of course, these need to be realistic, but the realism is not the key aspect of their design – online experiences will never be ‘real’ so why pretend? Instead, the focus should be on the activity people can have in the virtual world. Such activity allows people to explore and test tactics and approaches which could be of some use in the real world.
Can we move the paradigm forward by taking the best bits from virtual training (such as accessibility) to expose defence people to the training they can do at home? Rather than focusing on highly authentic and accurate experiences – couldn’t we change the training to be more about repeatability and exploration? Wouldn’t it be better to train people by testing their tactics, and get them to learn some things by doing them as much as possible? Obviously, this will never replace the importance and the highest value of real-world training, but it could lead to the virtual world being accessed in a way that gives us new ways of training our people, not by teaching them ‘old thinking’.
Additionally, read more about how we are helping develop new synthetic training solutions in this post by Forbes ‘This Week In XR’ summary.