Marine Corps officers are adaptable, capable of critical analysis, and able to make decisions in chaotic environments. Achieving that is a lifelong pursuit, and for many—myself included—the journey began as a midshipman in one of the more than 60 Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) programs nationwide. My positive experiences in NROTC fueled my desire to serve as a Marine officer instructor (MOI) during my first tour in the supporting establishment. When I checked into my unit, however, I was shocked to find the curriculum had remained largely unchanged over almost ten years. Many courses still contained the same dry material rooted in instructors “depositing” information.1 Although I attempted to make my courses more interesting and sought to incorporate student-led learning, I often was bogged down by collateral duties, and I did not possess the requisite expertise.
To equip future leaders for success, NROTC must invest in instructor education and revamp its curriculum to incorporate decision games.
Military leaders have emphasized modern learning methodologies. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have called on professional military education (PME) schools to “incorporate active and experiential learning [by using] live, virtual, constructive, and gaming methodologies” to develop critical thinkers.2 Marine Corps Commandant General David H. Berger has highlighted the need to transition to an approach centered on critical thinking and decision-making, specifically noting that an investment in wargaming is needed to achieve this end.3 Marine Corps Training and Education Command (TECOM) reinforces this point in Vision and Strategy for 21st Century Learning and emphasizes the instructor as central to effective learning.4
It is easy to see why NROTC is missing the mark. At present, curriculum development is in the hands of just two individuals within the Naval Service Training Command’s (NSTC’s) Officer Development Directorate.5 They are aided by instructors who volunteer to serve as course coordinators, but because this is a collateral duty, it often falls by the wayside and amounts to ensuring instructors have access to a series of common materials such as regenerated syllabi and quizzes. NSTC simply does not have the resources to ensure the curriculum is kept current and on par with that of other military learning institutions.
NROTC can make strides toward rectifying these issues by standardizing the implementation of decision games—tactical decision games, decision-forcing cases and exercises, and wargames. All focus on active, experiential learning, discovery learning, and students taking ownership of their education. Decision games can complement more traditional learning methods, while exposing midshipmen to higher-level concepts, various military occupational specialties, and even the joint environment.
Thanks to a few key members of the MOI community, there have been efforts to incorporate decision games into the Marine-option NROTC classes.6 Both MOIs and midshipmen provided positive feedback on the pilot curriculum, noting that the games helped in mastering course material and made the course more enjoyable because of their interactive nature.7 These efforts are great first steps, but without the recognition and backing of both the Navy and Marine Corps, standardized implementation within NROTC is unlikely.
With the proper training and continuing development, instructors will have the tools and confidence to tailor a decision game to a multitude of desired learning outcomes. The NSTC-hosted course, “Teaching in Higher Education,” should emphasize instructional methods that support decision games and require each instructor to develop and facilitate a game as a course requirement. In addition, NSTC should organize semiannual training to ensure instructors maintain their proficiency and stay abreast of developments.
TECOM has a ten-day Innovative Instruction Workshop to “develop participants’ understanding of the adult learning process, enable them to effectively facilitate learning and design programs, and further the learning and development of themselves and others upon their return to their schoolhouses.”8 MOIs across NROTC should be required to attend this course to continue their development.
To facilitate these changes, the role of course coordinator as a collateral duty for MOIs should be eliminated. Instead, NSTC should have a robust curriculum development section or, at the very least, borrow from entities who already have one, such as TECOM. The senior Marine representative and liaison to Naval Education Command, NSTC, and NROTC should be an active participant in this development effort, to ensure the program aligns with the desires of the Marine Corps. These adjustments would ensure that change happens at pace and carries more weight than a grassroots movement within the MOI community.
Marine-option NROTC midshipmen will become PME students beginning with their tenure as students at The Basic School. Therefore, it would behoove NROTC to align its teaching methods with those of TBS and other PME schools. Modernizing the NROTC program would ensure these future officers think and learn in ways that will be expected of them later in their careers.
Well-trained NROTC instructors equipped with a revitalized curriculum will help bring military leaders’ vision to fruition and prepare officers for the rigors of military leadership in tomorrow’s uncertain environment.
1. Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire terms this the “Banking Model of Education.” See Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (London, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018).
2. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Developing Today’s Joint Officers for Tomorrow’s Ways of War: The Joint Chiefs of Staff Vision and Guidance for Professional Military Education & Talent Management (Washington, DC, 1 May 2020), 5–6.
3. Marine Corps Commandant General David H. Berger has highlighted this topic in both the Commandant’s Planning Guidance: 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps (Washington, DC: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, July 2019), 16–17, and Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 7: Learning (Washington, DC: U.S. Marine Corps, 20 February 2020).
4. U.S. Marine Corps Training and Education Command, Vision and Strategy for 21st Century Learning (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps Training and Education Command, 13 April 2020), 5–6.
5. Michael Logan, “N93 Staff and Responsibilities,” PowerPoint presentation at the NROTC MOI/AMOI Conference, January 2021.
6. Nicholas Patitsas and Tyler Thomsen, “New Curriculum Proposal: Evolution of Warfare,” speech at Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps, 6 January 2021.
7. Patitsas and Thomsen, “New Curriculum Proposal: Evolution of Warfare.”
8. Jody Barto, Shawn McCann, Damien O’Connell, and Micaiah Roydes, “The Innovative Instruction Workshop,” Marine Corps Association and Foundation blog, 18 July 2019.