News | Oct. 9, 2017

Module 7: Applied Learning


During the test and evaluation process, all formats, except for the one-day seminar, concluded with an applied learning exercise that reinforced the concepts and learning that had taken place. Ultimately, two options proved to be the most effective. 

Option 1: In classroom settings where the students were being graded, or where there was a research and writing requirement necessary for certification, a written project was assigned. This was done in a group, whereby students, working in teams of 3-4 persons, were required to develop a campaign or program design, to address the problem of impunity using one of the case studies that had not been emphasized during classroom instruction. Options included, for example, Liberia, Iraq, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Colombia, and the Philippines. Taking a historical perspective, students applied the taxonomy to analyze the illicit power structures. They conducted their own vulnerability analysis using the background materials provided in the book, identified critical intelligence and information requirements, and developed a campaign design to counter them that addressed both the lessons identified in those case studies and the enduring lessons from all the case studies. Groups then presented their analysis in both oral presentations and a written paper, essentially re-litigating the case. 

In addition to the materials in Convergence and Impunity, the students were encouraged to use doctrinal templates so as to illustrate their adaptability. The quality of the written product was generally high. Feedback from the students indicated that the group interaction introduced myriad perspectives, particularly in classes that included interagency or Reserve component personnel who brought their civilian professional perspectives to bear. The advantage to this approach is that it does not require significant outside research. Although students did some, their main focus was on analyzing the material that was already presented in the books. 

Option 2: A variation on Option 1 is to use current, real-world problems as the basis for analysis rather than a historical case. In testing, this approach worked particularly well in classes that had non-U.S. participants. It was also used in one interagency course that had been specifically designed to find solutions to a U.S. government strategic challenge involving illicit power. Using the Option 2 approach, students, again working in small groups, selected or were assigned a current problem set, and then proceeded to design a program or project to address the threat from illicit power. To avoid turning this into a research project, it was essential that at least one person in the group be expert on the problem. 

Notable examples of resulting projects included one group’s plan to build capacity in Cote d’Ivoire to ensure free and fair elections in 2020. To be successful, they concluded that they had to address two known illicit power structures – criminal patronage networks and militias – that had upset the prior electoral process. Another group looked at the problem of accountability within the defense sector in Ukraine. A third focused on criminality within the Indonesian Coast Guard and its impact on the ability to control weapons trafficking and the spread of extremism via the maritime domain. In each instance, there was a member of the team that had personal experience and insight into the problem set. However, the application of Convergence and Impunity lessons changed the way in which they analyzed the power structures, and assessed both risks and solutions. Option 2 did not require a written product, only a group presentation. 

 A core component of both options was the peer review that took place when projects were presented. Students were not allowed to “opt out’ of participating in peer reviews. Every student was required to comment or question each presentation. Thus, the level of learning that went on during the peer reviews was extraordinary. The feedback from all participants was that this changed the way they would plan in the future – they were identifying opportunities and challenges that had never occurred to them before.