Military behaviorism

How-Tos

I just read in the magazine “Educational Technology” (Jan/Feb 2009, pg. 49, D. Hlynka) about the 1943 classic 20 minute military training film “Identification of the Japanese Zero,” staring Ronald Regan and narrated by the famous voice of Art Gilmore. It’s been popular lately and I guess, but I must have missed the buzz.


It can be an emotional and negative experience to think of the military as a great and innovative teaching organization, but it’s true. The military has been, and is, a leader in effective instructional design and in a large part helped make ed tech into the vibrant professional and academic field it is today. This is due in part to their position of having to train a lot of people, very quickly, who often right out of high school, how to do complex tasks under incredible pressure. And their budget too.

The issue is WHAT they teach, not HOW. In the “how” we can learn a lot from them about how to make educational technology better. As my friend Phil points out, lots of famous artists got their start when the entire country converted to all things war supply and training related, including Frank Capra and Dr. Suess. See, “Private Snafu” Wikipedia entry.

The Japanese Zero film is cited in the journal as an excellent case study into how the behaviorist model was applied to “teach a task quickly, efficiently and with guaranteed results.”

I watched it closely all the way through and I have to say, I think I learned a bit about what a Zero looks like. The combination of graphics with no text, voice, illustrations and then a fictional vignette that gave me tangible empathy and visualizations about how it would feel to make a mistake, and to not make a mistake, was solid. And I watched it on my iPhone! Which made me think a lot about mobile ed…I know the Coast Guard is doing a lot with “m-learning” and I bet the entire military is using phones for on site reference and learning.

“Identification of the Japanese Zero”

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