Scary Monsters, Wicked Learning Environments and Super Creeps: Can They Help The Military?

Scary monsters, super creeps
Keep me running, running scared
Scary monsters, super creeps
Keep me running, running scared. –David Bowie

I  was listening to a podcast the other day where I  heard the term wicked learning environment.  Now, I have heard of wicked problems, Wicked the play, we all know wicked people, the wicked witch, and of course wicked meaning cool or awesome. After searching a bit I found “wicked learning environments” refers to complex and challenging learning situations that may be difficult to navigate and require learners to employ critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. These environments may involve uncertain, ambiguous, or unpredictable situations, making it challenging for learners to rely on prior knowledge or established patterns of thinking.

Examples of wicked learning environments include real-world situations such as tackling global issues like climate change, solving complex business problems, or navigating ethical dilemmas in healthcare. These environments often require learners to collaborate with others, communicate effectively, and adapt to changing circumstances.

To succeed in wicked learning environments, learners need to develop skills such as flexibility, resilience, and the ability to learn from failure. They must also be willing to take risks, experiment, and iterate their solutions until they arrive at a viable outcome.

Educators can support learners in these environments by providing opportunities for authentic learning experiences, such as internships, service-learning projects, and simulations. They can also facilitate critical reflection and promote metacognitive awareness to help learners monitor their thinking and adapt their strategies accordingly.

Wicked vs Kind Environments 

Digging a bit deeper I realized there are “kind” and “wicked” learning environments:

A “kind” learning environment is one in which the rules, expectations, and goals are clear and well-defined. Students are given clear guidance and support, and the learning objectives are structured and achievable. The teacher or instructor is typically seen as an authority figure, and there is a high level of respect and trust between the teacher and students. In a kind learning environment, the focus is on creating a positive and nurturing atmosphere that encourages learning and growth.

A “wicked” learning environment, on the other hand, is one in which the rules and goals are ambiguous and complex. There is often no clear solution or right answer, and students are encouraged to explore and experiment to find creative solutions. In a wicked learning environment, the teacher or instructor is seen more as a facilitator than an authority figure, and there is a high degree of collaboration and discussion among the students. This type of environment is often used to teach complex problem-solving skills and critical thinking.

Both types of learning environments have their advantages and disadvantages, and both can be effective in different contexts. Kind environments can be helpful for younger or less experienced learners who need structure and guidance to learn effectively. Wicked environments, on the other hand, can be helpful for more experienced learners who need to develop their problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Ultimately, the choice of learning environment will depend on the goals of the learning experience, the needs and abilities of the students, and the teaching style of the instructor.

Wicked Learning Environments in the Military

In military contexts, a wicked learning environment refers to a training environment that simulates the unpredictable, complex, and often chaotic situations that soldiers may encounter in real-world combat scenarios. These environments are designed to challenge military’ problem-solving skills, decision-making abilities, and leadership qualities.

Wicked learning environments in the military may include scenarios such as urban warfare, counterinsurgency operations, or large-scale combat simulations. These environments often involve multiple actors, including friendly and enemy forces, civilians, and non-state actors such as insurgents or terrorist groups. The situations may be ambiguous, with unclear rules of engagement, limited information, and a high degree of uncertainty and risk.

In these environments, military leaders must learn to work collaboratively, adapt to rapidly changing situations, and make quick, effective decisions under pressure. They must also learn to communicate effectively, both within their own units and with other military and civilian actors.

To create effective wicked learning environments, military trainers and educators should use a variety of tools and techniques, including role-playing, scenario-based training, and virtual simulations. They may also use feedback and debriefing sessions to help members reflect on their performance and identify areas for improvement.

Wicked learning environments in the military are designed to prepare warriors for the complex and unpredictable nature of modern warfare, and to equip them with the skills and mindset needed to succeed in challenging and high-stress situations.

How Might Wicked Learning Environments be Used in PME?

Wicked learning environments can be an effective tool for professional military education (PME), as they can help prepare military personnel for the complex and unpredictable situations they may encounter in the field. Here are some ways in which wicked learning environments could be used in PME:

  1. Scenario-based training: Military personnel can be trained in simulated scenarios that replicate real-world situations. This could include urban warfare, counterinsurgency operations, or large-scale combat simulations. By experiencing and working through these scenarios, military personnel can develop their problem-solving skills and decision-making abilities.
  2. Cross-functional teams: In a wicked learning environment, military personnel may work in cross-functional teams, collaborating with people from different units, branches, or even different countries. This can help develop communication and teamwork skills, as well as an understanding of different cultures and perspectives.
  3. Leadership development: Wicked learning environments can be used to develop leadership skills, as military personnel may be required to lead teams in complex and uncertain situations. Through these environments, military leaders can develop the ability to inspire and motivate their teams, make quick and effective decisions, and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.
  4. Feedback and reflection: To get the most out of wicked learning environments, military personnel should receive feedback and have opportunities to reflect on their experiences. This can help identify areas for improvement and promote continuous learning and development.

Overall, wicked learning environments can be a powerful tool for professional military education, as they can help military personnel develop the skills and mindset needed to succeed in complex and uncertain situations.

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