Teaching Adaptability and Making Marines More Effective Trainers


Vern Tubbs of Yorktown Systems Group and I spent the last week at the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Paris Island facilitating Marine Instructors in the methodology of the Adaptive Course Model. The outcome we sought to achieve during the Adaptive Course Model (ACM) is for the student to be confident with the Adaptive Leader Outcomes Based Training and Education methodology. To do this we introduced these Marines, all experienced instructors to an array of tools to assist in developing adaptability, which is an evolving process. By the end of the 5 day workshop our outcome was that the individual marines will be able to demonstrate a proficiency in the Art of Facilitation while conducting Decision making exercises, Tactical Decision Exercises and how to conduct the After Action Review. They will also learn to work together as they are introduced to and become familiar with war-gaming, free play force on force exercises and adaptive leader Physical fitness training.

Finally, they will also become familiar with how to produce outcomes and measures of effectiveness (assessments) to judge student learning. The Adaptive Course Model introduces students to tools to develop adaptability as well as how to develop outcomes and measures of effectiveness to determine the evolution to adaptability. More importantly, the students will be encouraged to experiment with new ways to develop adaptability, while enhancing their own leadership and teaching styles.


Many of you reading this post might be asking what the problem is. Why do United States Marines need to improve upon anything? Below is a list of some of areas in need of improvement, Marine Corps leadership on Paris Island identified. Many of these should look very familiar to police as well:

  • Most Marine Corps courses have settled for mere adequacy in individual and small-team skills—the marine Corps has said, we can do better
  • Officers, and NCOS often had little understanding of the reasons tasks were performed a particular way
  • Officers and NCOs are overly reliant on process, not focused enough on results (true in training, but also in planning and leading)
  • Most institutional training continues to have a mechanical, check-the-block feel and was focused on throughput
  • Most training was governed by inputs (hours, ammo, etc.) rather than outcomes or results
  • A pronounced tendency at all levels of the Training Commands to control by rules—each problem seems to result in more rules (policies, regulations, directives, etc.)
  • Training methodology, combined with too many rules, stifled initiative: Waiting To Be Told What To Do
  • Compensated for instructor inadequacies by providing them a script. This may have prevented failure in some, but it prevented excellence in many
  • Training methods often not in harmony with human nature
  • Rarely required real problem solving and initiative
  • Misapplied stress: too much at the beginning, too little at the end
  • Little room for experimentation, mistakes
  • Focused on meeting minimum standards and avoiding failure, not on excellence
  • Faulty assumptions about how humans make decisions
  • Students could succeed without understanding why
  • Authority usually not aligned with responsibility, resulting in little accountability

The Marine leadership, specifically in this case on Paris Island, Col. Jeffrey Rule realized that the development of his Marine Instructors must shift if it is to mold young marines to meet the requirements of the changing face of war. Our methodology must shift from training Marines how to apply solutions and enforce standards to teaching Marines how to frame problems and solve them.


This is called “adaptive leadership” The main difference is our acceptance that we cannot predict all the types of problems our leaders will have to solve, so we must train, educate (Develop) Marines (officers and enlisted) who can succeed in almost any situation. An outstanding method of doing so is “Adaptive Course Model (ACM)” which involves employing various learning methodologies. In short the reason we were invited to facilitate the workshop is it is designed to take people, Marines, Army, Police, any organization, from industrial-age mass production by fairly narrow experts and evolving them to more individually tailored crafting by all-around artisans.


To put things in context our western way of thinking that we have a school solution for everything has developed a training culture very good at teaching leaders how to respond to certain well-defined problems. Leader training focused on how to apply solutions and enforce standards developed in a fairly stable, predictable environment. Over time, it fostered a culture of bureaucracy, rules, and engineered “best solutions.”

Now the environment is changing rapidly and requires thinking leaders leading thinking people. Marine training must now focus on identifying the problem and solving it using the tools available. Leaders must accept less standardization, more focus on achieving desired outcomes so this means leader judgment must replace detailed rules and ALL TRAINING must be designed to include decision-making and develop judgment. Adaptive Leader and Marine Training & Education is the most important part, but by itself it is insufficient.

So what is the adaptive course model?

Adaptive Course Model has been taught over a 100 times, employed by United States Military Academy Department of Military Instruction, 3rd CHEM BDE, ARC, Cadet Command, as well as introduced in parts of the SF Q Course and Ranger School; and also used at the USMA Infantry Officer’s Course and Expeditionary Warfare School. It has also been taught to numerous police departments and also private industry across the country.

It is taught to outcomes assessed through measures of effectiveness, not time and builds on the tactical decision-making and communication skills already in place . . . The main difference between this course and the others is the level of complexity that the students must deal with in the scenarios.

All ‘teaching’ is scenario-based . . . No PowerPoint presentations or lectures!!!! No rote memorization of information!


The purpose of Adaptive Course Model is to nurture adaptability, strength of character, effective communications skills, and decision-making.

ACM is based on the principles of Army Learning Model (ALM) and uses the Adaptive Leader Methodology (ALM) as a guide for teaching (Raising the Bar, Chapter 3), as well as extensive historical research and the latest in learning theory by Dr. Robert Bjork (UCLA).

“Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality in a leader.” “War is an art and as such is not susceptible to explanation by fixed formula.” - General George S. Patton, Jr.

As we facilitated the 5 day workshop our guiding principles are: 1) The worst thing to do is to make no decision at all 2) There is no single, scientific solution to a tactical problem 3) It is about “how to think” not “what to think” 4) Communicate effectively. This program of instructions employs the OODA loop as a guide for teaching, but the course is based on the philosophy of Mission Command, so mutual trust and those participating (facilitators and students) must take a joy in responsibility in reaching the outcomes sought.

By workshops end the Marine students presented their own TDGs based on something they already teach, but using the methods they were taught during the week. Then their peers evaluate the TDG. At the end of the day, the students then debrief or after action review the course, including our strengths and weaknesses, in order to continually improve. Congratulations to the Marines, whom did a great job and to Vern Tubbs for a job well done, and finally Col. Jeffrey Rule for his leadership to try something new, in a great but very conventional training environment.


This was the most rewarding workshop for me and I have done a lot of them over the last decade in policing. The opportunity to make Marine leaders more adaptive and better teachers is a humbling experience for this old Marine. It was also my first time back to Paris Island since I graduated from Boot camp 37 years ago. Humbling indeed!

Stay Oriented!