Guest Contributor: Andrea J. Burr, DP1 First Class Petty Officer. 

What particular needs, attitudes, and expectations do former military personnel bring to the college classroom? How can an instructor address those issues, preferences, and challenges within his or her course?

Given her military experience, as well as her work as an instructor and mentor to ex-military personnel, Andrea Burr is uniquely qualified to answer such questions. Below, she shares her insights into the mindset that they bring to the classroom, and she also offers her strategies for helping these students make the most of class time.

Has your classroom played host to individuals transitioning out of the military? What teaching tips would you offer to an instructor who will be working with these students? Offer them in the comments section below.
I have had the distinct pleasure of serving in the U.S. Navy. Like most military personnel, I attended several training courses, starting from boot camp on through to courses specific to my job classification, as well as college. Most military courses are fast paced and packed with lots of important information. Sometimes the courses can be so dense with material that an instructor in a normal classroom setting would take months to cover what we would learn in a week.

When I transitioned out of the military, I held various positions, one of them being an instructor teaching PC Repair, Microsoft Domain Setup and Security, Javascript Programming, and various electronic healthcare record-related courses for adult learners at a vocational technical school. The student population was diverse. Some students were full-time employees that were sent for additional training by their company. Other students were returning to school to get training to enhance their chances of a promotion or employment. I also had some ex-military personnel in my class, and they definitely stood out, at least to me.

I found that these ex-military students faced a different and unique set of challenges. When they made the decision to return to college or start for the first time they faced time management issues because so many things in their lives were transitioning as well — job, healthcare needs, child care, spousal relationships and so on. Most students don’t have that same gravity of responsibility all at once as does someone transitioning from the military. There have been various studies on this subject (e.g., Wheeler, 2012). There are also current initiatives to offer a transition course for military service members in higher education (Furtek, 2012).

The ex-military students are normally accustomed to fast-paced, structured learning environments and they sometimes find the traditional classroom setting slow. I have addressed those expectations with the style of teaching I find effective: blended. The classes I have taught were normally a blended learning experience, which include instructor-led training as well as self-paced, computer-based training. I normally let the class know that they must monitor their time while I monitor their progress and assist as needed. Some people require more guidance than others do, and I provide guidance as needed, as well as help to nurture a sense of self-confidence to enable the student to become more independent in their learning experience.

Everyone wants to do well in school and has different motivation to succeed. By talking with ex-military, as well as recalling my own experience, I have found that the desire to transition with ease, a sense of accomplishment, financial security, and wanting to level the playing field with our civilian counterparts are a few major motivators.

I have found that hands-on or classroom discussion seems to resonate more with military personnel. They are used to being in environments of “show and do.” They love the hands-on activities – such as sharing ideas on enhancing a Web site in a group setting, or having students research replacement parts online during class and then discussing their choices — because you tend learn a lot through repetition in the military. During classroom exercises, military personnel can sometimes be a bit rigid due to their discipline. You have to take them out of that comfort zone to create a more expressive environment to allow them to engage their personal skills. Ex-military tend to be very focused during lectures because they understand the importance of getting it the first time.

Transitioning military personnel bring a world of experience that most people in a local classroom setting have not had the opportunity to experience. They are professional and focused. They are good at staying on task, getting assignments in on time — if not early — and they tend to communicate more with the instructor if there is any delay or issue with their assignments. They bring a great feeling to the classroom because they are there to gain as much as possible from their experience.


Andrea J. Burr is a sixteen-year Navy veteran, having served on board three ships (USS L.Y. Spear, U.S.S. Emory S. Land, and U.S.S. Bataan) as well as overseas. She was in the Data Processing Tech rate. She has extensive experience in the information technology field with almost thirty years of experience, and currently serves as a consultant supporting Electronic Health Record initiatives for companies nationwide and in Canada. Andrea J. Burr resides in Florida.

Andrea Burr also works with BPW Foundation’s Joining Forces for Women Veterans and Military Spouses Mentoring Plus™. Launched in January, 2012, this ground-breaking program connects women veterans and military spouses with working women mentors and subject matter experts (SMEs). Participants receive free career development support and guidance to find and keep meaningful employment.  For more information, please visit www.joiningforcesmentoringplus.org

 

References:

Furtek, D. (2012). Developing a New Transition Course for Military Service Members in Higher Education. College and University, 33-36.

Wheeler, H. A. (2012). Veteran’s Transition to Community College. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 775-792.