Conference of Commandants – 52 Edition, Tallinn (Estonia)
The 52nd NATO Conference of Commandants, jointly hosted by the NATO Defense College (NDC) and the Baltic Defence College, is taking place from 10 to 11 May 2023 in Tallinn, Estonia. The two-day annual conference brings together commandants of national senior defence education institutions from Allied and partner nations, as well as Non-NATO Entities (NNEs) to exchange views on the topic of online learning.
Since its first edition in 1972, the NATO Conference of Commandants has been an opportunity to discuss professional military education and how to remain relevant and ahead of the curve, in service of offering the best possible higher education in the field of defence. This 52nd edition primarily focusses on the question “online education as a full substitute to in-person education?”.
Prior to the official opening of the conference, a NATO Commandants only session took place on 9 May 2023. The session was opened by the President of Estonia, H.E. Mr Alar Karis, who welcomed the participants to Estonia. He underscored the importance of sustaining ways to support the best military education: “Properly trained and educated military staffs are essential to ensure that we will be successful in preventing a conflict through effective deterrence or repelling any possible attack.”
The following day marked the official beginning of the conference, attended by all the participants: Allies, Partners and NNEs, meeting in a hybrid format. The day was dedicated to the topic of “NATO’s e-learning: present and future”.
NDC Commandant, Lieutenant General Olivier Rittimann, delivered the opening speech, highlighting that this CoC provides a “unique forum in which Allies and Partners from across a wide and diverse collection of academic and education institutions can come together to discuss contemporary and future issues that affect all of us”. He then gave the floor to Brigadier General Ilmar Tamm, Commandant of the Baltic Defence College, for his introductory remarks.
General Phillipe Lavigne, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, welcomed the audience remotely and underscored the need for greater interoperability within the Alliance and among partners, as well as ACT’s commitment to NATO’s digital transformation. Dr Sae Schatz then delivered a keynote address on "Modernizing Learning, the Future Learning Ecosystem". She emphasized that we are living in times of constant change, with advanced technology, which demand the modernization of the education system in order to keep pace with the changing world. She explained how the “future learning ecosystem” is the way towards that direction. The concept is based on a lifelong continuum learning: interconnected, outcome-focused, active, and focused on fostering 21st century competencies.
Mr Paul Thurkettle, from the Allied Command Transformation, gave a lecture on "NATO 20 Years of e-Learning, Past, Present and Future, NATO and National Collaboration". Mr Salih Cem Kumsal, from Allied Command Transformation Joint Education, Training, and Exercise Division, followed with a lecture on “Adding Tools to the NATO Education & Training Toolbox”. He talked about the past, present and future tools used in NATO’s education and training toolbox, with a specific focus on e-learning tools and new technologies.
In the afternoon, Ms Hillery Hommes, Head of the Centre of Expertise Digital Learning, Land Warfare Centre, Royal Netherlands Army, talked about “Serious Gaming” and how this applies to military education and training. She covered the advantages of including serious gaming in training, particularly for younger generations such as generation alpha, which are well-versed in the world of virtual reality. Adaptive scenarios; the ability to practice complex scenarios or skills anytime and anywhere; the possibility to call game over and/or start over; a safe environment; and the practice of immersion, are some of the ways how serious gaming contributes to developing a more efficient learning system. She stated that “we need senior leaders to clear the way to explore this world with all its possibilities. The world is changing, the students are changing. Let's change with it”.
The day’s briefings were followed by a Q&A session. In order to consolidate and exchange views on the content discussed during the briefings, participants were divided into three groups, together with the lecturers, for syndicate discussions. To conclude the first day of the CoC, the Baltic Defence College hosted a dinner attended by all participants at the Estonian Maritime Museum.