Training Lessons from the United States Marine Corps (Part 1)

Training Lessons from the United States Marine Corps (Part 1)

This is Part 1 of a two-part article on changes in the learning and performance profession by Robert W. Lucas, internationally known author and learning and performance consultant.Training Lessons from the United States Marine Corps (Part 1)

Things have evolved significantly since my entry into the training and development (T&D)  profession. Today many people and organizations refer to it as Learning and Performance (L&P). There is even a certification that allows professions in the field to demonstrate their mastery of the knowledge and skills involved in their chosen career field. It is administered by ASTD and is called the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP). Less than 1,500 people worldwide hold this designation as of 2013.

In the beginning

As I often tell participants in my Creative Trainer Boot Camp and The Creative Trainer workshops that I facilitate, my first “gig” as a trainer was in the United States Marine Corps. Back then, we were taught all the spit and polish, military history, first aid, drill commands and military tactics needed that we would pass along to our new recruits to prepare them to bear the honorable title Marine and for the rigors of combat in Viet Nam.

Training Lessons from the United States Marine Corps (Part 1)

As I was reflecting on the 238th birthday of the United States Marine Corps this morning, I was pondering some of the changes that have occurred in the training and development profession since I was a Drill Instructor (DI) at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South, Carolina from 1972-1975. Parris Island is one of the two recruit depots, along with Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, California, where Marine Corps enlisted personnel have received their basic military training for decades.

The role of rote memory in learning

Unlike many current learning strategies and theories on how to effectively transfer knowledge (e.g. andragogy and brain-based learning) and use technology components (e.g. personal electronic devices, computers, and online learning); training has been done in the military and in school systems for decades through the instructor or teacher-led sessions.


While approaches to the way personnel have changed today, the Marines (and other branches of U.S. military) have traditionally used extensive classroom training in the past. Their approach was more, “I talk; you listen.”

Because the military trains more people than any other organization in the country, their trends and techniques have been emulated by many organizational training professionals over the years. Essentially this is because once the military trainers leave the service, they go to work in civilian training environments or at universities and schools where they pass along their models and techniques.

Training Lessons from the United States Marine Corps (Part 1) by The Creative Trainer – Robert W. Lucas, Awarding Winning Brain-Based Adult Training Author

There were endless hours of practice in the skills needed to perform the duties and functions of a Marine in and out of combat. In addition to practicing close order drill movements, care and cleaning of their weapons, and many other necessary skills, recruits spent endless hours on rote memory work.  They did so by standing at the rigid position of attention (standing straight, with heels together and hands held straight and tightly by the sides) in front of their rack (bunk or bed) with their boot heels against a painted red line running the length of the squad bay (living quarters) that faced the center of the room. From that position, they shouted in unison at the top of their voice to any prompt given by their DI, who was seated at a desk or standing at the end of the squad bay.

Training Lessons from the United States Marine Corps (Part 1)For example, if the DI said in a moderate voice, “Chain of Command” the recruits would respond as a group, “Chain of Command, Aye, Aye Sir.” They would then begin to shout the name every leader above them in the organization starting with the President of the United States and working down to their Platoon Commander.  At the end of that exercise, the DI would call off the next thing to recite. This went on for hours a day whenever they were in the barracks or waiting to go outside for the next scheduled activity.

Practice with a purpose

The purpose of all this constant reiteration was that Marines are taught from the first day they arrive in boot camp to respond instantaneously to any lawful order given by those in command. It was also to prepare them for the ultimate goal of providing knowledge that would be needed to pass a General Military Subjects (GMS) examination at the end of the training and to answer such questions asked by the Commanding Officer who would hold his final inspection prior to graduation. Failure to be successful in either event might mean that a recruit was “recycled” back a week in training for remedial study and not would graduate with his or her platoon (peers).

Getting results

Considering the purpose and results achieved, most current and former Marines (there is no such thing as an ex-Marine – another lesson learned at Parris Island and San Diego Recruit Deports) will tell you that they can still recall things like their General Orders, Four Lifesaving Steps, Rifleman’s Creed, Marine Corps Hymn and countless other things engrained in their memory because of the repetitive training they received.

For creative and innovative ways to transfer knowledge and skills and engage your learners, get copies of some of Bob’s books: The Creative Training Idea Book: Inspired Strategies for Engaging and Effective Learning;  Creative Learning: Activities and Games That Really Engage People; Energize Your Training: Creative Techniques to Engage Learners; and Training Workshop Essentials: Designing, Developing and Delivering Learning Events That Get Results.

Alternatives to Traditional Personal and Professional Development

Alternatives to Traditional Personal and Professional Development 

These are exciting times in our lives. There are so many options for those of us who are trying to enhance our personal and professional skills these days that sitting in a traditional classroom where someone talks at you is not really an option any longer.

Alternatives to Traditional Personal and Professional Development Training by The Creative Trainer – Robert W. Lucas, Awarding Winning Author

With the advent of webinars and other online training, social media, and learner-centric programs available, all you have to do is search the Internet to get started in transition much of your existing learning content from the classroom to electronic format.

If you are looking for opportunities to gain fresh perspectives, knowledge, and skills on the use of technology or blended learning (a combination of standup/classroom training and electronic format), check out organizations like ASTD (http://www.astd.og).

You can also get training from colleges at iPad U on your iPad, free Microsoft software training ( and non-conventional experiential learning sessions related to writer development and train-the-trainer courses aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship ( Whatever your needs or interests, you can probably find it through your computer.

Learn This Blogger – Robert W. Lucas

Robert W. Lucas is an internationally-known author and learning and performance expert. He specializes in workplace performance-based training and consulting services. Furthermore, he has four decades of experience in human resources development, management, and customer service in a variety of organizational environments. Robert Lucas was the 1995 and 2011 President of the Central Florida Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).

Robert W. Lucas has lived, traveled, and worked in 28 different countries and geographic areas. During the past 40 years, Bob has shared his knowledge with workplace professionals from hundreds of organizations, such as Webster University, AAA, Orange County Clerk of Courts, Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, Martin Marietta, all U.S. military branches, and Wachovia Bank. In addition, Bob has provided consulting and training services to numerous major organizations on a variety of workplace learning topics. To contact Bob visit his website at or his blog