In focus: Piotr Gawliczek, Poland's training innovation Guru


The Polish armed forces are in the midst of perhaps the greatest period of transition in their history. It is all part of Poland’s continuing programme of further integration with NATO. At the heart of it lies training and the Head of Innovation at Poland’s National Defence University, Captain Dr Piotr Gawliczek, is responsible for restructuring the way defence and security learning is delivered. He talks to Harold Elletson about his aims and ambitions.

We meet for lunch in an elegant villa, Dom Polski, in the Saska Kepa district of Warsaw. Dom Polski is an old-fashioned restaurant serving the best of Poland’s contemporary national cuisine. The setting is appropriate, as my guest, Captain Doctor Piotr Gawliczek, is an impeccably smart, multi-lingual, Polish officer of the old school but he is also a devotee of the benefits of contemporary approaches to education and serves as the Head of Innovation at Poland’s National Defence University. He is responsible for developing an innovative plan for restructuring Poland’s defence and security training, so that, as it faces the challenges of full integration into NATO, Poland can make the most of the opportunities new technology can bring to security-related learning and training.

Along with other former Warsaw Pact countries, Poland has been undergoing a profound transformation in its defence and security culture. The Polish armed forces are in the midst of perhaps the greatest period of transition in their history. Since the 1st January 2010, the armed forces have been completely contract-based. A long-term modernisation programme is underway, which has already involved ambitious attempts to re-equip the armed forces with up-to-date tanks, frigates, submarines, helicopters, transport aircraft and fighter planes. Now there are plans for new missile systems, advanced jet trainers, refuelling aircraft, attack helicopters and self-propelled howitzers. It is all part of Poland’s continuing programme of further integration with NATO. At the heart of it lies training, which is the key not only to successful integration with NATO but also to the development of defence, security and emergency services, capable of responding effectively to the challenges of a dramatically new security environment.

As part of the programme of integration, Captain Gawliczek was sent to the NATO Defence College in Rome in 2005. However, before he even arrived in Rome, NATO’s training programmes had already helped him to understand what was going to be necessary for restructuring Poland’s training.

“I had to run an ADL (advanced distance learning) course beforehand. It was new to me and I thought ‘wow.’ It was an introduction to NATO. There was also a course on European Security and Defence Policy. In February 2006, I started to think about how I could implement it in the Polish Armed Services. I had a PhD degree and I wanted to develp scientific activities. I was responsible for the curriculum at NDU. I had a chance to implement the ideas I had had in Rome.”

The most challenging question for Gawliczek, however, was how he could best introduce the benefits of new forms of learning, whether distance, blended or eLearning, into the Polish armed forces, in a way that would be enthusiastically taken up and contribute to better results. He was keen to find a system that fitted Poland’s purpose and its situation as a country whose armed forces were in the midst of a difficult transition.

In May 2008, at another NATO institution, he found the answer to his questions.

“I took part in a NATO Working Group on training and individual development. I met people whose experience I could gather. Back in Warsaw, I invited the experts I had met to pay me a visit and show me how to develop an effective ADL solution.”

Gawliczek was particularly impressed by his discussions with his colleagues from Romania. Like Poland a former member of the Warsaw Pact, Romania was also engaged in a major process of transition in the armed forces. However, the Romanians had quickly appreciated the benefits of ADL for training in the security sector.

“A group of experts, including Ion Roceanu, came to Warsaw,” Gawliczek remembers. “The visit had the blessing of the Rector of the University. The main message we took from the visit was to follow the path of our Romanian partners. We saved a year of activities choosing a LMS platform. Ion Roceanu said ‘take LMS Ilias.’ Three years on, it was the perfect solution.”

The next step was to establish the ‘Ilias’ learning management system (LMS) in Warsaw. “Our next task was to find an expert in Ilias. We started with the speed of light with our activities. We did not just want to be a consumer of Ilias but to give too.”

The National Defence University’s distance learning programme began with 16 courses, which had been acquired from the United States, and others from Gawliczek’s Romanian contacts. Accreditation too was initially arranged through Norfolk, Virginia and ACT gave the Poles permission both to use their courses and to issue certificates for them. Now there are 65 courses available and the portfolio is expanding all the time. “The National Defence University can produce ADL courses and earn money from them.”

One aspect of the changing role of modern Poland’s armed forces, which highlights the particular requirement for ADL solutions, is the increasing number of complicated and challenging overseas missions in which Polish troops now serve. In March, the National Defence University organised a briefing course for both officers and NCO’s, who were preparing for deployment to Afghanistan.

“We organised an ADL session for officers and NCO’s being assigned abroad and they must now take this NDU course. The NDU issues certificates at the end of it. 130 people participated and every person completed ‘An Introduction to NATO and the ISAF HQ’ in English. It is now part of the system of military education and it should be taken by everyone, who is being sent abroad. Next year, everyone going to Afghanistan should take an Afghan cultural awareness course.”

Gawliczek’s integration of ADL into the National Defence University’s coursework has had the blessing of the University’s Rector-Commandant, General Romuald Ratajczak, a crucial factor both in gaining acceptance at NDU and creating a strong base from which to share knowledge and promote courses developed in Warsaw.

Some of the NDU’s own ADL courses have now become obligatory for every student at the university. “We produced one course for the needs of the main library – an ADL library course. Every student must take this course. Our next one will be on ‘safety in the workplace’ and it will also be obligatory.”

Captain Gawliczek travels frequently to conferences and seminars, as he is keen to keep up with developments and see what might fit in the Polish context. Yet he also realises that modern security is, essentially, a collaborative enterprise and he is keen to help others to learn from Poland’s experience.

“We are ready to share our knowledge,” he says. “I delivered a lecture to the NATO school in Oberammergau. It was about how to implement distance learning in one year! I have been invited next week by the Polish Police Academy.”

Gawliczek is convinced both that ADL is here to stay and that its benefits are becoming increasingly widely appreaciated.

“The ADL culture is spreading. This is reality. We can offer core products and we can run and certify courses.”

His enthusiasm has begun to pay dividends and his achievements have been recognised by the Polish defence establishment. A week before I met him, he had given a lecture to the Polish Defence Staff. “I was congratulated and thought that was imporatnt because, for many of them, it was brand new. They realised that it was not ‘blah blah’ or a hoax but a real activity.”

The armed forces’ magazine, Polska Zbrojna, published an article on the importance o f ADL too but, perhaps best of all, he has received many calls congratulating him on how well run his ADL courses are. NDU’s reputation as a provider of high-quality ADL courses is spreading and other institutions are seeking his assistance.

“Last week at a conference in Brno, a delegate from the Naval Academy in Gdynia asked if it would be possible to bring some commissioned officers to Warsaw to take our ADL courses. Over 40 people will come and take the course.”

Convinced of the enormous benefits ADL can bring to training, Gawliczek is also highly ambitious with his plans for the future.

“First I want to have an ADL laboratory label. Currently only the Norwegians and the Romanians have an ADL lab. Next, I want to establish an ADL centre of excellence within the Polish armed forces and maybe in the freamework of NATO. I am going to propose to have an assistant ADL system for the faculty and students. I want to run bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees, first partially and finally via ADL.” His aim is to develop, as far as possible, a virtual university system.

He is sure there will be many exciting developments in the future in mobile learning, offering the possibility of incorporating mobile technology more fully into ADL. The NDU has been invited by the Pentagon to join a consortium on mobile learning and will soon be able to develop another source of income. At the moment, he is particularly impressed by some of the learning solutions being developed by the German Bundeswehr, whose Inspector-General recently produced a report on long-distance learning, Fernausbildung, which promoted the use of teletutors to spread learning.

He is sure too that the future will see enormous changes in gaming and simulation technology, particularly in the development of the ‘virtual battle space (VBS).’ Poland has not yet begun to use this sort of technology but Gawliczek believes that it is “something to have in mind for the future.”

As a new generation enters the National Defence University, he is more convinced than ever of the need to keep abreast of the change. “We must speak the same language, not to be obsolete,” he says. With students who are familiar with a range of communications and gaming technologies and who are accustomed to new forms of learning, the task is not easy.

“Training should keep pace with change. Maybe it cannot because of the pace of technological progress but mental barriers are also difficult to overcome. There is an old saying, ‘sometimes it is easier to implant something into the militaray mind than to get something out.’”

Despite his enthusiasm for the benefits new technology can bring to training, however, Gawliczek is also aware of its limitations. “It is sometimes important to find the difference between virtual reality and reality. It is important not to sit for 15 hours a day in front of a screen. Learning cannot be a substitute for education. It should be treated as a tool but not a solution".

Piotr Gawliczek’s reforms are no small matter. Poland is one of NATO’s biggest member states and a well trained, highly educated Polish military is a matter of real importance to other NATO members. They will be watching with interest to see how Gawliczek’s reforms help to transform the efficiency and preparedness of Poland’s armed forces. Powodzenia, Panie Kapitanie!



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