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24 September 2008

Online education and the new literature of intelligence

We have recently become aware of a fledgling new journal that will offer its own contributions to the literature of intelligence, sponsored by Henley-Putnam University. This institution is one of the newer of the online intelligence studies programs currently growing to fill the gap in traditional university offerings. The new journal’s inaugural issue is to address “The Future of Intelligence Education”, a timely and relevant subject of great interest to ourselves – and we are certain, many of our readers. We look forward to its forthcoming publication.

It is fitting that this topic should be addressed by one of the newer distributed online programs. Virtual education has for too long been an ignored but game changing force in the professionalization of intelligence. The most significant of these efforts is without a doubt the unique Joint Intelligence Virtual University, but JIVU lacks the key outcome of credentialing (and is largely invisible to those outside of the core IC). We have long been aware of the other major such effort, American Military University, whose program relies heavily upon instructors formerly of the Joint Military Intelligence College (now National Defense Intelligence College). We confess a greater degree of familiarity with those efforts, if only due to their longer histories, but remain interested in new programs and the different approaches that other institutions may bring to the table. However, Henley-Putnam also deserves mention for having signed one of the few “star” intelligence professors currently in the game: Robert Clark, the author of the target-centric approach (which we would rate as one of the most consistently misunderstood and misused texts in intelligence education.)

The volume of students handled by these new institutions each year is absolutely transformative – in the order of multiple thousands per year. (By way of comparison, the longest running of the traditional civilian intelligence studies programs at Mercyhurst boasts a student body of a few hundred overall, with a score or so graduating each year.) One of the key distinctions between these academic programs and many traditional intelligence studies offerings can be found in the composition of their student populations. A significant percentage of those attending virtual courses are currently serving professionals, many deployed widely across the globe in support of ongoing missions. These students bring decades of practical experience to the classroom, and challenge educators to make theory relevant in ways that distinctly improve learning outcomes. This also keeps such courses far “fresher” and more closely in tune with the needs of the intelligence community, as many of these professional students are quite vocal when they feel that they are not receiving adequate value for their investment in time and money. (This unique blending could also go a long way to helping improve the research agenda of the intelligence studies academy, but that is a topic for discussion another day.)

The commitment required of such professionals to continue their education - despite the operational and logistical challenges brought on by the press of current operations – is quite impressive. Answering this commitment in kind is one area where we are certain many traditional intelligence studies programs have failed. Most schools are not friendly to the deployed, nor to those who wish to continue their studies through alternative formats – no matter how many times “independent study” options are thrown about during recruiting pitches. Frankly, this has been the great shame of the intelligence academy for too long. It is unconscionable to punish students academically who offer service in the Long War and other crisis missions, while their counterparts who have never served easily breeze through degree programs in the absence of other pressures. We – and many other employers – know which graduate we would prefer to hire, but it is not always easy to bring individuals onboard who have yet to complete their foundational degree. Online education options offer one of the few solutions we have yet seen to address this failing.

The new generation of virtual institutions we hope will also be a catalyst for the greater involvement of intelligence professions in the development of the literature in a form that can be shared more widely with the academia as a whole. We firmly believe that publication models such as Small Wars Journal will be the future of the literature. We have also already seen the impact of the virtual on the traditional, as the editorship of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence passed to Richard Valcourt of American Military University. No doubt we shall see other similar effects in the near future, and look forward to the improvement of the literature.

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