Harry Sarles | Army University Public Affairs
Dr. Larry Wilson, Army Management Staff College, is the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Educator of the Year for 2020.
Wilson has been at AMSC since 2016 and formerly taught at the Command and General Staff College and at civilian universities. He earned his doctorate in leadership and management from Walden University in 2014, culminating an educational journey that includes an undergraduate degree from Northwest Missouri State University where he was selected as a Scholastic All-American, completion of the Combined Arms and Services Staff School and the Command and General Staff Officer Course, and a master of science in adult and continuing education from Kansas State University. Recently, Wilson was selected to attend the Army War College as part of the Senior Executive Talent Management program.
Wilson said he recommends a lifelong learning regimen to others who are considering devoting themselves to being educators.
“Never — and when I say ‘never,’ I mean never ever, ever — stop going forward and improving. You can’t or you’ll quickly become irrelevant. You have to push yourself to grow and to do so every single day,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s leaders agree that he has a devotion to education.
“Dr. Wilson possesses an educational acumen that is second to none. He is a lifelong learner and educator, who imbues the character, competence and commitment that we seek in all leaders,” said Steve Banach, AMSC director. “He is uniquely capable of developing leaders, driving change in the Army Civilian Corps, and is a tremendous resource for the AMSC and our Army at large.”
“Larry is incredibly talented and displays tremendous passion and commitment to learning,” said Bob Longino, director of Academic Support and Distance Learning for AMSC. “Whether he is designing and developing a new course for managers, offering professional guidance to his colleagues, researching relevant areas of interest, or delivering a block of instruction to leaders at any level, you can always count on an impressive effort.”
Wilson said a primary attribute of a great educator is humility.
“Humility is an openness antecedent,” he said. “And, good educators are open — open to learning, open to feedback and open to growth. Continual learning — many say it, few actually do it — requires a heaping dose of humility. One cannot be open and arrogant at the same time.”
His professional interests are in research and creating new courseware. He recently debuted new pilot courses in the Continuing Education for Senior Leaders series on Business Transformation. However, his research efforts were thwarted when the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced the transition of current AMSC courses to non-traditional means of delivery.
“I’ve really wanted to complete a motives-to-followership research effort,” he said. “But the recent transition of our courses to the facilitated (distance learning) arena has put that on a back burner.”
The change in mission may be a serendipitous moment as Wilson said he believes the nature of education is changing.
“We need to wrap our brain housing groups around the reality that brick-and-mortar instruction is going to become a dinosaur in the very near future,” Wilson said. “Those who hold face-to-face instruction as the preeminent content delivery method are antiquated and myopically uninformed.
“When it comes to instruction, regardless of the format, two things are paramount: The engagement level of the instructor and willingness level of the learner,” he said. “The first directly impacts the second. If we have an unengaged instructor, regardless of the setting (distance learning or face-to-face), the experience won’t go well. The material costs of brick-and-mortar institutions will continue to rise while the costs of DL will continue to decrease. The return-on-investment calculus is conclusive. Sure, we’ll always have some F2F instruction as some learners need or want the social interaction, but the future of education is DL.”
Toward that end, Wilson said he believes using the term “facilitator” to describe an instructor lessens the nature of the position.
“Using ‘facilitator’ to describe what we do gives the instructor an ‘out’ when it comes to content expertise,” he said. “The learner has attended class to learn something. They want to leave the class smarter than when they came. That’s why they’re there.
“Far too many instructors see their job as facilitating a discussion among the learners, not to build knowledge. ‘Discussion’ is not an end to itself. It’s only one of 32 TRADOC-approved instructional methods.”
Instructors can make themselves better, Wilson said.
“It all starts with humility and openness. Both require courage,” he said. “We first must admit we have a knowledge shortfall and then that admission must be met with commensurate effort to address it. Far too many won’t admit they have a shortfall, and still others will choose not to remediate it.”
Wilson said research is an important part of self-development.
“I really dig doing research and I find it to be a great learning vehicle. I often get asked if I’ve read a certain book by a certain author,” he said. “I tend to read research much more than books. Normally a book is someone’s opinion on a specific topic. I’d prefer to see the evidence behind conclusions being drawn, not just an opinion.”
Acquiring knowledge is one part of the process, but educators must be able to transfer that knowledge to their learners. Writing is key, Wilson said.
“One does not become a skilled writer by not doing it. A skill, by definition, is the practiced and proficient ability to do something well. In today’s world where e-mail, text messaging, and shorter attention spans are ubiquitous, the ability to convey information and influence others via the written word is a crucial skill,” Wilson said.
“Furthermore, the act of writing is the act of constructing knowledge for those who write-to-learn. Writing, be it either professional or otherwise, is a must do — In fact, I’d suggest you won’t and can’t educationally progress unless you can do it well.”