Category Archives: history of learning

The Core Principles of Learning Don’t Change – An Illustration from History – Ancient Sparta

Through the ages, the primary purpose of education has remained surprisingly unchanged – to make good citizens who performed their duties correctly. The duties that the society expects from its people, however, continued to change. As humans evolved, the roles that they were required to perform changed. Diversity in the roles available for the individuals increased too. And all this, required that the training methods too evolved alongside.

When I watched the movie “300”, I was spellbound. With my Learning and Education schema activated, I was obviously drawn towards learning more about the Spartan training programs.

The Spartans were a military community. They didn’t value the fine arts, they weren’t interested in spending their time learning to read and write – instead, they were keen on military training. Let’s review their actions from the viewpoint of training.

How the Spartans Lived?

1. War ruled the lives of the Spartans – from birth to death.

2. When a child was born in Sparta, it was checked for birth defects, and only if it was completely healthy, it was allowed to live. It was important for the Spartans that they didn’t spend their resources on a child that won’t be able to bear the burden of their tough military training.

3. The training began early. For the male child, it began at the age of 7. The child was trained to survive in the most unforgiving circumstances. The ethical system that prevailed in Sparta condoned stealing – what was punished was getting caught.

4. Women too were trained in self-defense. They received military training too – but they weren’t forced to go through it to the end.

5. When the Spartans reached maturity (about 18 years of age,) they had to undergo fitness and ability tests. Those who passed became the soldiers; those who didn’t were “reduced” to the ignominy of doing business. They didn’t receive the citizenship of Sparta.

6. Family wasn’t expected to be important to the Spartan soldiers, who remained soldiers until they were physically able. The wives were self-dependent and ran their households on their own.

Training Design & The Spartans

Let us see how well we are able to map all this to what we know of training design.

1. For the Ancient Spartans, it was important to find a role-competency match, and they began at the beginning. If a child didn’t have the pre-requisite (a healthy body) undergoing the training for completing the task (fight and win) he wasn’t “recruited.”

2. As the training spanned all the three learning domains (with the cognitive domain at the end of their list), the training began early when the mind was impressionable (affective domain) and required a lot of hands-on-practice in fighting and surviving (psychomotor domain.)

3. Women, the first tutors of their children, too needed an attitude conversion (women wouldn’t often be willing to allow their newborns being left to die on the hillside, or taken away from their laps into the barracks at the tender age of six), and so they too were trained to respect military training right from their childhood. A soldier mother is less likely to stand in the way of her children joining the military.

4. The assessment at 18 (when humans have developed some degree of self-concept) clearly spelled out the rewards (citizenship) and implied the punishments (no citizenship/relegated to handling the “dirty” money.) It also allowed the Spartans to ensure that only their best would be included in the army, while when need arose, everyone, including the women and the adolescents could provide reinforcements.

The Spartan training program was obviously designed to achieve its goal – “make the best soldiers.” This, of course, had a sublime esteem reward, as through out Greece, the Spartans were thought of as a warrior race and the other Greeks including the Athenians held them in high esteem.


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