E-Learning and the Fire Service

By Freddie Diaz-Batista

As an 18+-year fire and emergency medical services (EMS) instructor and a pioneer in e-learning, I understand the financial challenges your department may be going through. The need for 24-hour access to training material or the value of gaining additional knowledge from experienced fire service instructors and subject matter experts can easily be accessed from the comfort of your living room/firehouse. Indeed, you and I I can make your training both accessible and affordable though your very own online e-learning portal.

Fire department training has evolved. With shortages in staffing and the inability to send personnel to conferences or out-of-state training, departments need to look at another avenue to help them facilitate their training. Several learning management systems (LMSs) exist, but which one works right for your department?

We’ve all been to trade shows and have seen what many companies have to offer, but is the training they're providing useful for your department? All of the platforms out there will make it easy to deliver and track the course material that you’re training bureau puts out there. The LMSs now available to the fire service by subscription ($50 to $120 per member) include Jones and Bartlett (Kaplan), Blender, TargetSolutions, Center Learn. However, the content provided by these LMSs may not meet your department’s standards.

The bottom line is that all of these LMSs are pretty much the same; they all store, track, and help facilitate the delivery of content. Every fire department's training division has several courses already tailor-made around your department’s standard operating procedures; this is especially true in an emergency medical services-type of fire department where your protocols differ from neighboring agencies. The same courses that now offer continuing education can be created and approved by your medical director and uploaded for online delivery. The content you may have within your training department may not be as designed and tailored for retention, but following the models instructional designers follow may help improve the retention and view for which your department is looking.

When a course is being created, the instructor/facilitator needs to remember that different generations may be taking his course. The courses need to be tailored around different learning strategies and broken down into modules. No “chunking” or putting in all of the information at once; the learner/firefighter will freak out! Make sure that when you create your modules, you're keeping them simple. When a class uses a "read only" document, five percent of course material is retained within 24 hours of taking the course. A course created with audio and visual material increases retention to 20 percent over the same period of time. And, a course built with a demonstration feature embedded in the class increases retention to 30 percent.

In the fire service, courses must be created around what we call a “hybrid" or "blended" training environment. This is where retention increases dramatically. A course designed with a social learning environment increases retention to 75 percent; it increases to 90 percent once a practice section is included. The classroom-based portion can be delivered online through computer-based training followed by a hands-on approach with the learner/firefighter; this will put more attention into the hands-on portion of the training program. Get people to think, always include open ended-type questions and scenarios, and get students to explore areas in which they may be unsure. The “what if” method is important because we all know anything can happen during real-life events.

The ADDIE/SAMM model must be first put in place before any course is designed. The ADDIE model acronym stands for the following:

  • Analysis. Identify the problem and task the audience.
  • Design. This is where learning objectives can be created. There are several resources out there to help you create powerful learning objectives. Blooms Taxonomy is an example of a theory to follow. A learning objective is an outcome statement that captures specifically what knowledge, skills, attitudes, and learners should be able to exhibit following instruction.
  • Development. This includes storyboards, graphics, constructions, and the lessons built to suit your needs.
  • Implementation. This is the final product/course design; the online video and interactive training.
  • Evaluation. This is the feedback you get from the learner which will help you create better courses in the future. Constructive criticism, just like learning objectives, are theories such as Kirkpatrick that can help you design your final evaluation to get the best out of your feedback.

Several programs exist to help you design the content. Every training department knows PowerPoint®, but there are several programs which allow you to enhance PowerPoint® and add interactivity to it such as Articulate Storyline, Captivate, and Zenler. They're all different, but taking the time to learn them will make those plain PowerPoint® courses more interactive and just as powerful as those offered by other LMSs. The audio can either be imported through a sound recording (see attached item created to eliminate background noise) or text to speech at www.Naturalreader.com or www.voices.com, where a script can be sent in and professionally created for your course design.

The enhancement in technology has made training more accessible. The LMS manages the delivery of self-paced, e-learning courses. It also lets you publish courses and place it in an online catalog and/or assign courses to learners/fire department personnel. Learners log into the LMS using a browser and launch courses. The LMS tracks the learners’ activities with the courses using SCORM, which is embedded in development of your courses or plugins within your LMS. The LMS provides online reports for each course and the learner, while the department can track who has completed it and who has watched and taken the course.

Prices vary for LMSs. However, there is a LMS out there that is FREE. The content is delivered and provided from your training department, and the LMS provides the essential features you need. FREE LMS features include the following:

  • One-hundred percent browser-based for the learner and the administrator—no plug-ins required!
  • Offers three types of user registration: open, approval, or manual.
  • Publishes SCORM courses.
  • Offers a multilevel course catalog.
  • Launches and tracks courses.
  • LMS keeps track of bookmarks, scores, and results of individual questions.
  • Online reports.
  • Fully supports SCORM.
  • Places learners in groups or cohorts or by shifts.
  • Assigns courses to all members, specific personnel or assignments, and newly registered rookies.
  • Assorted themes to match your department with logos, and so on.
  • Easy to install. Runs on Windows, IIS, and SQL servers.
  • Low-cost hosting if needed ($16 a month).
  • Customizable PHP based if needed.

LMS benefits include the following:

  • Provides immediate access to training.
    • No training lag time for new employees.
    • Deliver new product training on time, memos statement, and so on.
  • Reduces delivery costs per course.
    • Get more value from the training budget.
    • Provide training to more fire rescue personnel.
  • Gives personnel more time to do their job.
    • Reduce training-related travel and training.
    • Fit self-paced training into downtime.
  • Delivers training with greater consistency.

Hybrid training can be delivered in a way where a portion can be done online and another portion can be done hands-on. So, what is this LMS? It is called MOODLE.

Moodle (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) is a free, open-source LMS or e-learning platform that serves educators and learners across the globe. It is the most widely used LMS in the world and currently has more than 68 million users worldwide (and growing!). Many vendors such as Jones and Bartlett and Kaplan are using MOODLE as the back end of their LMS delivery, and it is the very same LMS many of these vendors are reselling at the trade shows.

Moodle was developed in 2002 by Martin Dougiamas to help educators create online courses with a focus on interaction and collaborative construction of content. Since then, the main development of Moodle is led by Martin and the core team at Moodle Headquarters as well as hundreds of other developers around the world who have helped fuel the growth of Moodle through contributing and testing code and being active participants in community forums.

Moodle makes it easy for you to provide online support for your course. It provides a central space on the Web where fire rescue personnel and staff can access a set of tools and resources anytime and anywhere. Department staff and students have found that the most valuable aspect of Moodle is the news forums that automatically e-mail messages to all employees and staff taking the course. Forums can also be used to answer commonly asked questions such as how to prevent repeats, how to provide a space for informal peer-to-peer student discussions and online tutorials.

 

Other great features and advantages of Moodle follow:

  • A quick way to share documents. Moodle provides a place where you can easily create Web pages with information about your course and provide links to word documents, slides, and other resources that your students will want to access. Department standard operating procedures, rules, and regulations can be stored and easily accessed through the Moodle platform.
  • Easy access to relevant and useful online resources. The department can provide a wealth of materials and resources, but catering to so many different types of fire rescue assignments can be hard for learners looking for those that are most relevant to them. You can use Moodle to provide links directly to the resources that will be most useful for your students, be them e-library resources; skills courses; or information about technical rescue, hazmat, and so on.
  • Save time and money. Making resources available online can save time and money in photocopying or actually ensuring that all personnel received the information.
  • Control access to different areas. Moodle can create a space for officers on other shifts to communicate with each other as well as students.
  • Use less paper. Keep a central copy of a course handbook (or other type of course publication) and handouts online so everyone can find the latest version and so personnel can only print out what they really need.
  • Easy to experiment with new ideas and tools. Moodle is a low-risk way to incorporate new tools and ideas into your teaching.
  • Manage your materials. Placing all your course information on Moodle makes for easy access year after year.
  • Course calendar. This will flag important events to everyone in your course.
  • Profiles and contact information. Help the learner/personnel get to know each other at the start of the course. Also, hold information about course team and students in one place.
  • Deliver content. Post slides, URL hyperlinks, PowerPoint® slides, PDF files, or even the content you created through the interactive software.
  • Video and audio tools. Many departments/institutions find it easy to record lectures as podcasts or even arrange for videos of lectures or special events, posting these online and making them available to THE learner. Many of these podcasts are featured in articles and trade shows. This can be a conference where videos can be shared or even a webinar that can be recorded for viewing.

And…Moodle is FREE. It can be downloaded at www.moodle.org. Set up a meeting with your information technology department and find out if Moodle can be installed within the fire departments hosting or hosted outside. The great thing about Moodle is that its open source so that means developers are always uploading plugins to make your Moodle platform as impressive as those that are out there for high dollars. If you would like more information on getting your Moodle site up and your online content up please contact me at www.FreddieDiazBatista.com or www.FreddieBatistaFirefighter.com.

 

Freddie Diaz-Batista is an 18+-year firefighter/paramedic in South Florida. He has an extensive background in e-learning and development and is considered a pioneer in e-learning. He has a master’s degree in executive management with a minor in instructional system design, specializing in e-learning design and customization of learning management platforms. His research focuses on the sustainability and transfer-ability of teaching and learning innovations in the public sector as well as training/higher education/adult education especially in hybrid based training/M Learning. He has served as project manager for multiple large-scale curriculum reform projects and software development for the Florida Department of Health and course development and design for the 28 FEMA Task Forces and subject matter experts in public safety. Batista has developed Open Source LMS systems for many institutions and was a guest speaker for the SMEs at the Public Safety Convention in Maryland in 2010. He received an Award in 2009 from the Florida Association of EMS Educators for his development of online learning modules and online instructor course to meet Florida Statue 401, which is currently being used by the Department of Health Training.

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