Coursera online ‘EMT Specialization’ course could be industry game-changer

New online EMT training provides an option for rural EMT candidates, those looking to learn more about emergency medicine


Once considered an off-shoot of traditional learning, online classes are now being offered for nearly every educational specialty, and now EMT training can be added to the list.

A new offering through Coursera by the University of Colorado (UC), in conjunction with Denver Health Medical Center (DHMC), is providing an online learning option for potential EMT recruits.

The course, “Become an EMT Specialization,” consists of six modules that take the student through areas encompassing EMT training, such as EMT foundation skills; airway, breathing and circulation emergencies; and emergency care for pregnancy, infants and children.

Through Coursera, even those who aren’t interested in becoming a certified EMT are eligible to audit the course for free, and learn valuable methods that could be useful in emergency situations. (Photo/Pixnio)
Through Coursera, even those who aren’t interested in becoming a certified EMT are eligible to audit the course for free, and learn valuable methods that could be useful in emergency situations. (Photo/Pixnio)

Dr. Whitney Barrett, an assistant professor at UC and the assistant medical director for DHMC, believes the online training could turn the industry on its head.

“One of the simultaneously novel and challenging things about a course like this is that it runs against what we know as the ‘standard’ in our industry,” Barrett said. “There are a lot of very invested prehospital providers and instructors who have spent years developing their EMT courses in a way that was prescribed by state and national bodies – in person and following a very prescribed curriculum. And, they do it really well.”

However, the idea of providing an online environment for EMT trainees had too much potential to pass up.

“We decided that we won’t ever know unless we try, and somebody was going to try it, eventually,” Barrett said. “The beauty of this curriculum and the format it comes in with Coursera is that, at a minimum, it breaks down barriers – geography, time, resources – to put good EMT didactic education in reach.”

In UC’s online course, each module is taught by an instructor through 10-minute, pre-recorded videos, designed to be taken in the span of four to five weeks, with the entire specialization completed within six months or so, depending on the pace of the student.

After passing all six modules and receiving a completion certificate, students will then take and pass a hands-on skills lab in Denver to receive their EMT certification. The first skills lab is slated for September.

The course is designed for students to learn at their own pace, and the modules do not have to be taken in order, though Barrett said it’s encouraged. In the sixth and final module, students are given different scenarios to describe how they would react and what their course of action would be, which are then peer reviewed.

Ultimately, the online format places the onus on the student as to how much they take away from the course, and how well they do in the final module.

Aside from being a solution for those too busy to sit in a traditional EMT training course, Barrett sees the Coursera training as a way to provide the information in a way that makes sense for people who would normally have to drive dozens, sometimes hundreds of miles to the closest EMT course.

“I started thinking about, ‘Who is educating our rural providers? How are we getting rural providers into prehospital care?’ And, there’s just not a good way,” she said. “We hear of people who want to do it, so they travel three hours twice a week to get to their community college course, and that is really burdensome on people.”

Through Coursera, even those who aren’t interested in becoming a certified EMT are eligible to audit the course for free, and learn valuable methods that could be useful in emergency situations.

The course “has the ability to spark the interest of people who might have been intimidated by the investment of a full EMT course. [It might] teach a babysitter to identify respiratory distress in a child with asthma or provide a launch point for a healthcare career somebody wouldn’t have considered otherwise,” Barrett said.

“It all comes in the package of EMT curriculum,” she continued, “but, as we know, EMT knowledge has application way beyond the role of an EMT working for a prehospital system.”

Visit Coursera’s website to learn more about the “Become an EMT Specialization” program.

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