Training, education and the pursuit of excellence

Continuing education requires relevance and active learning in order to be interesting for the experienced provider

I am an educator by practice, preparation and passion. Like many before me, I started down this career path when an instructor asked me to help out in a first aid class. I liked the experience, and soon I taught CPR classes (remember multimedia CPR ?), followed by other certification and "con-ed" classes.

I eventually added primary education classes such as EMT and Paramedic, and have the privilege of presenting at conferences across the country.

I distinctly remember my evolution as an instructor. Not surprisingly, it was much like my development as an EMS clinician.

Phase 1: Blissfully ignorant
At first, I just didn't know what I didn't know. I thought that if I simply read the instructor book I could deliver a killer class. Well, sometimes that happened, but more times than not the reviews were disappointing.

Moreover, I watched other instructors teach the same materials and saw how good they were and how interested the students were.

Phase 2: Know what you don't know
I quickly realized how great instructors were much more knowledgeable about the materials than they let on. The additional information made them better at explaining difficult concepts or demonstrating techniques or procedures. They were better prepared to deliver the materials as well; their self-confidence allowed them to use different teaching techniques with ease and deliberately incorporate ancillaries like video clips or games into their curricula.

The ethos rings true: you have to be operating at a level higher than the level you're teaching in order to give a full learning experience for your students.

Phase 3: Knowing what you do know
The more I taught, the more I learned. It's just like clinical practice, only the skill set is different. And that's what makes teaching challenging. A great clinician does not automatically beget a great teacher. (It is certainly the basis for great teaching!) Learning how to be a trainer means understanding how people learn, why people learn, and knowing when learning has happened.

You begin to realize just how differently we learn. Some of us are great book learners — we love to read anything we can get our hands on. However, many of us are more active in our learning — we literally need to manipulate the information, either through our hands or within our brains.

Textbook publishers such as McGraw Hill, Brady Books, Jones and Bartlett and Elsevier have developed a variety of learning activities that supplement their primary textbooks.

Continuing education requires relevance and active learning in order to be interesting for the experienced provider. Breaking into groups, allowing students to lead their own learning can capture the audience's attention. Simple, web-based tools can enhance the learning process in fun ways.

For example PollEverywhere allows students to respond to a question using the text messaging capabilities of their mobile devices. Making short video clips using nothing more than a cell phone can be effective at illustrating a process or procedure.

Regardless of what you teach, keep a principled approach. What is it that you want your students to learn? How will you carry the information forward? How do I capture the student's interest? How will you evaluate whether learning occurred? How can you do it better next time? Keeping these questions in mind will create the basis for a solid, fun learning experience.

I've had great fun helping others learn about EMS. At some point in your career, you may have the same opportunity. If you decide to give it a try, strive to do it well, even if it's a onetime event. Keep standards high. Stay current. We are in the business of keeping people safe, and the pursuit of teaching excellence will help us complete that mission.

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