Education For The Next Generation of Responders: We CAN NOT Teach Like We Were Taught

 Honor Your History, but Teach for the Future

Welcome to the new year. If we’ve learned anything over the past year then we’re smarter than a year ago and way ahead of where we were ten years ago. Let’s start teaching like it.

First We Taught Book Knowledge. Then We Taught Street Knowledge. We’re Beyond That Now.

SONY DSCWe can no longer just teach for the emergency scene. If we’re teaching someone to be a firefighter, EMT, or Medic for their career, then we have to teach them how to be keep themselves functional in that role in 5-10-20 years. The role of the educator must include development of lifelong learning and critical thinking skills such as the self-directed seeking out, retrieving, evaluating, assimilating and utilizing information in their evolving role as an emergency care provider.

The emphasis is placed on not just acquiring new information in class, but in manipulating and adapting that information for the purposes of problem solving in the field.

Self-directed, guided exploration of the material leads students to find personal meaning and connections with the information with which they are interacting as part of the exploration involves discovering new ways to interact with the help of technology.

The rapid development of technology in the past 20 years has focused on making information both widely accessible and individualized, two factors that play heavily into our ability to deliver student-centered education in ways that require more creativity from the educator than monetary or structural resources.

Learning is about acquiring and using knowledge. We tend to focus primarily on students’ acquisition and then wonder why they have difficulty in demonstrating and using that knowledge. Education has been re-worked, but not necessarily re-defined as technology has been harnessed to modify traditional teaching methods rather than implement new student-centered ones.

Why doesn’t the “I Tell You, You Learn It, You Do It” teaching method work any more?

Fire TrainingMuch of what needs to be learned should not be taught using direct methods. In fact, much of what students need to be able to do CANNOT be taught using direct methods. Making students memorize a problem-solving algorithm does not give them the ability to solve problems in a dynamically changing environment. We want rescuers and healthcare providers who can USE, not just ACCUMULATE knowledge.

Externally driven (I Tell You) education tends to develop students who want to know what will be on the test, rather than what will solve the real-world problem.

Fire, Rescue and EMS Educators must adapt to this new role. Athletes and gymnasts are often “spotted” when performing their skills. They receive support and guidance, not simply told what to do, then evaluated as to whether they can do it or not. Successful responders, like successful athletes, learn and practice simultaneously with guidance until they can perform independently, sometimes even surpassing their instructor. That should be our explicit goal. Knowing more than we do. Doing better than we do.
Questions that require more than black-and-white answers require more than question-and-answer instruction. Direct lecture methods excel at delivering concrete information quickly, but fail at helping students understand and use abstract concepts.

If the ultimate responsibility for performance lies with the student, then the process of education must also be in their hands.

Is the goal for us to teach or for them to learn?

About romduck

Rom Duckworth is a dedicated emergency responder, author, and educator with more than thirty years of experience working in career and volunteer fire departments, hospital healthcare systems, and private emergency medical services. Rom is a career fire captain and paramedic EMS Coordinator for the Ridgefield (CT) Fire Department and director of the New England Center for Rescue and Emergency Medicine. Rom holds a master’s degree in public administration, is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer program, and is the recipient of the NAEMT Presidential Award, American Red Cross Hero Award, Sepsis Alliance Sepsis Hero Award, and the EMS 10 Innovators Award. Rom is the author of "Duckworth on Education," as well as chapters in more than a dozen EMS, fire, rescue, and medical textbooks and over 100 published articles in fire and EMS magazines. A member of the NAEMT Board of Directors, as well as other national and international advocacy and advisory boards, Rom continues to work for the advancement of emergency services professions. Contact Rom via