The Top 10 Reasons Fire and EMS Educators WON’T “Go Digital”

Why are so many emergency responders and educators still not on board with the digital revolution?

Romduck Classroom

Here are the top 10 reasons that we’ve heard from educators (along with our responses).


10) “Students will think they can get our answer from the Internet.”

This may be big news for anyone who has not yet heard of “Google” but students, and everyone else, actually CAN and WILL get their answers from the Internet (at a rate of 3.5 billion searches per day, yes we Googled it.) The key role for educators is to teach students to parse out the good answers from the ones that are, shall we say, suspect. The Spring 2016 digital issue of Paramedic Chief Magazine has an article written by RescueDigest Editorial Director Rom Duckworth that addresses just this problem. Rom talks about the FOAMed and FOAMems digital education movements and how to evaluate educational resources, and pretty much anything else that you might read online using the AA-BB-CC method. Find the article, and the whole issue HERE.

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9) “Students use social media too much already.”

While younger students do tend to use social media more than their senior counterparts, there are very few emergency responders that don’t have some kind of online or social media connection. While some educators may worry that adding a digital component to a class full of students that already seem to be on their laptops, tablets, and smart phones “all the time” is a bad thing, we would make the argument that this is actually the only thing that makes sense. If the way that your students prefer to actively engage in information happens to be a screen, why not meet them there? Having trouble connecting with “these kids today”? Then make sure that your education methodology doesn’t insist that they ONLY and ALWAYS read static words printed on dead trees. Unless you are telling your students to tear out pages of their textbook to use as an occlusive dressing on a sucking chest wound, there is going to be relatively little interactivity. If your observation is that today’s students tend to be digital natives, then the obvious answer is that today’s classroom must include functional digital content. And what better way then to teach them how to be self-sustained lifelong learners?Classroom Technology

Searching and Learning:


8) “If you let them go online, students are just going to play around.”

There is a good chance of that IF you don’t provide purpose and structure to the activity, but the same is true anytime you stop engaging your students. Think of firefighters on the training ground when they are sitting around waiting for the next evolution. Think of a paramedic class where the students are lined up waiting for their turn to intubate. They joke. They socialize. They play around. There is nothing wrong with this on break or after class, but if it is happening during teaching time then, online or real-world, your program isn’t structured properly. Your students have disengaged and they are finding something else to do. This is why, when integrating digital resources, structure and sequencing are key. STRUCTURE: When giving students an assignment that involves digital resources make sure that they understand not only what they are supposed to do, but how the assignment connects with their objectives (not just the class objectives). SEQUENCING: Online and digital assignments are great for individual and self-paced, highly-engaged learning, they should not be used just to “keep a student busy”. Like any other component in the classroom the assignment should not only have a good reason to be there, but it should be sequenced, appropriately placed as the student progressively builds their knowledge, skills, and abilities.


7) “It just encourages cheating and HIPAA violations!”

It is depressingly easy to find headlines showcasing emergency responders doing catastrophically stupid and shocking things on social media, but wouldn’t the most appropriate answer to this concern be to teach students to not cheat and not violate HIPAA (or do other stupid things that will get posted on YouTube). You’re not getting to the root of a problem when you try to solve an issue of bad behavior by blaming the channel through which the behavior is executed or publicized. When I look at my classroom I want those people to know how to behave responsibly as emergency responders. I don’t think, “When they inevitably act like buffoons, I hope it happens quietly so only a few people are affected.” More information on preventing cheating in the digital age can be found HERE and HERE.


6) “It won’t match what’s in the textbook.”

That’s right. Much of it is much better information and virtually all of it is more up-to-date. Again, from the spring 2016 issue of Paramedic Chief Magazine, “Traditional sources of medical education, including textbooks and peer-reviewed journals, are notoriously costly and difficult to access. These publications also present information that was, at best, up-to-date when it was written months or years prior to publication.” Social and digital information tends to reflect the latest available information on a given topic.

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But there IS plenty of bad, wrong, and misleading information out there. The Internet is a scary place! Right. Which is exactly why providers today need to know the AA-BB-CC method.


But what about information that may be accurate, but doesn’t apply to our local protocols, or doesn’t match the test. Well, that sounds like an excellent time to specifically point out these differences and critically think about and explain why it is that you are teaching and testing what you are.


5) “When I put providers in my classroom seats, I can know that they got training.”

While classroom lecture has certainly been the traditional teaching method going back many hundreds of years, I have a hard time believing that any educator worth his or her salt truly believes that forcing the student to sit in a classroom facing someone who is talking proof that they have done anything other than consume oxygen and expel carbon dioxide for specific amount of time. And seriously, you should be checking all your students to make sure they are still doing that. If not, TEACHING OPPORTUNITY!


Does Lecture Based Learning Work?

Whether using digital techniques or not, today’s emergency services educator needs to be the “guide on the side“, not the “sage on the stage“. Lecture alone is a very poor way to actively engage the Type A personalities that fire, rescue, and EMS attracts.


Digital resources are great for adapting to the varied individuals in an audience as they tend to be self-paced, adaptive to different learning styles, and tailored to personal interest.


4) “Isn’t relying on digital resources just asking for one more thing to fail?”

I remember people bringing up this point when I took my first adult education class, only they were referring to lightbulb powered overhead projectors and actual mechanical slide carousels. Every educator must always have a plan B for the failure or loss of a resource in their program and digital resources are no different. The age-old educator advice applies to digital resources as well, know your equipment, try it before class time, and have a backup plan.


3) “Online education produces students who are ‘book smart’ and not ‘ready for the streets’.”

Only if you run your classes this way. Like textbooks, lectures, or any other channel that you choose, digital resources need to be integrated with hands-on education and active scenarios.


Digital resources can even be used to enhance and expand hands-on education opportunities. One of the ways that we’ve recommended here on RescueDigest before is assigning hands-on homework for students to practice a skill or sequence of skills and record it to be played back in the classroom. Students get extra active hands-on time is the practice the skill to be ready for classroom presentation, and the skill is played back for classroom debriefing so that the educator guides the discussion of parts of the skill that could be improved, parts of the skill that demonstrate a different approach, and take-home points that every student should remember.


2) “I’d like to use digital education resources, but that stuff is expensive.”

There is a ton of FREE digital education content for emergency services out there, with more being produced and updated every day. Services that charge for fire/rescue and EMS online education usually do so because they are providing premium services such as recognized subject matter expert develop content and student education tracking and management.

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1) “Experienced providers won’t use it.”

We’ve addressed the statement in different ways previously on RescueDigest.

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

Hey Educator, You’ve Changed!

The disruption of education: How technology is helping students teach themselves


But one final time will turn to the Spring 2016 issue of Paramedic Chief Magazine and refer you to Ambulance Driver Kelly Grayson’s article Teaching EMS Dinosaurs to Evolve.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 11.29.22 AMI hope that many of the people reading this post will already be on board with the integration of digital education resources and are looking to answer some of these top 10 questions from their colleagues. I also hope you find the information here to be useful and that you are ready to use these resources to up the active engagement in your classroom. The next step is, of course, actually execute that change in the real world with real people, some of whom will not yet be “on-board” for a variety of reasons. As Kelly says, “Appeal to our shared sense of purpose”, “if you really want to help an EMS dinosaur evolve, you need to appeal to the soft skill that matters most – the motivation help people.”

In the end that’s what’s important about answering these top 10 concerns, and any others that you may hear voiced from people anxious about integrating digital education resources. It isn’t about making people use a computer, tablet, or smart phone. It’s about using the latest and greatest resources to actively engage emergency responders so that they are better to do their job. That’s what it’s all about, “Helping You, Help Others.”

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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