Consider innovation when educating

CarolinaFireJournal - Amar Patel
Amar Patel WakeMed Health and Hospitals
01/11/2011 -

As we begin a new year, let us take the time to look at ways we can create change within our organizations because simple acts can have dramatic impact on policies, procedures, and finances. First we have to identify changes that can have a dramatic positive impact on provider morale and system processes. Second, we have to successfully diffuse these innovations into our organizations. The key to lasting change is education.


Delivering Information Effectively

As emergency response professionals and healthcare practitioners, we often struggle with how to best deliver a large amount of critical information in the most effective format. To effectively achieve this goal, we must understand a little bit about human nature. In the early 1960s, research found the average attention span of an adult was 52 minutes; today research shows that to be seven to 20 minutes. Additionally, the student must be able to associate what they are learning with real life experiences or areas of interest. In my opinion, the best way for educators to convey information and have students retain the information is to make learning fun, interesting and interactive.

Education isn’t only about providing the student with information and then expecting them to learn it. It is about being a facilitator, an advocate, as well as an educator. Each individual learns in a different way, so educators must understand how to better affect students in order to have an impact on process and safety. Educators must learn about the individual, understand if they learn by doing, seeing, hearing, reading, or a combination of the four, and then adapt learning principles accordingly.

The average retention rate for passive teaching methods such as classroom teaching, reading, looking at PowerPoint or being shown how to do a task is only between five and 30 percent; while those that actually participate in group discussions, practice a skill or teach others how do a specific skill retain between 50 and 90 percent. With these stats wouldn’t you want your sessions to have some level of active involvement?

Impact of Technology

Like most of you, I have come to depend on technology for day-to-day things. I use my cell phone to manage my calendar, check emails, and occasionally play games. However, your phone can be so much more than just a small utility device; it is an excellent educational tool. Cell phones enable you to call a friend when you need help, access resources and information when taking care of a patient, take classes on the go, or tell others how you feel on Facebook. These are only the tip of the iceberg of smart phone technology. Smart phones have great potential in healthcare and emergency response especially since they are small, inexpensive and easy to use.

With the rise of technology has come the rise of technology-based educational programs. There is an ever increasing demand for programs that allow the student to learn on their time, complete course work, have fun and be able to immediately apply what they learn. More and more people are asking for flexible educational programs allowing them to work, attend school and take care of family simultaneously.

Over the last 10 years, we have seen an increase in the types of technology-based applications available to educators. Some of these include interactive classroom modules such as response cards, computer based gaming applications or human patient simulators that allow the learner to be immersed in the educational experience. But employing technology in education just for convenience or coolness factor may not be the best answer. We need to ensure that the education delivery tool will give us the best value for the educational objective we wish to cover.

Classroom-based educational programs allow for interactive discussions on various topics, but they can often become unfocused and disorganized. There truly is value in having a classroom-based educational session, but it is topic and learner specific.

Pure online or hybrid (online and classroom) based educational programs have their place as well. A hybrid educational session allows for the same information to be conveyed to every student via online module, while the classroom session reinforces the content and allows the student to apply their new knowledge.

The next level of education involves an emotional and in some cases a physical attachment to the experience. This is a simulation experience. To some extent we have been doing simulation for years with live fire training sessions or the mock scenarios with a CPR doll, but until recent years healthcare professionals did not have a means to have a simulated experience.

The simple addition of human patient simulators allows for more interaction between rescuers and the patient. Regardless of your area of expertise, consider human patient simulators for rescue scenarios where extrication is required (e.g dwelling fire requiring patient rescue or a simple EMS scenario). The ability to interact with a “virtual” patient makes the scenario more realistic and you will find greater ownership of the incident amongst providers.

Today, human patient simulators add another possible dimension for healthcare and emergency services providers. And, often a hybrid approach works well in this case as well, with the online module providing textbook information, the simulator providing hands-on experience, and the classroom discussion and review provides students with immediate feedback. In the end, this model enables students to better relate what they learned to their own experience. No matter what your area of expertise, making the information relevant by applying it through a simulation experience can prove to improve long term retention rates for the learner.

Being Part of the Game

The gaming industry is also growing to include healthcare, fire and EMS. Currently on the market there are games like Second Life that already include healthcare virtual reality tools, enabling both learning and research. And gaming companies from all over the world are working to build firefighting and EMS games. In just the last 12 months, we have seen the development of numerous fire and EMS games for the Wii, PlayStation3 and now Xbox.

As an educator, games are valuable because they enable you to gather information about areas where you need to focus in order to provide the learner with good information that is repetitive, interactive and fun. Most importantly, games are easy to deliver across a network, are accessible anytime and are relatively inexpensive. Gaming applications don’t require the instructor to be logged in and students can play the game during down time. Imagine not having to take a station out of service for training — how great is that?

Additionally, gaming or interactive learning isn’t only about playing the game and teaching. With games you also have the ability to analyze time to task. If a life saving procedure needs to be performed immediately, we need to understand how long it takes our students to think about doing it and perform it. Understanding time to task and the processes involved allow us to improve system processes and providers’ education.

Interactive gaming applications with haptics, using the sense of touch or tactile reflex, tell you mission details, allows the learner to actually perform the appropriate skills and be graded on the tasks in a safe environment. At the end of the game the computer analyzes your performance and tells you what areas you can improve on citing literature. This is truly priceless! Haptics, 3D learning and gaming is the future of education. How we implement it is up to us.

Future of Technology Education

It’s is amazing to see how educational programs have changed their delivery of content over the last 10 years. We have truly become mainstream when educational programs are offered through Facebook and Twitter or in virtual worlds.

I recently heard of an organization in the Carolinas conducting interviews through Avatars. They ask their interviewee to create an avatar of themselves, they interview the individual in a virtual conference room online and if they like what they see and hear, they bring them in for a formal interview. Their goal is to see how the individual portrays themselves online (on the internet) and how that compares to the real person. It makes sense! It allows you to evaluate your learner from every possible aspect.

Information is always accessible to the learner. The use of an avatar, virtual conference rooms and virtual rooms prove one very important thing, the way we teach is changing. While years of traditional educational programs have worked, the industry and the people we depend on are changing. With small budgets and unique learning needs, we must begin by being creative.

No matter how you choose to integrate a novel educational approach, consider the use of technology at your next educational session. Be thoughtful about how students are affected by dramatic changes and truly consider the needs of the individual while looking at the needs of the organization. Safety isn’t only measured by performance on the call but also by how your learners understand processes and impacts to small process changes at the end of an incident. Education is about practicing a skill until it is seamlessly rehearsed.

Amar Patel is the Manager of the Center for Innovative Learning at WakeMed Health and Hospitals where he is responsible for integrating technology based educational programs to include human patient simulation, healthcare gaming, hybrid education, and intellectual property development into regional programs. He has presented at several conferences. Mr. Patel is a nationally registered paramedic, hazmat technician and a firefighter.
Photos by Julie Macie/WakeMed Health and Hospitals
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