Distance Education: Is it really for EMS?

CarolinaFireJournal - Wesley Carter
Wesley Carter
10/14/2010 -

Distance education has grown over the years, and it has been estimated that more than three million people are taking at least one online class this semester in the United States. Online programs have become very popular in almost all industries. One could look at advertisements in various publications and see a wide range of degrees and courses being offered through regionally accredited colleges and universities. A college that is not offering classes at a distance is definitely in the minority, and is not maximizing their potential for offering advanced degrees and certificates to people who are not able to attend traditional classes.


I did not say they were not maximizing their potential for offering degrees and certificates to people who do not have time to go to class. The reason I did not say that distance education is not for people that do not have time for class, is because most of the time an online course is more difficult and may require additional hours to complete assignments.

Students begin online/hybrid courses thinking they can be successful, even though they did not have time to attend class. This is one of the big reasons people drop online courses. These courses become overwhelming and the student expected a smaller volume of work to complete the course since they did not have time to attend a traditional class. Online courses have proven to be viable in many industries. Is distance education really for EMS? Will it work? Can people really learn how to provide quality patient care?

To answer these questions, one would have to understand there are two debates. The first debate comes from the people that will try to convince students that EMS is a program that cannot be taught from a distance. Generally, these people have never attended an online class or attended a class that was poorly designed.

The second debate is absolutely an EMS program can be taught to students from a distance. These people probably understand distance education more than most people. I am on the side that feels absolutely EMS education can be taught from a distance. I have taken, and taught, classes over the last 10 years. I have taken classes that were well planned and I enjoyed, perhaps more than I would have if I had taken the class traditionally. I have taken classes that I wished I had never enrolled in because the instructor was not a good distance educator. To be successful in distance education, one must have a distance educator participating in the program.

Distance educators are different from traditional educators. Distance educators must understand how to deliver the program in this method. An educator can be a great lecturer, but may not be a great distance educator. The first step at becoming a good distance educator is the knowledge of using a computer and various software applications.

To teach an online EMS course, one must first think about the goals of the course. The goal for all educators should be to have a student that is employable at the level they are instructing at the completion of the course. The student’s goals will be different from this at the start. If you posed the question, what is your goal for the course, they would respond “to pass the certification exam.” It has to go beyond that for the educator and the student. You must talk with the student and help them understand their number one goal leaving your program should be to be employable.

There are students that can pass the exam but cannot function as a provider. These students would not be employable. This is why students must understand the complete picture prior to entering your course. To help the student obtain their goals of passing the certification exam, and their new goal of being employable, the educator must design the course around these goals.

Obviously, the student must be assigned enough work that would justify the amount of hours that need to be covered for the course. This is probably the hardest part in an online program. “How many assignments are enough?” The only answer I have to that question is trial and error. In the online EMS courses I have written, I have polled my students on the amount of time it takes them to complete their assignments. When one does this, one has to realize that some will work faster and some will work slower. With that said, poll enough students to get a good average length of time in order to have the best data possible. The worst mistake one can make is to give more work than is needed to accomplish the goals of the course. Another mistake that is just as bad is not enough work. Remember, we are teaching a subject that some people say cannot be accomplished at a distance. One should make sure there is enough work to accomplish the goals of the course.

The second part of the course design is the onsite visits. The number of onsite visits will vary based on the level of certification being taught. The biggest part is to make sure you are providing enough work during the day for your students to be engaged and to be learning. Learning must take place on the onsite days and is the most crucial part of any EMS distance education program. One accomplishes learning by keeping the student busy and engaged in the education process. If you keep the student busy and engaged, it will reduce the temptation of texting and other forms of electronic communications during classes.

Remember, most students that are in online classes are a part of the technology generation. These students will have the temptation to be engaged in electronic communications during class. The student is not learning if they are engaged in this type of conduct, so the instructor must keep the student involved and engaged. One has to have total participation from the student during the onsite visits, the most important part of the course.

Students can be successful in an online EMS education program. Distance learning is for EMS education. More people can be taught, and hopefully it can help the shortage of providers in the EMS profession. The biggest and hardest part towards being successful is good planning and execution of one’s program.

Wesley Carter works as an EMS instructor for Lenoir Community College in Kinston, NC He has been in education for 11 years and has taught both nationally and internationally. He can be reached at [email protected]. LCC offers EMS online, the only community college in North Carolina with such a program.

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