Training Challenge - Choosing the Best Learning Approach

One responder sits in a room listening to an instructor and discussing key concepts and issues with other participants. Another responder sits at a computer during odd hours going through tutorials and posting on discussion groups. Although both types of trainings are effective, the deciding factors between instructor-led, web-based, or a combination of both trainings are personal.

The history of emergency response includes many different approaches to responder training. These approaches have varied in delivery using methods such as self-paced self-study, room/skill station, instructor-led training (ILT), web-based training (WBT), hybrid training (ILT and WBT), and others. This article focuses on the similarities and differences between ILT, WBT, and hybrid training.

Through the U.S. Fire Administration, the Emergency Management Institute began providing basic “online” learning programs that have since expanded tremendously. Since that time, many educational organizations have developed online programs to assist all emergency responders in furthering their education and earning both basic and advanced degrees. With all that is available, it is important to consider what makes online, also known as web-based training (WBT), a good foundation for responder training.

Overcoming Obstacles & Focusing on the Goal

There are many obstacles – such as incident response, inspections, and normal duties – which must be overcome on a daily basis for responders to be able to sit in a room or auditorium. Once in the room, participants then have to listen for hours to instructors, who in many cases are peers, discuss a subject that responders have heard many times during their careers, which in turn may raise the responders’ level of boredom and disinterest in the subject. There has to be relevance to the responders’ regular duties as well as a behavior change by the responder during the training in order for it to be relevant and interesting. It must be relevant to the work setting and to the responders’ circumstances.

Trainers should emphasize that trainings focus on a simple behavior checklist and build in complexity to facilitate learning. This can be accomplished in today’s learning atmosphere with WBT and with hybrid training using one face-to-face session followed by WBT, or WBT followed by one face-to-face session, so that discussion of questions and issues can be done person to person. WBT and hybrid training have a level of appeal to today’s responders due to the increased use of technology both personally as well as in the workplace.

The similarities between WBT and ILT include similar learning objectives, content, layout, structure, and flow. However, the major differences are: course delivery method, when and where the learning takes place, how complicated ideas and theories are explained and applied, and the budgetary impact of the training. Of course, the learning objectives of any training should be the primary concern.

Regardless of the delivery method, the learning outcomes for participants are the same – the transference of knowledge that can be measured. With that said, such knowledge is not transferred effectively without terminal and enabling objectives as well as content, which include: text, graphics, quizzes, exercises, and tests. Slides comprise graphics and text that are used to support ILT are the basis for the visuals presented in WBT. During both WBT and ILT, the information is presented to the participant, a course of instruction is completed, and a quiz on the module is given. A final exam provided after all the learning modules are complete evaluates the participants’ ability to recall and use the knowledge gained.

Many Considerations – Format, Time, Place, Pace & Cost

Although there are similarities in the course materials, there are marked differences as well. The course delivery for WBT is offered online, in varying formats including, but not limited to: video-based, PowerPoint with embedded videos, multimedia format, and interactive. In each of these delivery methods, the participant sits solo in front of a computer and interacts only with the content. Unlike WBT, ILT takes place in a venue, where the participants receive lectures and interact with other students and the instructor through questions and discussions that assist in the transfer of knowledge and also bolster the information that is received.

A further difference is in the learning environment, which includes where and when the learning can take place. WBT can be completed at any time or place within the constraints of the courses’ timeframes for completion, which is dependent on availability of Internet connectivity and compatibility of computers with the program requirements. Not all participants learn at the same pace, at the same time, or at the same level, which makes WBT advantageous.

ILT follows a schedule with specific start and end times that are based on the availability of the facilities, instructional staff, and participants. ILT is synchronous and learning takes place concurrently. All participants take courses at the same time with a group of people with whom they interact and discuss course content.

WBT courses are priced with a one-time registration fee, and then bundled with a course of training to include several programs to meet the desired goals. With ILT, the cost is based on the attendee though can be priced by the with capped limits on the number of attendees. The additional costs that may be incurred include hotel and airfare expenses and other accommodations needed for the instructors. Hybrid training includes the one-time registration fee and a one-time visit to a room, which is easily accessible to both students and instructors and on a date that does not conflict with work.

The Ultimate Decision Is Personal

There are multiple ways to learn – web-based, instructor-led, and hybrid training courses. Abilities, time, and cost play roles in determining training needs. The types of courses participants choose depend on the participants’ learning styles, personal preferences, costs, and course availability. Training courses are designed to provide solutions and offer a variety of choices to meet participants’ personal and professional training needs.

Glen Rudner
Glen Rudner

Glen Rudner retired in 2022 as a manager of environmental operations for the Norfolk Southern (NS) Railway with environmental compliance and operations responsibilities in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Previously, he was the hazardous materials compliance officer for NS’s Alabama Division (covering Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and southwestern Tennessee). Prior to NS, he served as one of the general managers at the Security and Emergency Response Training Center in Pueblo, Colorado. He worked as a private consultant and retired as a hazardous materials response officer for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. He has nearly 42 years of experience in public safety. He spent 12 years as a career firefighter/hazardous materials specialist for the City of Alexandria Fire Department, as well as a former volunteer firefighter, emergency medical technician, and officer. As a subcontractor, he served as a consultant and assisted in developing training programs for local, state, and federal agencies. He serves as secretary for the National Fire Protection Association Technical Committee on Hazardous Materials Response. He is a member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs Hazardous Materials Committee, a member of the American Society of Testing and Materials, and a former co-chairman of the Ethanol Emergency Response Coalition. He served as a member of the FEMA NAC RESPONSE Subcommittee.



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