Training, Technology, and the Twenty-First Century
September 29, 2009
The use of technology in training first responders is usually overlooked for alternative and cheaper methods. Because of this, most of the courses taught to help our first responders are taught through slide shows, paper books, and lectures. These passive methods are effective, but with the use of technology we can take our first responder training into the 21st century. Technology is cheaper and more reliable than any time before, and it is time that the upper echelons of the government realize it.
With all of the training methods available to other kinds of careers, we could really jump start our new and veteran first responders. Imagine a world were a medic going through training interacts with a mannequin that responds to his or her decisions. How about a first responder using the Wii and an attachment that looks like a gas monitor to sample the air in a digital atmosphere? We have the technology available to us, with only our minds being the limit.
You are asking yourself, well how bad is it really? It is bad enough that David F. Patterson a 20 year veteran in the fire service recently said, “a good reason haz-mats (Hazardous Material Responders) should be taught, at least on an annual basis, is that the IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters) says firefighters are six times more likely to become injured at hazmat incidents than structure fires”. He goes on to say “how to respond to hazmat incidents at the time of the emergency is not the most effective training tool. In fact, it can be downright deadly”.
It is not just the Fire Service that is having problems keeping up with the taxing challenge of keeping their personnel trained to high levels.
A report released by the United States Government Accountability Office states that one of the biggest challenges facing current trainers is the lack of consistency like such as using the same language and examples when teaching. These challenges include issues such the absence of commonly understood training terminology across components (Stalcup, 2005). A common permanent common language is suggested. It seems that trainers typically train the same way no matter how they are trained. Some trainers tend to use real life experiences and focus on only what they know. The same trainers years ago are still training, leading to them teaching the same way as before.
It is not that we just want to have the ability to train our personnel to the best of our ability, it is that we are being required to keep them that trained. It is only through the use of technology that we will be able to meet the demands of our ever changing world. Training needs to ensure responders are flexible and employ any asset at hand. First responders should invoke the use of technology as much as possible (Humphress 2007). They must also go through a rigorous training regimen. Training should only be moved forward when the trainee shows he/she meets the requirements to move on using direct trainer evaluation. Training can be improved with more trainer feedback and direct talks between trainer and trainee.
There are several different training techniques employed when training people on their job. There are several to choose; from passive techniques (lectures and videos) to more engaging methods such as one-on-one with an instructor. (Burke, Sarpy, Smith-Crowe, Chan-Serafin, Salvador, & Islam, 2005) The study shows that retention of knowledge was greater when the pupil had more interaction with the teacher (Burke, Sarpy, Smith-Crowe, Chan-Serafin, Salvador, & Islam). There were several test subjects used in this study and the majority of them proved the point with few exceptions.
Before we discuss what methods we could use to be most effective, let’s step into the brain of a learner. Learning and the human brain are just now starting to be researched extensively. Up until the 19th century this kind of study was often wrote off as just theory or anthropology. Not an exact science. Now as Cognitive Science being widely accepted, we are starting to learn the brain and how it works.
Cognitive science has been around since the 1950’s and focus’ on the brain from several different angles and using older technology, psychology, and new state-of-the-art technology (Bransford, 2000). Learning is a process of forming connections between stimulus and reaction (Bransford). Through hands-on learning and repetitive use the human brain tends retains more of that information (Bransford). The brain can be stuffed full of information, but if it is never employed, how does the brain connect information learned in the classroom to the correct actions needed in the field?
The best training methods seem to be the ones that give a way to learn and reinforce what has been learned. Finding new ways to teach is essential to improving what information students retain. To keep construction workers up to date with technology and the hazards they may face, the construction industry had to find a new way to do business. They have employed the use of video game based training for this purpose (Weiler, 2009). By using these PC based learning systems, you can fully educate the employee before his/her boots hit the ground (Weiler,). Giving them hands on experience is critical.
When you teach something new, you should have your audience try to link it to a real life experience that they have (Blanchard, Thacker, 2007). You must also present your material in a way that the audience understands it, not how you may see it (Blanchard, Thacker). An effective method of training is to gain attention, inform of goal, recall prior knowledge, present material, provide guidance, ask for a performance, provide feedback, assess performance, and enhance knowledge retention (Blanchard, Thacker). “The key here is to guide the trainees to the appropriate answer / conclusion, not just to tell them the answer” John Thacker a Professor Emeriti in Business Management from the University of Windsor, Ontario states.
Computer based simulation is the closest thing to hands on training as you can get without being in the field. It allows a student to get several different scenarios in a controlled environment. A study showing that simulation based training can be effective and save time along with money. The amount of positive results was determined by the subject being taught (Kulik & Kulik 1991). Computer based learning also changed some students minds to help them think positively about their studies (Kulik & Kulik).
So to use technology and still ensure each person learns what they need to survive we should look into computer based simulation training. This training could be as easy as a test online or it could be a full scale disaster set up like a Mass Role Playing Game (which already operates on-line). Through the use of our “gaming devices” we could advance our knowledge of what subject we are to learn. Using real time, reactive, unpredictable situations we could train even better. Already being used by the military and other industries, I think the first responder sphere could benefit from this technology as well.
This technology is cheaper and easier than many may think. Google was created by two people in a basement, as was Microsoft (in a garage) with little or no investors. It doesn’t take a lot of people and money. Computer based training is a customizable and cost effective way to teach people (Dr. Meir Morag, 2007). Tools today allow someone who does not know how to program to set up a training program in the simulation based world (Dr. Meir Morag). These programs can be interactive and have consequences and results (Dr. Meir Morag).
A successful application that could be employed immediately to anyone who is in anyway associated to the medical field was recently used by surgeons at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. A mannequin that reacted to stimuli was introduced along with the evaluated text based learning using surgeons in this simulation. Those who used the simulation showed better results than those that did not (Burkhart, Riley, Hendrickson, Glenn, Lynch, Arnold, Schaff, & Sundt, n.d.). These students showed more knowledge and higher confidence levels that used the simulation style learning (Burkhart, Riley, Hendrickson, Glenn, Lynch, Arnold, Schaff, & Sundt). It seems that these doctors have shown that simulation based learning is still better than just text books and lectures. Plus, with the boom of programmers and art students, human resources to develop these tools are readily available.
With the use of up to date technology and keeping open minds we can move our first responders into the next century. It is up to us to keep the training to the level of the incident. With the progression of technology; the dangers will become even more evident. It is time for us to stop looking at just the past and start to look forward. Forward to proven methods in training that will help keep us safe. Now is the time for some of our laws to catch up with reality so that we may use these new methods to train every first responder. As well as feeling comfortable knowing that everyone is trained the best they could be.