In the last issue of this magazine I began this column on training with a discussion on how to make your fire training more stimulating and fun in the classroom. In this issue we conclude this segment on teaching theory with how to make your presentations more meaningful on the fire training ground. You may ask why are we wasting good trees writing about educational theory? Simple. If you are a credentialed fire instructor chances are that since becoming an instructor you have not had much chance to reflect on your teaching and whether your knowledge and experience in Industrial Firefighting/Rescue/Hazmat really meets the needs of your students. That is why before we go into some "real" training related articles I want to lay the foundation on how best to teach the Industrial Fire Student.
Instructing adults can be one of the most gratifying experiences in life, even more so when teaching firefighters. The motivation to teach adults is seldom driven by economics or personal gain. Most instructors do it out of a genuine interest in helping firefighters succeed in doing their jobs with pride and excellence.
At the same time, there is considerable anxiety among many instructors and trainers about how best to teach firefighting, particularly fire brigade members who may be volunteers. More perceptive individuals realize that teaching adults is different in many ways. Initially, adult learners are very diverse owing to the various levels of education, experience, and expectations they possess. When given the opportunity, most adults prefer to be in charge of their own learning. So how do you create a learning environment on the fire ground that is going to meet both the students' needs and your organization's objectives while still applying to fire standards such as NFPA 600 or NFPA 1081? The message to take away from this article is not necessarily what you teach but how you teach it! Here are some principles to consider when designing your next training evolution. It will help make you more successful in aiding the students in retaining the knowledge and practical experience. Every industrial organization wants to get maximum value for their training dollar. With the cost of fuel going up, it is really important we get live fire training right!
ADULT LEARNING PREFERENCES
? Adults prefer a classroom climate which is supportive and not-threatening, with an informal and relaxed atmosphere.
? A non-threatening atmosphere is particularly important. Many adults who are taking a class after a long absence from fire training have unfounded fears that they are not capable doing the job. Instructors should recognize that it took an act of considerable faith for the adult learner to step out onto the fireground and risk exposing deficiencies.
Adults also prefer fire instructors who
1.) are content experts who have first-hand experience in the subject.
2.) provide relevance by showing firefighters how they can use this information in their personal or professional lives tomorrow!
3.) are well-organized with a well-planned course, a week-by-week schedule of class activities, and well-planned class meetings with a clear agenda.
4.) don't waste time. Adults are very busy people. For this reason, they appreciate an instructor who starts on time, ends on time, and keeps things moving productively during the class. For this reason, it is important for instructors to always explain what will be done during that class meeting and why, otherwise some firefighters may think, incorrectly, that you're "wasting time."
5) state clear learning goals for the class. Adults want to know what your goals are for the class. It's a good idea to let them know what you hope they will learn by the end of the class. It is not a good idea to start a fire training evolution and hope the students figure out the objective, for most this will be a very frustrating and unrewarding experience. If you expect the student to isolate a valve to gain control of the fire, then tell him/her so!
? By providing a clear agenda for each class meeting, the lecturer indicates to the class how they will be meeting the course goals through specific objectives in that class meeting.
? It is also important to let your students know what the specific objectives are for each class meeting: "By the end of today's class meeting you will be able to . . ."
? extinguish a flammable liquid fire using foam.
? don a level A suit.
? establish the incident command system.
6.) are willing to modify or add to the learning goals based on the needs and interests of the learners.
? First, the instructor should ask each student for their individual learning goals for the class.
? After reviewing the student goals, the instructor should talk about them in class, and indicate which learner goals overlap directly with the course goals, which learner goals could be easily incorporated into the class, and which learner goals do not directly match up with the goals of this class. In this case the instructor may want to recommend another course or books and other sources of information that would meet these goals.
? Lecturers should recognize that each person has individual reasons for taking the class, and individual goals for the class. Respect is shown for those goals by addressing them directly in class, and by providing opportunities, when appropriate, for learners to explore these specialized areas of interest by doing outside assignments. For example maybe a student wants to learn how to use a portable monitor to cool the structure involved in fire, although your training evolution may have called for only handline attacks, you might consider using a monitor to help the student or group of students meet their goals of learning to use a portable monitor.
7.) individualize instruction by taking students where they are, and bringing them along.
? The easiest way to monitor student learning individually, in a non-threatening manner, is through the "Classroom Assessment" techniques. Through on-going feedback from students about their learning, instructors will be able to find out if the students are learning, and which topics they are finding more difficult.
? If student feedback is anonymous, the instructor will get an idea of the range of questions, and might address them in class. This is much less threatening than having students ask questions in class, or than having names attached to the feedback cards. Instructors are likely to get much more candid responses if they are anonymous. Make sure you evaluate your practical training and use the feedback to improve your presentations!
? If students are doing poorly on skills, it is best to approach the student privately before or after class, or at the break, and make arrangements to discuss what might be done to help the student. Don't leave the student to their own devices and give up on them, sometimes a little one on one instruction can make all the difference in the world.
8.) use active learning and problem-solving by asking students to think about or discuss how they will apply what they are learning in class.
? Role-playing activities, simulations, discussions, and problem-solving activities in class give students an opportunity to put to use what they have learned and make application on the fireground.
? Instructors may provide assignments in which students must use what they have learned to solve problems or do practice exercises both on the fire training ground and in the classroom.
9.) encourage self-directed learning, while recognizing individual learning development.
? First, instructors must show respect for the life experiences of firefighters by encouraging them to relate what they already know to the new information they are learning.
? By encouraging firefighters to learn from each other in class discussions and group exercises, the instructor recognizes the validity and importance of the life experiences of the students.
? It is important to recognize that learning is a developmental process. Those who know more about a subject in the beginning may be ready for self-directed learning activities sooner. Also, some students develop more quickly than others.
? One technique which is particularly helpful to all students, and is particularly comforting for adults is a systematic review at the beginning of each class meeting. Through a brief summary of the last class session (ideally an interactive review in which students contribute), students will feel good about what they already know, and it will help others who are having trouble.
? Students should be given responsibility for their own learning gradually as they are ready for it. They will become less dependent on the instructor, and more dependent on their own learning abilities.
? The instructor does not leave students to fend for themselves, but rather acts as a facilitator to learning by providing resources and advice to students, and by providing them with new challenges as they are ready for them.
Respect, Relevance, and Responsibility
? Respect the life experiences of your students by providing opportunities for incorporating them into class discussions.
? Respect the variety of learning styles in the class by
- providing a variety of teaching methods to meet the learning styles.
- providing a variety of graded assignments and exams. (both in the classroom and on the fire training ground)
- being responsive to individual learning needs.
? Respect the students as individuals by recognizing the importance of their own goals and motivations, and by incorporating them into the class whenever possible.
? Respect the time of busy adults by starting on time, ending on time, and having a well-organized class with clear goals and a well-thought-out plan for the session.
? Provide relevance by explaining why this material is important, and how they can apply it in their professional or personal lives. Encourage your students to think of ways in which they can put their new knowledge or skills to practical use.
? Provide relevance by actually using the information to solve problems, or by applying the information through simulations or practice exercises in class.
? Recognize the developmental states of adults: they are responsible people who have responsible jobs.
? Recognize that adults go through developmental stages in learning: they start out as dependent learners, and should be encouraged to take more responsibility for their own learning as they gain experience and "maturity" in the subject.
I hope you will find these teaching strategies useful as you prepare to teach your next fire evolution. Remember it isn't necessarily what you teach that is important, it is how you teach it!
COMING NEXT ISSUE : Fire Training in Malaysia o
Attila Hertelendy, MHSM, CCEMT-P, NREMT-P, is an instructor with the University of Nevada, Reno Fire Science Academy.