The Benefits of Online EMS Education

Greg Friese // October 1, 2011

Updated September 28, 2016

Online education, broadly defined as any education or training that is delivered electronically by the internet or on an organization's intranet, is widely available for EMS students and professionals. Students may complete entire classes or portions of their course work in pursuit of an EMT certification or paramedicine degree. EMS professionals have more opportunities than ever for synchronous and asynchronous online education for refresher and recertification education.

The media for online training and education varies widely, from pages of HTML text to streaming full motion video, to highly interactive Flash. Regardless of the media, online education, like classroom education, should be developed to meet carefully articulated learning objectives. The amount of technological “whiz bang” incorporated into the online education activity should be dictated by the lesson objectives and should reflect the time and resources available to develop the lesson.

Individuals and organizations are rapidly integrating online education into their training programs because of several important benefits.

Low cost of entry
Users can immediately start consuming online education with nothing more than a web-enabled device like a smartphone, tablet, notebook or PC. EMS students and professionals can find thousands of YouTube videos covering topics from patient assessment to emergency vehicle operations that have been uploaded by accredited EMS education programs, service providers and product distributors. YouTube videos are great for quickly reviewing important concepts or learning about new medical devices and procedures.

Podcasts, like the Inside EMS podcast and MedicCast, also provide easy to access and free education for EMS providers. Podcasts can be listened to driving to of from work or school, while posting or exercise.

Users seeking a CAPCE-approved (formerly known as CECBEMS) continuing education lesson to apply towards an NREMT recertification or state re-licensure can choose from many free continuing education programs. For example, the Epilepsy Foundation has created a training program for medical first responders about assessing and treating patients with epilepsy. Users that successfully complete the lesson earn 1.5 CE credits. Individuals can also enroll in Bound Tree University to immediately access a set of free online education lessons.

Individuals can choose from a wide variety of other online education pay-per-view sites. Students pick lessons and pay as they go to earn CECBEMS-approved CE. Many of the organizations that provide pay-per-view lessons also have one and two-year subscriptions for individuals.

Organizations usually opt for an annual subscription, based on the number of users they enroll in the system, because of their ability to assign lessons, track completion of assignments, and report certificates earned to regional and state licensing bodies.

Same lesson every time
Consistently delivering the same lesson to every employee across multiple shifts and stations is one of the most challenging aspects of EMS education. Even if a dozen or more classroom lectures are scheduled, some employees' courses will still be incomplete due to illness, vacation or incident responses.

Online education allows organizations to prepare single lessons that are assigned to and completed by all users. Agencies can ensure that every employee will receive the same message about securing narcotics, for instance, and may only have to schedule the medical director for one annual protocol update lecture that is video recorded for online playback. Online education eliminates the high degree of variability that often results from multiple educators delivering a lesson numerous times at numerous locations.

Independent of time and place
One of the signature benefits of online education is that it is available anywhere and anytime users have an internet connection. Online education does not depend on the student and the instructor being in the same place at the same time. An employee may elect to complete a training session during their free time at home, or during time scheduled for training while on their shift.

Easy-to-use, low-cost or free web-based video conferencing tools allow educators to teach remotely. An instructor can deliver a video lecture or group case discussion using Google+, Skype, WebEx, or GoToMeeting. Built-in or add-on software allows recording and archiving of the live session for later play back.

Progress and completion tracking
As a classroom educator, I have watched my audience decrease by half when the tones ring for an incident. I can continue the class for the remaining employees, but will then have to catch up the rest of the group. Or I can pause until everyone returns, causing the class to fall behind schedule.

Because it is so difficult for EMS professionals to find prolonged periods of time for training, an extremely important benefit of online education is tracking of completion progress. If you are ten minutes into a thirty-minute lesson when the tones go off, then a lesson that is SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) compatible will store your progress in the learning management system. After you are able to log-in again the LMS will ask if you would like to resume the lesson from where you left off or return to the beginning. Thus it is possible to complete an hour of education in several sittings without the time and difficulty of rescheduling instructors and students.

Once an online education lesson is completed, a learning management system can generate a certificate of completion that the student can print or electronically store. Their organization can also store that completion certificate and report it electronically to a regional or state regulatory agency. Electronic tracking and records transfers can significantly reduce paperwork for EMS professionals and administrators.

Custom content development
In many online education systems training officers can assign courses from a comprehensive library for EMTs and paramedics, or design their own training content. Self-designed content is the best way to ensure that content is specific to local protocols, response conditions, and employees’ scope of practice. Content can also be created with tools many instructors already have like Microsoft PowerPoint, a digital camera and a microphone. Once developed, instructors then have the ability to easily update their courses to ensure ongoing accuracy and relevancy. Instructors can use online education courses to compliment case reviews discussions, patient assessment scenarios, and high fidelity simulation practice.

Discover more benefits
Individuals and organizations can realize more benefits from online education. Instructors can learn more by enrolling in an online education course, asking organizations that are already using online education about their benefits or asking for a demonstration from an online education vendor.


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