Three Misconceptions Holding Back Community College EMT Training

An increasing number of community colleges are using immersive driving simulators as part of their EMT training programs. FAAC lead specialist Chuck Deakins has worked with several community colleges to integrate simulation-based training into their programs. He’s glad to see more training programs adopting simulation tools, which can be so effective at increasing student engagement (and thus improving teaching outcomes). But he’s found three fairly common misconceptions that cause community colleges to get much less value from their simulators.

Misconception #1: Learning Occurs During the Simulated Scenario

“First,” Deakins explains, “they make the mistake of thinking that the learning occurs while the student is driving in the simulator.”

In actuality, simulator-based training is a two-part iterative process, where the Drive is followed by After-Action Review—which is then followed by a fresh drive and so on.

The Drive portion is actually most beneficial to the instructor, rather than the student. That’s because this is the instructor’s opportunity to watch the student work through the challenges of the scenario (which is simultaneously being recorded in an integrated assessment tool, like VITALS).

Then, during the After-Action Review, the instructor and student can review the scenario using the assessment tool, which has captured a complete record of their decisions and interactions with all the elements of the scenario (e.g., vehicle controls, radio calls, force options, branching decisions, etc.), as well as audio/visual recordings of the Drive. As the scenario and recording replay picture-in-picture, the student and instructor engage in a dialogue about what they can now both objectively observe.

“That’s when the light comes on and the learning occurs: in the after-action review,” according to Deakins. And that light doesn’t just come on for the student who was behind the wheel; the entire class benefits, as this process actively engages their own critical thinking.

Misconception #2: Simulation is One-Size-Fits

“You want the tool to work for your program,” Deakins notes. “When somebody else comes in and shows you ‘this is how we used it,’ that [approach] may or may not work in your program. But if you ease into observing the student, then it’s really the students that tell you what’s working and what’s not. Then you can adapt [your simulation use] to your program and watch it flourish.”

Deakins has especially found that, as instructors become familiar with all of their simulator’s capabilities, they tend to introduce too much too soon. There’s obviously a powerful temptation to get as much as possible out of this new investment in classroom technology as quickly as possible and show off everything it can do. But that isn’t effective training.

“You could do an entire four-hour class on the driving simulator,” Deakins admits. An instructor could choose to have students run scenario after scenario, practicing different skills. Or they could build long and complex scenarios with many different challenges embedded in them: inattentive drivers, inclement weather, abrupt re-routing. “But that’s overwhelming to the student and exhausting to the instructor.”

Long sessions in the sim almost invariably backfire. The student is overwhelmed, getting little out of the experience (apart from the cold-sweats and a headache). And the instructor has given themselves no chance to use the sim as an observation tool.

“Start small,” Deakins advises, “Use that opportunity to really see how the students respond to the sim, the decisions they’re making behind the wheel. Once instructors see the response from the student, then their ideas and innovations start to flourish, and they see new and interesting ways they can integrate the sim” into their program.

Misconception #3: Lecture = Learning

As a practical matter, in simulation-based training the student should be talking more than the instructor.

When he works with instructors that are integrating simulators into their EMT training programs, Deakins often gives this advice:

“Tell yourself: I can only ask questions to my students. Then watch what happens. The learning environment really blossoms when the instructor does less talking than the students do. Instead of reverting this practical application tool back to a lecture, simply asks questions.”