The effectiveness of any first response organization hinges on the efficiency of its training. Without training, we fail to properly and safely execute our mission of protecting life, property, and the environment. Clearly, training is a necessity. For career firefighters, training is a part of daily duty. For volunteers, training is typically accomplished one evening per week and a weekend day or something similar to that arrangement. Volunteer fire chiefs are never really able to anticipate who will show up for training and aren’t really presented with many options in the way of continuity or 100% compliance.
Let’s face some hard truths for volunteer firefighter training; at times, training needs to be mandatory and this can cause hardships for some volunteers who work during the scheduled training hours. In the Volunteer Solution Part 1 our volunteer survey revealed how the cumbersome training requirements were a barrier that prevented people from volunteering. We can all agree that training is not only necessary but it’s paramount to the function and safety of any emergency response organization. If we understand the problem than we’re able to brainstorm thoughtful solutions to redesign the way our firefighters accomplish their training and ultimately create a better educated, uniformly trained, and competent fire department.
How do you consistently train your volunteer firefighters so they’re all educated with the same information, the same way, with little gaps? It’s time to move your non-practical, non-manipulative training to an online learning management system.
Imagine if your fire department had its own custom online university. Anytown Fire Department University. Sounds a bit crazy, a little expensive, and a tad unrealistic; But it’s NOT let me show you how.
Almost every fire department has mandatory classes that need to be accomplished for either legal(OSHA) or insurance reasons. It’s not always easy to physically get the entire department in for these classes even when they’re labeled as mandatory. Moving the learning process to an online format allows the member to accomplish the classroom portion of the training at their own pace whether at home or out-and-about on their smart devices. Moving all of your powerpoint training onto an interaction multi-media training course is and will be the logical future of the volunteer fire service. Custom online courses allow your members the freedom of accomplishing their training on their own time from home. This sentiment alone is worth its weight in gold. It’s a win-win. As a Fire Chief, you’re able to educate your membership with the same information across the department without requiring the physical presence of the member. This means everyone is receiving the same information in the same format.
Of course, this does not and will never replace manipulative practical training. However, what it does do is free up more time for the hands-on training necessary to keep everyone’s skills on par.
HOW DO WE DO THIS?
There are several ways. Some solutions become a line item on your budget, others are free and exercise a little creativity.
First, you’ll need a subscription to a learning management system. If you are familiar with online learning then you’ve heard of Blackboard or other web services like it. A learning management system(LMS) is a web platform that allows you to create user login accounts, gives you the ability to upload your multimedia courses and administer testing so you can be certain that your members are retaining the critical information you need them to know.
The LMS allows your members to log into their own learning environment and accomplish courses that have been assigned to them. The LMS is a customizable interface so your department logo and or your own department image and/or custom URL make the experience unique to your department and feels organic for your membership.
There are several learning management systems (LMS) companies that exist online including Litmos and Talent LMS. Many more cloud-based LMS are available for you to choose from. As I write this article, Talent LMS appears to be the easiest to use and the most cost-effective for volunteer departments. You can watch the overview of Litmos here and the overview for Talent LMS here. Pricing for Li
tmos LMS runs $3 per user for organizations under 500 people. HOWEVER, if you are a 501(c)3 non-profit y
ou can call Litmos for special pricing. Pricing for Talent LMS appears to be more cost effective at about $100 per month up to 100 users.
Ok, so you’ve got your LMS, now it’s time to build your courses. For that, you’ll need a 3rd party multimedia creation tool. For this, I recommend Articulate 360 Rise. This is a web-based storyline multimedia course development tool. It will allow you to create custom courses with your own content, images, videos, linked content, and much more. Articulate 360 Rise also provides you with the ability to create quizzes in order to measure the knowledge retention of your training. Watch the overview of Articulate 360 here. The Price for this will run about $600 per year.
The effectiveness and the vast potential of your course content largely resides in your own creative potential. Your courses and the knowledge it provides are solely based on your own ability to develop training. If you currently utilize Powerpoint or Keynote for your classroom training, it will be easy to transfer that content and training information into Articulate 360’s Rise development tool. There are many useful guides that can help you develop your online multimedia course.
Some techie stuff really quick: The Articulate 360 courses are developed using SCORM which is a language compatible with Litmos and Talent LMS. In summation, The LMS is the platform or the environment all of your members will log into so they can complete the courses you assigned them. Articulate 360 Rise is a web-based course creation tool. Once courses are developed with Articulate 360 you are able to load those courses into your LMS. Once loaded they can be assigned to members for completion.
Off the cuff, you can use your LMS to administer indoctrination training for new members, truck/engine specific training, policy update training, driver training, pump training, annual bloodborne pathogens training, local strategy and tactics information, and any other training you can think of. The idea here is to remove the burden of requiring the member’s presence in the station by allowing that person to complete the training on their own time and even on their mobile devices.
This is a system that is already widely used in the corporate environment. With a little ambition and creativity, online training is a thoughtful reality and the next step for volunteer fire departments to help keep their members informed and active! At a cost of less than $2000 annually, building an online university for your department is definitely within reach.