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Benefits of VILT and Scenario-Based Learning in EMS

Remember when you needed a new qualification or a relicensure class? You had to find one in a nearby district, county, or state; schedule the time off; pay the needed fee; drive to the class; sit all day in a small stuffy classroom; and then listen to an endless series of lectures. The instructor churning out information via the “death-by-PowerPoint” classes, which has only shown to have a 5% retention rate. Then rinse, lather, repeat for the duration of the course. What’s the old adage, “the brain can only take in, what the behind will tolerate”?

Gather around my friends, a new way to build, retain, and gain on your EMS education journey is emerging and quickly gaining traction.

The Build: That Initial Class

Online education is not a new concept; it’s been around since the 1960s. Unfortunately the technology available then, the criticism about quality control, plus the lack of high-quality teachers kept it behind the “education curtain” for many years. Spring forward to the 21st century!

The question so often asked is: what is the best way to take any of the initial classes, like the basic EMT or paramedic class? Do I take it as a seated class or online? The base argument went something like this, “Not everything in those original classes can be taught in an online environment, such as backboarding or intravenous (IV) starts.” Of which I agree. However, consider this: every hands-on skill has some type of concept of action behind the skill. A couple of examples; why do we bac-board patients; or why do we need to initiate IV access? All these have concepts of action that must be understood at some time during the class.

Face itmany of us work multiple jobs and/or have families/hobbies, throw in taking the time off to attend a seated class can prove to be counterproductive. Today, the option of online education is frequently chosen for its convenience and flexibility. When you also consider the difference in cost, the concept of online education quickly becomes a favored option. What is one to do? 

Tough question! Much depends on the type of learner you are: are you a visual learner (one who needs to see what is being taught), or the kinesthetic learner (the hands-on learner), or maybe the auditory learner (the one who learns through hearing the lesson), or maybe a combination of all three. Students’ needs are multifaceted. I believe learning should be too. There are options! Students don’t need to sacrifice quality for convenience when it comes to online education. Online learning, when done right, will allow EMS students to study concepts in smaller, digestible pieces that improve retention. Look for online education that is multimodal and focused on innovative training that improves outcomes. 

Students today are looking for more “bang for the buck” programs. Many standalone classroom trainings may not be good enough anymore, and students want more. One fresh concept that is making inroads is the blended or hybrid class, a combination of classroom training and virtual instructor-led teaching. It’s the simple concept of learning the didactic and concepts in the virtual classroom, then engaging students with the related skills in another way.

What Is Virtual Instructor-Led Training? (VILT)

VILT combines the best features of live classroom training with the convenience of the internet. It allows students to interact with their live instructor, as well as their peers, within a live virtual environment just as they would in person. So, what are the benefits of VILT? 

Well, there are several. Geographically, the planet is the limit. The internet has allowed students to connect from just about everywhere. The training sessions can be recorded and later reused as online learning aids. Bigger plus: it supports student-teacher interactions with polling questions, online questions, and breakout rooms to conduct group activities. Instructors can share their materials and much more electronically to enhance the learning. One plus for the instructor is that they can obtain feedback quickly and track the learner’s performance. (Learn more about the benefits of VILT for EMS students here.) Now let’s add another layer to the virtual learning environment: scenario-based learning.

What Is Scenario-Based Learning? (SBL)

Scenario-based learning (SBL) is not a new teaching concept either. No matter how long you have been in emergency medical services (EMS) and attended classes, you encountered plenty of scenarios. Let’s use the “Scene Size-Up” topic from the basic EMT class as an example. During that session, you were given a scenario for a variety of calls or situations. Of course, you had to use your imagination, as there was no way to recreate the scenario in the classroom. Once given the scenario, many students chanted the favored mantra, “BSI/Is the scene safe?” Remember that one? The battery of questions by the student followed by more information about the scene and the patient, which led to further questions, and eventually students reached a conclusion. Many times, skills were required to be demonstrated during the session.

Scenario-based learning (SBL) is a popular instructional strategy and is now used extensively in online training. As it uses an active learning approach and real-life situations, SBL provides a relatable and highly relevant learning experience to the learners. Its immersive approach creates a high-engagement environment for students. SBL is being used more for skill training and not just for knowledge transfer. 

Combining VILT and SBL creates a very engaging environment to solidify training concepts with real-life situations. Prime example: the “Scene Size-Up” session. Same concept as beforea student is given a scenario, only this time it is in a virtual classroom and can be recreated on-screen. As the student interacts with the scenario, the student controls the outcome by the actions he/she takes. The EMS student uses preexisting knowledge, understands it in the context of the scenario, applies that knowledge, analyzes new and/or evolving situations, evaluates or re-evaluates the situation, and creates new outcomes. This training environment alone develops those highly prized critical-thinking skills.

So, What Are You Working On?

The advantages of online education are making a substantial impact on EMS education. EMS students who wish to be successful in the world of online education will need to possess the following characteristics: They’ll need to be independent, self-motivated learners; voracious readers (consider a new set of paramedic texts today, some with as many as seven volumes of extensive medical level text!); fluent in the use of computer skills; effective problem-solvers; and above all, good time managers! 

Today’s education technology has enabled EMS online education to become much easier to obtain. Keep an eye out for later articles where we’ll talk about the retaining of that hard-earned education and gaining new education to further enhance your value as an EMS provider. 


Anderson LW, Krathwohl DR, et al. A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. Allyn & Bacon, 2001. 

ASTD State of the Industry Report. ASTD Press. http://www.elearnmag.org/subpage.cfm?section=articles&article=76-1. Accessed 20 Feb 2020.

Cantor JA. Delivering instruction to adult learners. Toronto: Wall & Emerson, 1992.

Collison, G. Facilitating online learning: Effective strategies for moderators. Madison, WI: Atwood Pub, 2000. 

Margolis GS, Romero GA, Fernandez AR, Studnek JR. Strategies of high-performing paramedic educational programs. Prehospital Emergency Care. 2009 Oct–Dec; 13(4): 505–11.

Top 10 benefits for converting instructor-led training. https://www.eidesign.net/top-10-benefits-converting-instructor-ledtraining elearning/. Accessed 15 Feb 2020.

Michael Minter, MsEd, Paramedic; I/C/E, EMS Educator, has served in the fire, EMS, and rescue industries since 1977. He joined the US Air Force in 1982 and continued to work as a firefighter and EMT, later becoming a station captain, assistant chief of operations, and assistant chief of training. Beginning in 1996, he served as a field paramedic for several years before becoming an EMS education program director.



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