ICS Training Sucks… So Let’s Fix It

A great many of you are familiar with the piece I wrote in June called Incident Command System Training Sucks.  In it, I identify that the foundational ICS courses (ICS-100 through ICS-400 – but especially ICS-300 and ICS-400) simply do not provide the skills training that emergency managers across all disciplines require to utilize the system efficiently, effectively, and comfortably.  ICS Training Sucks turned out to be a popular piece which had a great deal of support from the first responder and emergency management community – which I am very grateful for.  The amount of comments and feedback was indicative to me that I was on the right track and that I need to revisit the topic and explore more.

At the center of my argument stands Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Bloom’s is a learning hierarchy which helps to identify the depth of instruction and learning.  Here is Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.  We’ll be referencing it a bit in the examples I provide.

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy

Take a moment to read through the descriptions of each of the ‘orders of thinking’ in Bloom’s.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Done?  Good.  Most would agree that courses such as ICS-300 and ICS-400 should attempt to convey learning at the Apply level, correct?  Unfortunately, that perception, while wildly popular, is wrong.  Most of the learning objectives of the two courses (objectives are our reference points for this) are at the Understand and Remember levels.  Yeah, I was a bit surprised, too.

In ICS Training Sucks, I provided a greater detail of the background analysis (it summarized the narrative of a Master’s research paper I wrote), so if you want more, simply go back and check it out.  While I make a few broad recommendations in that piece, there has been a need to examine our path to fixing this more closely.

In the development of curriculum, there exist several models.  The most commonly used model is the ADDIE model, which stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.  The first step, Analysis, is really the most important, although often the most ignored or cut short.  People think they know what the need is, but often don’t really understand it.  If you are interested, I’ve written a piece on the topic of Analysis for Training Magazine last year.

Even though we are suggesting a re-write of the ICS curriculum, or parts thereof, Analysis is extremely important.  The roots of the current curriculum we use goes back to circa 1970s wildfire ICS courses.  These are good courses, and while I’m not sure if they fully met the need then (although they did advance us quite a bit), their evolved versions certainly DO NOT now.  There is no sense in repackaging the same product, so let’s first figure out what people need to know to do their jobs effectively.  Essentially, this leads us to identifying a list of key core competencies in ICS.  Core competencies will define the level of competence needed in a particular job or activity.  We can easily use the levels of Bloom’s as our reference point to establish common definitions for the levels of competence.  What am I talking about?

Let’s pick one key activity in ICS to examine.  Resource Management is a great example as it shows the disparity between what exists and where we need to be.  Resource Management is discussed in Unit 6 of the ICS-300 course.  I think most would agree that we expect most every jurisdiction to be able to implement sound resource management practices.  Implement is the key word.  Implementation is indicative of the Apply level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  When looking at unit objectives in the ICS-300 course for unit 6, the key words are identify and describe.  Identify is indicative of the Remember level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, while describe is indicative of the Understand level.  Both fall short of application.  While we aren’t looking for this curriculum to create incident management teams, we still expect most jurisdictions to be able to manage resources, which is certainly a core competency of incident management.

I think the NIMS doctrine provides a good starting point for identifying core competencies.  In an effective study, there may be other competencies identified – perhaps topics such as leadership, that may not necessarily be found in a revised ICS curricula, but can be obtained through other training courses.  This could lead to an important differentiation between core competencies (those that MUST be included in ICS training) and associated competencies which can be sourced elsewhere.

Further, we can capitalize on what we have learned through implementation of the current ICS curriculum and previous iterations.  We know that multidisciplinary training is most effective since larger incidents are multidisciplinary.  We also know that training must be interactive and maximize hands-on time.  The past few updates to the ICS courses have done a great job of encouraging this, but we need more.

Making more detailed recommendations on fixing ICS training will take time and effort, as a solid Analysis must first be done.  Once core competencies can be identified and defined, then a strategy for revamping ICS training can be developed.  As mentioned in ICS Training Sucks, this approach should be multi-faceted, using both new and (good) existing courses to support it. Let’s not be bound by what currently exists.  We don’t necessarily have to create a ‘new’ ICS-300 or ICS-400 course.  Let’s create courses within a broader program that meets the needs of the emergency management community.  They may no longer be called ICS-300 and ICS-400.  Perhaps these two will be replaced by four smaller courses?  Who knows where this path will take us? The bottom line is that we need to be responsive to the needs of the learners, not bound by “the way we’ve always done it.”

As always, feedback is appreciated.  Perhaps there exists an institution that has the desire and funding to pursue this further?  I’m fully onboard!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

WWW.EPSLLC.BIZ

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The Need for More Scenario-Based Learning

Think back through all the courses you’ve taken.  It’s a lot – I know.  What ones stand out the most?  I’m willing to be they are the ones that were the most engaging.  Not only did you enjoy them, but you learned a lot from them and still remember quite a bit of it.

It’s no secret that training adults can be challenging.  Training professionals in emergency services is certainly no different.  The challenges are even greater as the number of required training courses continually increase, requiring more and more ass-in-chair time every year for responders and other professions.  A great deal of training programs we see out there still seem to be holding out for the sake of traditional delivery styles, much to the detriment of our learners.  Why?  Designing traditional lecture-based learning is easy to do!  Figure out what people need to learn, develop content, slap together some PowerPoint, and voila!  Hell, even I’m guilty.

The fact of the matter is that we all know this is wrong.  Yes, it’s easy to do on our end, but the value and impact of the learning is pretty low.  People don’t want to be lectured to for hours on end.  We know that learning is most effective when we mix things up and when we increase interaction.  One of the best ways of engaging learners effectively is through scenario-based learning.

Now I’m not just talking about using a scenario at the end of the course to see if people can apply what they’ve learned over the past two days.  Yes, scenarios can be used as a test of sorts, but they are most effective for actual learning.  So when should you use scenarios?  Why not start the course with one?  It immediately gets people thinking, which is a good thing especially with an 8 am start time to the course.   If you use a lot of scenarios in a course, can they all be related?  Sure.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It all depends on what the purpose of the scenario is.  In training responders, threading a common scenario through a course is usually helpful.  Scenarios can get complicated when we need to establish a common understanding of what is going on, where it is, what resources are available, etc.  As such, it helps to use the same foundational scenario throughout the course (or at least regularly revisit it), and continue to introduce new problems or a different focus based upon the path of the training.  Using a common foundational scenario saves time so you don’t have to start anew introducing all new information each time and it keeps learners comfortable.  That said, it may occasionally be valuable to change things up a bit.

Do you need to use HSEEP to develop course scenarios?  No.  While these aren’t exercises in the strictest sense, we can benefit considerably from many of the principles and concepts of HSEEP.  Develop what you need to give learners the information they need to participate and the information you and/or other instructors need to properly facilitate and evaluate.

Adult learners like to be challenged.  Lecturing them for hours on end will only challenge their ability to not fall asleep – which may only be accomplished by their challenge for a new high score on the new app they just put on their phone.  The best way to challenge adult learners is to give them problems to solve.  A well written scenario will help introduce these problems in a framework which is both familiar and challenging to them.  Depending on how the scenario is provided, such as a compelling background story or use of video, learners will establish an emotional connection to the scenario which prompts a visceral desire to solve these problems.  Even one scenario is powerful and can prompt a lot of interaction.  It can prompt individual responses to questions, group discussions, and group collaborations.

Finally, don’t forget to evaluate both your learners and the scenario itself.  At the conclusion of each scenario conduct a hotwash and feedback session with learners to discuss what they accomplished and possible areas for improvement.  Also be sure to gain feedback from them and other instructors on how well the scenario worked and what can be improved upon.

Just like any other aspect of instructional design, the integration of scenarios can be time consuming but it’s an investment that will pay off.  To capitalize on the value of your scenarios, make sure the activities and expected outcomes of each scenario are associated with the learning objectives of the course and engage learners to the proper degree (i.e. the proper level of Bloom’s Taxonomy).  Yes, scenarios also take a fair amount of class time to execute.  That time needs to be well accounted for in your instructional design and course planning.  However, if properly designed, learners can learn just as much content if not more through interactive scenarios as compared to lecture-based training.

What types of scenarios have you integrated into courses?  How did learners respond to them?  How can we do a better job of integrating more scenario-based learning into our courses?

Need help designing scenario-based learning?  Let EPS help!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

WWW.EPSLLC.BIZ

Scenario-based Learning in Emergency Services – Success, how to, and the need for more!

Throughout all professions and specialties within the broad category of public safety and emergency services, we go through a lot of training.  Training within these various professions has become a profession itself, with many individuals, myself included, spending much of their career as trainers.  Through the vast quantity and variety of training we’ve received, we see many examples of training across the whole spectrum of quality and effectiveness and have endeavored to improve upon training and increase learner retention.

My Experiences

Much of the training that is most memorable to members of the public safety community is that which is hands-on.  Three classes in particular that stand out to me are the New York State Mask Confidence course, the DHS-sponsored Incident Response to Terrorist Bombings (IRTB) course conducted at the New Mexico Energetic Materials Research and Training Center (EMRTC), and the DHS-sponsored Enhanced Incident Management/Unified Command course conducted at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX).

I attended the Mask Confidence Course about 15 years ago when I was active in the fire service.  Course instruction was led by Chuck, a well-respected fire officer in Central New York and an outstanding fire instructor (who, a number of years later, worked for me as an adjunct).  The premise of the course is for participants to become confident in their own abilities and limitations while wearing self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).  Much of the course was conducted under blackout conditions, either in a darkened room or wearing a blackout mask, so you had to learn everything by touch – while wearing bulky firefighting gloves.  The course started simply, with a timed donning of all gear and SCBA in a darkened gymnasium; and ended with much more complexity several sessions later by navigating a dark, smoke-filled maze on your hands and knees, sometimes having to remove (then re-don) the SCBA pack to fit through tight spaces, all while still ensuring that you can breathe through the mask.  The course certainly increased my confidence in wearing SCBA and gave me important lessons learned which I was able to apply in fire operations later.

The IRTB course was an excellent program which instructed participants on the chemistry and physics of explosives – including those in common industrial and military use, as well as improvised devices – first in a classroom environment then in a field lab where we had the opportunity to see these explosives in action first hand.  The class was fun and insightful, but rigorous and more cerebral than expected.  As with many DHS consortium programs, the EMRTC has its own course managers and draws on expertise from around the nation to aid in instruction.

The Enhanced Incident Command/Unified Command course included a review of ICS concepts – mostly those at the ‘intermediate’ level, with emphasis on the management of a Type III (extended) incident and the necessity of transitioning to the formal planning process within ICS.  Learning was reinforced through participants taking on roles in an ICS structure and being challenged by a computer-based simulation.  Similar to the EMRTC course, this program drew upon the expertise of instructors from around the country.

Why Scenario-based Learning Works

Why do these three courses stand out for me?  Certainly they are topics of interest and had great instruction.  That alone should help anyone remember some of the course content, but these shine well above others.  Because they were hands-on?  Certainly Mask Confidence was hands-on, but to maintain safety, IRTB was mostly hands-off – literally.  They didn’t actually let us touch any of the explosives.  The TEEX course gave us a computer-based simulation, which is only somewhat hands-on.  So what was it that made these programs stick with me?  The commonality of these programs is that they were scenario-based.

In each course we first learned foundational material through traditional didactic instruction.  Certainly, the use of examples, pictures, and video enhanced our learning.  After the didactic portions, we were then challenged with a series of scenarios, each different from the previous and with increasing complexity.  Mask Confidence was largely an individual course – intended to build your own skills and confidence with your own life-sustaining equipment in adverse conditions.  While IRTB provided a group learning environment, we didn’t necessarily work together to solve problems; rather we were posed with scenarios to examine, akin to an amateur forensic level, to evaluate cause and effect.  The Enhanced Incident Command/Unified Command course was very much based upon individuals contributing to group success in solving problems.

Why is scenario-based learning so successful?  First, consider the graphic below.  We’ve all seen variations of this information.  The bottom line is that the increased degree to which a learner is actively engaged, the more information they will retain.  Many of the activities I described above for the three classes that stand out in my memory are contained in the 50%+ categories of retention.

Learner retention based upon delivery method

Learner retention based upon delivery method

How do we apply this concept to learning?  Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy is a regular reference I use when designing courses and can be a great starting point to determining if participants can benefit from scenario-based learning.  The essential meaning behind Bloom’s Taxonomy is: What level do participants need to be trained to?  In emergency services we often use the term ‘Awareness’ level training to identify a course at the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy – those are the levels where we need to remember or understand information, but aren’t required to use the information.  In an ‘Operations’ level training course, learners are expected to apply what they have learned and perhaps do a lower level of analysis.  In a ‘Technician’ level course, higher levels of analysis as well as evaluation and creation are often expected as learner outcomes.  Compare the terms from the Bloom’s Taxonomy graphic below to those on the right side of the learner retention graphic above and you will see some similarity.  The correlation is that if we expect learners to apply, analyze, evaluate, or create, we need to ensure a higher rate of retention – therefore scenario-based learning is often an ideal strategy.

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy

How to Integrate Scenario-based Learning

Integrating activities into training courses can be tricky.  There are a great number of ‘training games’ out there – (Amazon has a huge listing of books on the subject), but every activity in a course has to be meaningful and drive toward one or more course objectives.  We’ve all seen gratuitous activities integrated into courses.  While some of these may be great, they do nothing to help us achieve the course objectives.  Also, simply having activities does not make a course scenario-based.  To achieve this, you need to include one or more scenarios.  Make sense?

The Bing dictionary defines ‘scenario’ as:

Definition of scenario (n)

  • sce·nar·i·o
  • [ sə nárree ō ]
  1. possible situation: an imagined sequence of possible events, or an imagined set of circumstances
  2. plot outline: an outline of the plot of a play or opera
  3. screenplay: a screenplay for a movie

We develop scenarios for exercises all the time, so when trying to integrate a scenario into a training course, just consider it a miniature version of an exercise.

First – where to start?  As mentioned earlier, a scenario must be associated with one or more learning (course) objectives.  It also must have (enabling) objectives of it’s own.  In other words, what are the expected outcomes of participating in the scenario for the learner?  Perhaps you want your learners to create an Incident Action Plan (course objective).  Scenario-based learning is great for this.  First, I would use didactic instruction to review the planning process and the tools (ICS forms) associated with this.  Then you can assign roles (within an ICS structure) and provide a scenario to help facilitate learning.  The scenario should generally be realistic, although you can always put a fun twist on it by using a zombie attack or some such thing.  This however, can be distracting – so you are better off sticking with something realistic and familiar to the learners.  HazMat incidents tend to work well as scenarios across the nation.  Add context by including detail – fixed facility or in transit (road?  rail?).  Time of day, day of the week, weather.  What were the immediate impacts?  What are the current threats?  The same concepts can be applied for something more hands-on, such as for water rescue training or a hostage negotiation training.

You have a choice of either placing the scenario in a location in which the learners are familiar (they know the roads, the resources, etc.), or providing a fictional location with supplemental information which they have to learn (maps, resource lists, etc.).  Both work with a fair amount of success, but you can be challenged if not all participants are familiar with the same area.  The HSEEP training course provides fictional jurisdictions I’ve used often for different training courses, as does FEMA and the EPA.  You can create a fictional jurisdiction yourself, but to do it right takes time and attention to detail.  Consider using a progressive scenario to facilitate several activities through the training program.

Be sure to give your participants clear instructions on what is expected of them.  Challenge them, but don’t frustrate them, which can impede learning.  Remember, this is NOT a formal HSEEP exercise as we know them.  Learners are not being tested, nor are policies, plans, or procedures.  You are providing a structured, experience-based learning environment.  Be sure they have the tools to succeed. With the Incident Action Planning scenario, an ICS Field Operations Guide (FOG) or text book guidance is a great reference for them.  Provide learners with the opportunity and a safe environment to ask questions, and even correct them if they stray too far from the desired path.  Remember – perfect practice makes perfect, so learners should be practicing ‘by the book’.

Finally, similar to exercises, hot wash the activity.  Ask learners how they feel the activity went.  What went well, what didn’t go so well?  What feedback do the instructors have?  While we aren’t testing learners in these scenarios, we should be evaluating them.  This open discussion feedback is important to their learning and can also help you improve your scenario for the next time.  The folks in TEEX actually capture video and audio of participants during activities which they use to help facilitate hot wash sessions.  This obviously takes time, equipment, and personnel which most don’t have available to them – but it’s great to experience.

Scenario-based learning takes a lot of preparation and forethought.  It also takes a lot of training time to implement.  When we’re fighting for training time and training dollars, we need to advocate for the value of scenario-based learning.  Make sure it’s done right, though… a poorly executed activity can have a negative impact on learning.

Scenario-based learning works.  There are best practices in the training of firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and dispatchers using scenarios.  They help learners ‘get their head into the task’, helping them bridge the mental gap between an activity and real-world application.  Consider how not only to integrate scenario-based training into your courses to reinforce learning, but also to substitute content we are currently delivering by other, less interactive means.

What successes have you found in scenario-based training?  What challenges have you encountered?  I’d like to hear from you.

 

Tim Riecker