I have been training for the Fire Service for around 6 months now on a part time basis and have experimented with several other learning theories in my practice. I began by conforming to the didactic methods, which actually appear to work well, largely I believe because that’s exactly what is expected by learners, the Socratic model of direct delivery achieved moderate to good results, however I cannot comment on the retention of that information months down the line. This Surface Learning is largely about memorising and reproducing facts when required, this suites the common end of course multi choice questionnaire.
I have been lucky enough to teach on a couple of refresher type courses where learners already hold the qualification, and therefore should have most of the key knowledge and competences. During these courses I have tried Constructivist theories, learning through play and simulation, recalling and building on previous knowledge. I have used Piagets learning through play theory, providing a class with the equipment and setting scenarios designed to let them play and experiment. This discovery process seems to wake up the class and bring all that previously learnt knowledge to the front of their minds, the class can be up to a good pass level before any input has even been given. I reinforce this throughout the day with plenty of experiential learning; this seems to work particularly well where new or unfamiliar equipment is involved. The hands on approach of trying stuff out works really well, particularly with older highly experienced learners. Overall Constructivist theories let the learners take ownership of their own learning which can only be a positive.
In future, longer courses I would like to introduce Social Constructivist theories, particularly Glaser’s ideas of teaching others and facilitating peer learning. There would be ample opportunity to try this during the heavier theoretical aspects such as illnesses and injuries in longer courses, three days plus, where small groups could prepare posters, mind maps or presentations to then deliver back to the group. As Firefighters always work in teams they would respond well to learning in teams, drawing on each other’s strengths and weaknesses, this seems logical as they are highly efficient team members and leaders in practice so why not learn in this fashion too?
There are a number of theories which, in my opinion wouldn’t work, however I will strive to test these in my practice to back up or discount my opinion. Revans concept of Action Learning sets would be difficult to facilitate in the time constraints and like Jensens theories would require some input on how to do the tasks i.e. reflect effectively, before learning could take place. I’m not sure the value of this would be evident enough to have the buy in from the learners. There are a number of other theories that suffer the same time constraint problems such as Meyer and Lands Threshold Theory, it would be difficult, although not impossible to identify what concepts, if any learners get stuck on. Although these may get done occasionally, the results as previously mentioned usually end up going with the learner back to station where they do not have access to high quality training rather than being used whilst at the training centre. Access to IT is problematic, with a typical classroom having one terminal for the teacher which is linked to a projector and smart board. Prof. Susan Greenfields idea of building Neural pathways using IT to give instant feedback such as games would be very difficult to facilitate. Previously, with different learners, this has worked well, I chose a leader and the class acted as a team, together they completed an online First Aid training game, Lifesaver which is a game in a film that gives instant feedback and encourages decision making (https://life-saver.org.uk/).
In conclusion there is a lot to be said for the traditional chalk and talk style adopted across the Fire Service, it does provide results however it is retention that we can’t be sure of at the moment. I was sceptical about even thinking about new theories let alone trying to begin with but so far, the changes and new approaches are being well received. My last cohort achieved an average of 95% on their assessment papers and all passes in their practical. Previously I have seen an average of 80%, this is a significant increase in results. I would be interested to hear the opinions of more senior teachers and what their view is on alternative methods or if they have a view at all.