Why Objectives Matter in EMS Education

Author: Douglas Richardson, Paramedic, BS-PSM

If you are expecting a blog post on how to write EMS training objectives well, you will be disappointed with today’s post. What I think we need to discuss instead is not how to write objectives but rather why we write objectives, how to use objectives, and how important they are to us as EMS educators.

With all that being said, I will quickly offer a couple exceptional sources if you’re looking for help on how to write objectives:

  • Teaching EMS: An Educators Guide to Improved EMS Instruction by Parvensky is a great resource for learning how to write objectives.
  • Blanchard and Thacker’s book Effective Training: Systems, Strategies, and Practices has an entire section devoted to the topic.

And with that let’s get back to today’s business on why we write objectives. I would argue that knowing how to use objectives is as important, and possibly more important than knowing how to write objectives. For classes we create and write, objectives serve four important functions.

  1. Objectives Outline the Curriculum

First, objectives are the outline of what we want to teach—or, more appropriately, what we want our students to learn. Any presentation we write should begin with a list of what knowledge we want our students to gain or what skills we want them to be proficient at when the class is finished. That list is our objectives.

  1. Objectives Provide a Map for Course Development

While we are preparing the training program we can refer back to our objectives. We can ask whether the material we are putting into our class “fits” with the objectives. If it doesn’t, do we want to remove that material, do we want to modify an objective, or possibly add another objective?

  1. Objectives Serve as a Check

When we have the presentation completed, the objectives will serve as a check. Have we addressed all the objectives? Is there material in the presentation that was not addressed in the objective? If the answer to either of those questions is no, we have more work to do.

  1. Objectives Define the Needed Evaluation

Every class we teach must have some evaluation tool that goes with the class. Without evaluation, there is no demonstrable way to show if the training was useful and valuable. The most important aspect of the evaluation tool—whether it is a written test, an oral exam, or a practical exercise—is that it must relate back to the objectives. You must test to the objectives. If you are evaluating knowledge or skills that were not identified in your objectives then, very simply, you are not testing appropriately.

So, here is my challenge to the EMS instructors reading this: for your next class, think about your objectives.

  • Are they a good outline of what you want to teach?
  • Was your presentation developed with the objectives in mind?
  • Does the finished presentation fulfill all of the objectives?
  • Does the instrument you are using to evaluate your students, test the knowledge or skills identified in those objectives?

And for one final thought, the man who “wrote the book” about educational objectives had this to say, “If you give each learner a copy of your objectives, you may not have to do much else.” (Mager, 1962).

While I am not sure we need to be that obsessive in writing objectives, there is no doubt that as EMS educators we need to pay them due respect.

What are your thoughts on the importance of objectives? Feel free to share by posting a comment below or sending me a quick email at douglas.richardson@medic-ce.com.

Reference

Mager, R.F. (1984). Preparing instructional objectives. (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: David S. Lake.

 

Douglas began his career in public safety as a paid-on-call firefighter with the Havana City Fire Department in Illinois. He attended EMT-Basic training in 1992 at Spoon River College where he is now an adjunct professor of prehospital medicine. He has had his paramedic license since 1994 and has been a lead instructor since 1999. During his career with the fire service, Douglas was an instructor with the Illinois Fire Service Institute specializing in rescue disciplines. He retired as a captain after serving for 20 years. While with the fire department, Douglas also worked full-time for Mason County EMS, an ALS ambulance service in downstate Illinois, as the EMS educator. Douglas received his bachelor’s degree in public safety management from Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio, and is working on his master’s in public safety administration through Lewis University.