Online Paramedic Education: Does It Really Work?

Online education is not new, but it has been slow to be embraced by vocational training schools, especially for the Fire and EMS industry. Students enroll in online school for the increased flexibility and cost savings offered by doing coursework at home – or the station!

So how can such a hands-on discipline successfully be taught from miles away without the instructor and student in the same room?

Short answer: It’s not easy, and not just anyone can do it. But a dedicated and specialized school can successfully teach the paramedic program in an online hybrid model without sacrificing quality or standards.

But if you clicked the link, you probably want the longer answer, right?

A hybrid model of vocational education, where the majority of didactic lecture takes place online, but laboratory training happens in-person, has been shown to be successful in terms of student outcomes and satisfaction (Potter, 2015).

Online lecture has been successful in college “academic” programs for years and adapting that model to EMS has been challenging but rewarding. The key seems to be in differentiating what can be successfully done online, and what absolutely must be done in a laboratory or clinical setting. To this end, course design and instructor involvement in the online modules are absolutely critical to student success and engagement (Kayaduman & Demirel, 2019).

This is where the School of EMS comes in. Distance education is not simply taking a successful syllabus and moving it online. While there is little formal research into course design of online vocational programs, School of EMS has been testing and fine-tuning our hybrid model since 2017. The sudden increase in online education due to COVID restrictions has tested our model and we are proud of our results.

But let’s not undersell the value of a good instructor. We don’t just use an off-the-shelf product – our lectures are recorded by our own instructors. Our team goes through extensive training not only in EMS education but in online education as well. Each cohort of students is assigned a team of instructors to ensure their needs are addressed and to uphold school policy. Instructor engagement and comfort level with teaching online go hand-in-hand. (Borup & Evmenova, 2019)!

With proper tools, training, and technique, an instructor can “read the room” online just as in a traditional lecture hall. Discussions and pop quizzes can be as effective as the “round robin” so many of us participated in in school. Pausing and re-watching lectures takes the place of zoning out in class.

And finally, proper timing and structure of in-person laboratory and clinical sessions ties everything together the same way it would happen in an in-person setting. By dedicating classroom time to hands-on skills practice and scenario training, students get to use what they learned in the online setting. We place these sessions at strategic points in the program, rather than waiting until the end. Much like the current versions of NAEMT and AHA classes that focus on breakout groups throughout the program, we place our lab modules in the middle of the most difficult sections of the class. Over time we have identified two schedules that have the most success. We will visit those and more in our next article!

This is what we do. If you are interested in finding out how SOE can save your department money on backfill and PTO, feel free to contact us by clicking here.

About the author: Robert Stanley, MPH, NRP is the director of education and training for the School of EMS. He comes from a long line of Fire and EMS officers and is eager to help take the “family business” into the new millennium. Robert has a passion for Public Health, EMS and Educational research and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. with a focus on career and technical education in the online setting.



Borup, J. & Evmenova, A.S. (2019). The effectiveness of professional development in overcoming obstacles to effective online instruction in a college of education. Online Learning, 23(2), 1-20. https://doi:10.24059/olj.v23i2.1468

Kayaduman, H., & Demirel, T. (2019). Investigating the concerns of first-time distance education instructors. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(5).

Potter, J., (2015). Applying a hybrid model: Can it enhance student learning outcomes? Journal of Instructional Pedagogies, 17(11).