I will be leading a crew of Scouts to Northern Tier in July for a week of paddling and portaging canoes over the lakes of the North Woods in Canada. We will be in the back country for six days and the only means of communication will be a satellite phone for emergencies. Due to the remoteness and lengthy evacuation time for a medical emergency, adult leaders are required to complete a Wilderness First Aid certification.
I attended my certification class in late March and was completely surprised by the experience. I showed up expecting two days of lecture (death by PowerPoint), followed by the dreaded paper certification test. You know… the multiple choice test where you need an 80% or higher to pass and receive your certification—not all that different from the exams we see for corporate training programs.
However, our instructor had a different approach since he truly believed in learning by doing. He flipped the course upside down and we experienced 16 hours of simulation-based training versus classroom. We partnered up in small groups, and had to treat wilderness medical victims through scenarios based on what we learned from some initial upfront training in the classroom. It sounds simple, but the twist was every time the instructor yelled out “AWWW GEEZE” an unexpected emergency was added, forcing us to think quickly or our feet. We all became very nervous and on edge as we anticipated the next scenario and the next “AWWW GEEEZE.”
Finally, after two days of intense training we sat down to take our written exams to score our 80% and claim our certifications. As we reviewed notes from class, the instructor informed us that there were lost hikers on the local trails. He asked us if we would help look for them until local authorities arrived—the sun was starting to set and the temperature was dropping.
Being good scout leaders (and seeing this as a way to avoid a final exam), we split ourselves into teams, grabbed our packs and headed off down the trails. No more than 10 minutes into the woods, my team came across a woman sitting in the trees who was apparently going into shock. She was covered with blood due to a missing finger.
The team sprang into action and started assessing the injuries and treating the wounds—our knowledge gained over the previous 16 hours guided our actions and decisions. While we were treating the female victim, another team found an older gentleman who was disoriented and yelling for his granddaughter. Shortly after that, another person came running out of the woods with a head-injury. While one team quickly worked on that victim, one of my classmates fell to the ground with chest pains showing signs of a heart attack.
At this point, we had four victims all being treated and one team searching for a lost girl in the woods. What did we get ourselves into? Where were the local authorities? AWWW GEEZE, this was our final exam! The instructor staged the entire scenario, including our classmate that dropped with the heart attack. The little girl did not exist either, we missed the fact that our victim with the head injury was showing signs of being disoriented and was speaking incoherently. It was the ultimate, simulation-based final exam, that completely caught us off guard with scenarios, and we had to rely 100% on what we learned in our training. I was even required to search and find the missing finger to bring back with the victim. Apparently, the instructor left the fake finger in his other bag.
This was some of the most intense and highly effective training I have ever experienced. I returned home that evening exhausted and overwhelmed by the events. It was so real that it required some time to come down from the rush of adrenalin.
When I returned to the office, I told this story to my team and challenged them to start looking at how we develop and deliver training differently. My Deltek University team takes great pride in being Thought Leaders in Talent & Learning but with such a new appreciation for simulation based training, there is so much more we can do in this space.
I’m convinced there is no way my Wilderness First Aid class could have learned the necessary skills to pass the final exam or, more importantly—actually treat a victim in the wilderness—if the class was lecture-based. Too many skills & leadership development programs never leave the classroom and are no more than a quick “death by PowerPoint.” It’s impossible to learn the skills unless you are put into a situation where you need to be able to respond to the unexpected. Teach your employees, and then put them in an environment where they need to apply what they learned.
When I enter the woods with the scouts this summer, I will have the confidence and skills to treat a medical emergency thanks to an instructor who was willing to take a different approach to delivering the training. Hopefully there will be no injuries, but I am definitely prepared to handle any emergency that I’m presented with. Every learning organization needs to have their “AWWW GEEZE” moment and challenge the traditional training delivery approach.
So, start with fewer classrooms with PowerPoint slides, and head down the hiking trail looking for victims.