National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Virtual Delivery of NWCG Training Courses

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Course Delivery Methods

The description of delivery methods for NWCG training courses is given in NWCG Standards for Course Delivery, PMS 901-1. Most courses are designed to be delivered as Self-Directed (Online) training or Instructor-Led Training (ILT). Some courses are Blended (designed to employ a hybrid of these methods).

Self-Directed (Online) NWCG courses are specifically designed for distance learning delivery. They are asynchronous, in that the student does not engage in real -time interaction with other students or an instructor.

Instructor-Led Training (ILT) is usually conducted in a classroom, face to face setting. It is usually synchronous, in that students have real time interaction with other students and with instructors.

Course Availability

NWCG training courses are available from the NWCG Training Catalog. Courses are available by download or by order from the National Fire Equipment System. See the NWCG Training Catalog for full information.

RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR) courses are available from the WFSTAR Catalog.

Virtual Course Delivery

There are circumstances where it is beneficial to deliver training virtually, as distance learning. Virtual delivery can be used to take advantage of emerging technology, reduce travel and training expense, assist with cadre staffing, and allow for safety mitigations during periods of inclement weather or infectious disease. Many NWCG training courses can be delivered in this manner.

Self-Directed (Online) courses are designed for virtual delivery. These courses are currently available in the NWCG Training Catalog in the Self-Directed (Online) category.

ILT courses can also be delivered to a decentralized audience as Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT). However, since most ILT was designed for a physical classroom environment, delivery must sometimes be modified to ensure that instructional objectives are met when presented in a virtual classroom environment.

Virtual Delivery Platforms

Many options exist for virtual delivery of training courses. Video conferencing platforms are commonly used and readily available from the internet. Learning Management Systems (LMS) or learning portals can be valuable tools for the virtual delivery of training. This is particularly true for progress tracking or activities such as questionnaires or quizzes, which require students to submit responses and be graded. The Wildland Fire Learning Portal (WFLP) is available specifically for training related to wildland fire. There are tutorials available in the WFLP that provide more information on the activities and resources available for virtual delivery.

Modern productivity software and office suites have online tools such as forms, presentation software, and basic website creation. These can be applied to virtual course delivery.

Many agencies provide access and support for particular platforms. Course coordinators and instructors should follow agency direction when choosing which platform to use.

There are a variety of available methods for delivering an ILT as a VILT. The chosen configuration depends on the content of the training material as well as the tools and technology available for any particular session.

The simplest configuration for VILT is a web conferencing platform (webinar) to present the course material in a virtual environment, replicating the classroom version of the course hour for hour. This preserves the synchronous nature of instructor/student interaction. It works well for course material that is primarily knowledge-based (cognitive).

Other VILT configurations may take more work for a coordinator and cadre to implement than hosting a webinar.

One option is to use the tools available in the virtual environment to present the material more effectively. Some material can be taken out of the synchronous instruction and presented asynchronously. This allows for more instructor engagement and concept application during the synchronous sessions (this is often called flipping the classroom).

For example, if an ILT course was designed to have videos shown in class, these can be given to the students to watch prior to the VILT session. This presents the material in a more engaging manner and reduces the time necessary for synchronous interaction while still covering the required content.

There are opportunities and accepted academic community practices to utilize VILT for more complex educational outcomes. Effective instructional methods, in combination with virtual tools, allow the virtual environment to emulate the desired course objectives which focus on skills such as communication and leadership.

In selecting asynchronous learning methods, collaborative tools such as conversations, forums, and similar interactive tools are used to preserve learning outcomes designed for more traditional synchronous approaches that demand a higher level of interaction. For cognitive learning goals not requiring interaction, asynchronous tools such as assignments, quizzes, and videos are appropriate. 

Some material cannot be converted to a purely virtual format (as described in Fidelity to Course Design and Materials below). In these cases, a course configuration called Satellite Delivery can be used. This is a hybrid of virtual and ILT. It can be a useful way to ensure that the students receive the hands-on and interpersonal interactions necessary, while still limiting travel and exposure.

Virtual delivery is usually not an effective substitute for ILT when the course material demands physical hand-on training (psycho-motor) such as tool use. VILT cannot be used for required field training components, such as those in S-130 and S-212; these must still be completed as in-person field experiences.

Asynchronous, self-directed content should not be the only substitute for activities that require interaction with instructors and/or other students, such as group exercises or when the Instructor Guide highlights a need for discussion and cadre feedback to student responses. A synchronous webinar can generate this type of interaction, as can other distance learning tools such as chat forums and discussion boards.

When asynchronous delivery is used for portions of the course content that are traditionally done as synchronous in the standard ILT courses, the overall amount of time that the students are exposed to and engaged with the course content should still adhere to the course-specific standards given in the NWCG Training Catalog.

The technology used for virtual delivery can take time and practice to implement effectively. The time needed to implement the technology should not detract from the time the students and instructors are engaged with the course material.

NWCG Training Course Completion Certificates, PMS 921-1, may be issued for all training course deliveries, including virtual deliveries, that meet course-specific delivery requirements and the delivery requirements stated in the NWCG Standards for Course Delivery, PMS 901-1.

These are provided as samples of how VILT can be conducted with the intention of showing possible configurations for delivery.

RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR) – A lead instructor selects WFSTAR modules for each of the required core components and sends the video links to each student to watch on their own. The instructor also sends links to online policy and safety documents for the students to read on their own. A webinar is then held where the lead instructor facilitates a discussion according to the Module Tools provided with each WFSTAR module. Each student then conducts the required hands-on fire shelter deployment with someone at their home unit who meets the unit instructor qualifications requirements for RT-130. The total hours each student spends watching videos, on a webinar, or doing hands-on skill development meets the agency requirements for delivery.

S-131, Firefighter Type 1 Training – A course coordinator elects to deliver this course over three weeks. The first two weeks have one hour of asynchronous flipped content, watching the videos from the course PowerPoint presentation. An instructor-moderated discussion board is used to comment on the content of the videos. This is followed by a three hour webinar to present the instructional units and conduct unit exercises. The final week consists of a series of virtual sand tables, using an online platform for simulation delivery. The course coordinator creates an online form out of the final exam and proctors it via webinar.

S-203, Introduction to Incident Information – A course coordinator creates a page on an agency-approved website to host the course content and session information. The website is modified during delivery to allow students to obtain the limited access material when called for, including a large folder of scenario information that is used for a final simulation.

S-211, Portable Pumps and Water Use – A course coordinator uses the WFLP as their LMS to assist with delivery and completion tracking of curriculum. The Student Workbook is made available as a PDF. The instruction is provided as a webinar, with small group exercises conducted as a series of separate smaller webinars. The unit review and final exam are set up as activities in the WFLP, enabling the students to complete them remotely. To limit the potential spread on an infection, the cadre schedules four iterations of the field day over the course of a week, so that each iteration only has six students attending, which enables them to practice social distancing measures.

Get To Know the Technology

  • Virtual meeting platforms work well if the cadre has a basic understanding of the capabilities and functionality. Features such as raising hands, polling, chat boxes, and breakout rooms are useful.
  • Ensure familiarity with microphone, speaker, and video settings prior to starting the webinar.
  • Develop an understanding of the platform’s capabilities, technical requirements, and use prior to, not during, course delivery, and be prepared to assist participants with basic troubleshooting.
  • Prior to the session, test out the platform and process with instructor cadre.  All instructors should test run their assigned course sections.

Instructor and Coordinator Responsibilities

  • Organize course materials for virtual delivery.
  • Identify expectations of students in a virtual course setting.
  • Manage the virtual delivery platform (for example, watch the chat discussion for questions and notify the instructor).
  • Ensure that participants are engaged and have a chance to contribute.
  • Call for breaks at appropriate intervals.
  • Collect feedback from audience on what worked and didn’t, both for the content and the delivery.

Consider Delivery Time Frames

  • Participating in a training course for an eight-hour workday is a different experience virtually than in an in-person classroom. Coordinators and instructors should consider breaking courses up into smaller components and delivering them over a longer time period.

Ensure the Platform is Working

  • If using virtual meeting platforms, ensure all participants can hear and see others.
  • If using voice-only communication with individuals independently accessing web-based materials, ensure all participants can hear the instructor and view the materials.

Share Ground Rules with Participants

  • Minimize distractions and bandwidth by closing unneeded programs.
  • Minimize body movements (movement can affect bandwidth use).
  • Anticipate a slower pace because of possible communication delays.
  • Bring attention to self by signaling with hand, then pause before continuing.
  • Mute audio connection when not speaking.
Term Definition
Asynchronous Training where the students and/or instructors are not interacting with each other in real time. Typically, the students are accessing learning resources at a time of their choosing.
Audio Conferencing Synchronous communication between the instructor and learners using two-way audio. The instructor and learners connect to an audio bridge using either their telephone or via the internet using an integrated PC microphone or the microphone on a webcam. Often referred to as a conference call.
Audio Recordings Pre-recorded audio of the instructor or learning material. Typically downloaded or streamed from the Internet, often referred to as Podcasts.
Blended Training that includes instructor-led and self-directed (online) components. This is sometimes called hybrid training.
Discussion Boards A web-based online forum where instructors can post questions or comments for the learners; and the learners can respond to the instructors’ questions or post comments/questions for other learners. These are typically asynchronous.
Distance Learning

A system and a process that connects learners with distributed learning resources. While distance learning takes a wide variety of forms, all distance learning is characterized by:

  • Separation of place and/or time between instructor and learner, among learners, and/or between learners and learning resources; and
  • Interaction between the learner and the instructor, among learners and/or between learner and learning resources conducted through one or more media; use of electronic media is not necessarily required; and
  • The learner is an individual or group that seeks a learning experience offered by a provider. The provider is an organization that creates the learning opportunity. The provider approves and monitors the quality of the learning experience. Providers include schools, colleges and universities, business and industry, professional associations, labor unions, government agencies, the military and other public and private organizations.
Documents Written material, including traditional printed text on paper as well as PDF files and electronic reader books or documents. Distinguishing characteristic is that the learner reads the text, but there are no other electronic interactions between the learner and the content.
Flipped Classroom The flipped classroom is a training model and a type of blended learning in which asynchronous content is delivered, often online, before a synchronous training. This allows for enhanced discussion and practical engagement when students and cadre interact in real time.
Instructor-Led training (ILT) Training that is delivered by an instructor in a classroom or field setting. Classroom instructor-led training may be delivered in person in a physical classroom or virtually using a video- or audio-conferencing platform.
Learning Management System A learning management system (LMS) is a computer-based operating system used by training organizations to register, track and monitor activity in the training function. LMSs have evolved from earlier systems to now include course and student monitoring, resource management, assessments, completion rates and more.
Learning Portal An evolution of the Learning Management System, a Learning Portal is an integrated website for training administration and learner activities.
Limited Access Material Course material that students cannot access until it is made available by instructors or an automated system such as a Learning Portal. Some examples include exercises, quizzes, or simulation material.
Online Training This term is commonly used to describe any training that employs the internet as a medium of instruction. There are other instances when the term is used to refer specifically to asynchronous Self-Directed (Online) training.
Open Access Material Course materials that are available to students without restriction.
Remote Delivery Synchronous distance learning where students participate individually or with small groups of other students at the same physical location. Qualified instructors are not physically present with each student/group.
Satellite Delivery Synchronous distance learning where students participate individually or with small groups of other students at the same physical location.  An instructor who is qualified as a Unit Instructor (or higher) is physically available to interact with each student/group. This delivery configuration allows for inclusion of hands-on training. Note that the use of the word 'Satellite' here does not refer to the means of providing internet connectivity.
Self-Directed (Online) Training (usually online) that is self-directed by the student. Asynchronous learning activities that the learner accesses using a web browser. The learner manages the timing of content delivery. A key characteristic is that in addition to reading or watching content, the learner interacts with the content. For example, knowledge checks may periodically be presented as part of the training delivery to assess the learners understanding of concepts. This type of training is often referred to in other terms, such as Web -Based training, e-learning, on-demand learning, or self-paced learning.
Synchronous Training where the students and instructors interact with each other at the same time.
Video Conferencing Synchronous communication between the instructor and learners using just two-way audio and video.
Video Recordings Pre-recorded audio and video of the instructor or learning material. Often streamed from the internet, but sometimes available to download. Videos are typically used asynchronously, but there are circumstances when synchronous video may also be used.
Virtual Classroom The learning environment learners join to engage in a Virtual Instructor Led course. In this online environment, students and instructors can interact with each other and engage in learning using their computer’s microphone and web camera. Virtual classrooms may also include chat and online discussion boards, which enable written communication between students and instructors.
Virtual Instructor-led training (VILT) A type of ILT that is delivered as Distance Learning on an online platform, which is sometimes called a Virtual Classroom.
Web Chat A synchronous discussion where the instructor and learners use their web browsers to access a shared web page, or “chat room,” to interact using just text messages.
Webinar A web-based conferencing application used as a virtual classroom to broadcast content live via the Internet using audio, video and screen sharing. The instructor uses a webcam or integrated PC camera/microphone to broadcast the audio and video. Most webinar applications include additional features such as chat, file distribution, and polling. At a minimum, the instructor delivers instruction via audio and computer screen sharing. Webinars are often recorded as well to be used later as an asynchronous video recording.



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