Online Learning: The New Generation

Paul J. Antonellis Jr. presents a case study of a partnership between a college and the National Fire Academy.


Case Study: Empire State College & NFA Partnership If you have spent any time around the fire service, you have heard how we resist change. It has to do with our traditions, the way we have always done things. The unknown is always worse than the known. However, the fire service is slowly...


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Nothing in the fire service should be considered stagnant. Seeing this changing field of education, the National Fire Academy entered into a partnership with Empire State College in 2005 to lead the conversion of 13 courses. Since 1997, the National Fire Academy DDP has provided seven colleges with 13 upper-level courses. The seven colleges include the University of Cincinnati, Western Illinois University, Cogswell College, University of Maryland, University of Memphis, Western Oregon University and Empire State College. Each college was responsible for developing courses via hiring subject matter experts and content reviewers.

Being on the adjunct faculty at Empire State College, I was selected to be a subject-matter expert on behalf of the fire science program. Nicola Martinez, director of curriculum and instructional design group, at Empire State College, was the project coordinator overseeing the development of all six courses. The 2005 pilot program would only include the following courses: community and fire threat; fire dynamics; incendiary fire analysis and investigation; applications of fire research; fire protection structures and system design; managerial issues in hazardous materials.

On April 29, 2005, more than 25 people from around the country met at the National Fire Academy to begin the process of developing the six online courses. The group selected me to be the team leader to develop the Applications of Fire Research course. Dr. Denis Onieal, superintendent of the National Fire Academy, said during the meeting, "This room contains experts from around the country...this pilot program will have a significant impact on the fire service for years to come."

It was decided that all of the sponsoring colleges had to complete their courses by July 15, 2005. After the National Fire Academy reviewed the course for content, it would be evaluated against the government's Sharable Content Object References Model (SCORM) standards. SCORM is a technical specification that details how online training is developed and delivered to students.

One major challenge the development teams faced was developing an online course that would meet the needs of all seven schools' different philosophies, terms lengths and course management system capabilities. During the pilot program (Phase I) four out of six courses were successfully converted. As the team leader for Applications of Fire Research, my group was the first to complete the conversion and the first to receive SCORM compliance. During Phase II (2006) four out of nine courses have been successfully converted. The third development team has been hired and the process is progressing. Once the courses have received SCORM compliance, they are ready to be handed off to all seven colleges and universities.

Lessons Learned

This partnership has never been attempted at this level for online learning. The expected outcome from this process was an increase in learning effectiveness. According to Kaplan and Thomson, "We wanted to maximize the utilization of inquiry-based, collaborative and the discovery of learning activities tied directly to each student's professional experiences, as well as national standards, current trends and cutting-edge research. Additionally, we wanted to increase the student's satisfaction." The course was built to include teaching presence, internal consistency, use of sound cognitive enhancement strategies, strong visual appeal and immediacy of online resources.

It will likely take a few years to see the full impact of this project. It is my feeling that the National Fire Academy will be actively making online part of the two-week residence program. Local and state fire training academies will implement online learning, modeled after this partnership. Online learning is here and it is here to stay. Regardless of your rank or years in the fire service, online learning will impact you. More and more state fire academies will be moving forward with online programs. Now is the time for you to familiarize yourself with the benefits and challenges of online learning.


PAUL ANTONELLIS JR., MA, CEAP, CAS, is a 20-plus-year veteran of the fire service and has held various positions, including chief of department of the Salisbury, MA, Fire-Rescue Department. In addition, he has 11 years of law enforcement experience. Antonellis is on the adjunct faculty of the Fire Science Program at Empire State College and teaches graduate and undergraduate courses at three other colleges. He has lectured to emergency service providers nationally and internationally. Antonellis has authored and published more than 25 articles and two books; his latest book is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Firefighters: The Calls That Stick with You. He holds a master's degree in labor policy studies with a concentration in human resource management, a bachelor's degree in fire service administration, and associate's degrees in criminal justice and in fire science technology.