Embracing Remote Learning in the Height of a Global Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has significantly impacted the training and exercise world, forcing many organizations to transition to online mediums, accelerating the evolution of e-learning. Prior to the pandemic, virtual learning made up approximately 10% of the MDERS training program. At the onset of the pandemic, 90% of the MDERS sponsored/funded training was either canceled or postponed. The MDERS Training and Exercise (T&E) Program shifted gears and sought virtual learning opportunities that enabled collaborative, interactive social learning experiences while still offering the same quality of instruction as one would find in an in-person instructor-led course. The T&E Program set its sights on cross-disciplinary training that supported the MDERS strategic goals and objectives.

At the onset of the pandemic, the MDERS T&E Program quickly pivoted to designing and executing virtual tabletop exercises (TTX) and workshops to accommodate social distancing requirements.  Since September 2020, the MDERS exercise planning team has successfully delivered several virtual TTXs to the ERS stakeholder community, including fire/EMS and public health.

In the last 15 months, MDERS has collaborated with Harvard’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) to provide two four-part seminar series focused on various aspects of meta-leadership, including negotiation and conflict resolution. MDERS and NPLI staff are currently in the final planning phase to deliver a third four-part seminar series highlighting transformational connectivity to foster high performance in the workplace.

MDERS teamed up with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Short Programs to offer a two-part instructor-led online crisis management and resiliency training to the ERS stakeholder community. These courses provided ERS stakeholders with the knowledge and tools necessary to benchmark, assess, and improve their organization’s business continuity, disaster recovery, and crisis management programs.

Partnering with Antioch University, MDERS provided a series of online courses highlighting the impacts of climate change and what the emergency response community can do to become more resilient. MDERS joined forces with the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) Speakers Bureau to deliver training to ERS stakeholders to help them navigate the many complexities of critical incident stress management and crisis intervention.

Capitalizing on the momentum gained from the virtual TTX’s and leadership seminar series, the MDERS T&E Program launched its first-ever virtual Emergency Response Symposium in May 2021. Leveraging a virtual conferencing platform, MDERS delivered an immersive and engaging experience to a wider audience, promoting inclusivity in an online environment.

The transition to virtual training and exercises is not without its challenges, and each instance has allowed the T&E Program to adjust and improve future offerings. While it will not completely replace face-to-face instruction, e-learning is here to stay, and the MDERS community will continue to adapt.

For more information about the MDERS Training & Exercise Program, please contact Training and Exercise Program Manager Nicole Markuski at Nicole.Markuski1@Maryland.gov.