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By Lisa Montoya

When I began teaching EMS many years ago, I started my journey as many of you may have; I gained experience working in the field as a paramedic and brought that knowledge into the classroom to help mold the minds of future EMS providers. I remember how nervous I was to teach my first lecture. One of my co-workers gave me words of wisdom; you know more than they do, have confidence, and you’ll be just fine. I have to say those words of wisdom were far from the truth. I had a lot to learn about educating adults and had to study way more than I realized to become an effective educator. Let’s explore motivation and how it helps shape the type of educator we are. Be careful; this may be a revelation you didn’t realize you needed!

Intrinsic Motivation

female educator in front of whiteboard talks to adult students in chairsMotivation is not a constant. You can be motivated to read a novel while, at the same time, not be motivated to clean the kitchen. This article isn’t about motivation for chores but about being an educator. Intrinsic motivation is doing something simply because we want to. Did you become an educator simply because you wanted to? I hope you answered “yes,” but now I must take that a step further. Did you study education to ensure you were teaching your students based on Adult Learning Theories? Are you intrinsically motivated to learn how to educate?

My journey didn’t begin this way. After years of teaching the same way I was taught, I realized I needed to understand more about my craft. I wanted to perfect it. I decided to study education and finally learn what it meant to be an educator. I was not forced to study education. In fact, I was often asked what my return on investment was for pursuing my graduate degree. My answer was driven by my passion for learning how to teach adult learners properly. That was the return on my investment; it wasn’t for monetary gain (although let’s be real, I doubt I would do it for free). That is intrinsic motivation, and it changed my style of teaching and the type of educator I became. I also believe if we are intrinsically motivated, our students will be motivated to learn and master the material right along with us. Here are some theories to help engage our students and get them to invest in their learning process and turn it into an intrinsic motivation and not a means to an end but a genuine passion for becoming an EMT or PM. 

Andragogy in EMS Education

If you have spent any time in education, you have probably heard pedagogy many times. Pedagogy is related to children’s learning theories, whereas andragogy is learning theories related to adults. A few principles of andragogy are that learners need to know why they are learning something, they need to have prior experience, and they need to be self-directed learners.

  1. Learners Need to Know

    Adults need to know why it’s important to learn something. Do you explain to your students how each concept or topic relates to the overall picture? For example, why do they need to know about the sodium/potassium pump? I’m sure at no point will they think of the failed sodium/potassium pump while on scene of a hypoxic patient, so why invest the time teaching it to them? If we explain to them what happens to the pump when a patient is hypoxic, the concept will help them understand why the patient is presenting the way they are. If I’ve mentioned it once, I’ve mentioned it a million times: cells make up tissues, tissues make up organs, organs make up organ systems, and organ systems make up the organism. If the cells swell and burst, that creates the domino effect. Help them understand why they need to know it, and then test them on that knowledge each time you have a shock patient. That leads to the prior knowledge part of adult learning.

  2. Prior Experience

    Unfortunately, EMS students don’t have to take prerequisites like other allied health programs require. But that doesn’t mean we cannot prepare them before coming to lecture. Make sure that they have engaged with the textbook before coming to class so that they can pull from that knowledge and apply it to the topics you are covering that day. If they hear it for the first time when they sit in your lecture, they will miss out on the active learning activities you have created to help enhance what they already know.

  3. Self-Directed Learners

    Unlike children, adults are independent learners and need to be actively involved in the learning process. Pedagogy uses traditional lectures where the instructor spoon-feeds the information to the learner, and success can occur from minimal effort in the classroom. We must engage our students with active learning strategies such as discussions and participation with real-world applications.

These are just a few principles used in andragogy. We should not be relying on resources given to us by the publisher. They serve a purpose and are a good starting point, but the more you teach, you will begin to create activities that tackle the concepts students traditionally struggle with.

Extrinsic Motivation

two adult female medical students look through a notebook togetherYou may think one is better than the other at this point. This isn’t the case, but how it drives the way you approach education can make a difference in the outcome of your students. Extrinsic motivation is the “pursuit of an instrumental goal” (Reiss 2012, 152) – for example, money. We teach because it’s an easy part-time job. Or our students are in paramedic school because it’s a requirement to keep their job, vs. they are intrinsically motivated to learn how to become a paramedic because it’s what they have always wanted to do.

If our motivation is not geared toward perfecting the art of education, you may be using educational techniques that are not geared to help your adult students learn.


  1. Traditional lectures are a form of pedagogy where the presenter is known as the sage on the stage; it’s a method used by many new educators. This could be due to how it was modeled to them by their EMS instructor, or it’s what they see from their colleagues, and they are not aware of more effective delivery methods. Maybe they find it easier to simply speak for hours on end and not take the time to create engaging activities. Regardless of why they choose this method, it is not allowing students to be independent learners and responsible for their own learning.
  2. Success can happen when they are given all the answers within the lecture (Livingston, 2020), but this isn’t preparing them for the high-stakes exam that they will have to successfully pass to enter the workforce. Despite having to pass the state or NREMT exam, this will not prepare them to function in the real world. They must be self-directed and search for answers. If the test questions are too easy, they won’t be challenged to study and won’t be prepared for their future careers if they don’t have a solid foundation.

The type of educator you are or strive to become is purely in your hands. Are you teaching because you love it or because it’s an easy job? Obtaining a degree in education may not be required, but what is needed is a passion for perfecting your trade.

  • If your institution offers professional development courses, take advantage of the free resources.
  • Search out articles related to adult learning theories and create activities with these principles in mind.
  • Learn from other dynamic instructors that are well versed in these theories. A good place to see them is at EMS conventions. Hearing them speak is genuinely motivating and reinvigorates me to continue perfecting my craft.

When you’re passionate about teaching, you will motivate your students to dig deep and work hard toward their goals.


  1. Reiss, Steven. 2012. “Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation”. Teaching of Psychology 39 (2): 152-56.
  2. Mews, Joseph. 2020. “Leading through Andragogy.” College & University 95 (1): 65–68. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=eue&AN=141977248&site=ehost-live.
  3. Livingston, Manuel Enrique. 2020. “Andragogy in Radiologic Technology Education.” Radiologic Technology 92 (2): 175–79. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=ccm&AN=147249118&site=ehost-live.
  4. Reiss, Steven. 2012. “Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation”. Teaching of Psychology 39 (2): 152-56.
  5. Livingston, Manuel Enrique. 2020. “Andragogy in Radiologic Technology Education.” Radiologic Technology 92 (2): 175–79. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=ccm&AN=147249118&site=ehost-live.

About the Author

Lisa Montoya is a Professor of EMS at Valencia College in Orlando/Kissimmee, Florida. She became a State of Florida Paramedic in 2001 and worked for Rural/Metro Ambulance in Orlando, Florida, from 1998-2005. She began teaching CPR classes while working as a Paramedic and loved interacting with the students. She started teaching First Responder classes at Valencia College to the Law Enforcement and Correction recruits when she realized she had a passion for teaching and wanted to pursue it further. She became an Adjunct Professor in the EMS department in 2006, teaching all aspects of the EMS program; EMT and Paramedic, lecture, lab, and clinical courses. She also teaches Medical Terminology and Professions of Caring for incoming Allied Health/Nursing students. Her degree is a Master of Arts in Applied Learning and Instruction from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida. She studied learning theories and uses her knowledge to improve her passion for teaching. She homeschools her two children and loves to travel with her family. She believes there is a lot to learn by traveling to other countries. She can be contacted via her work email at lnewby1-at-valenciacollege.edu or her personal email at lisamnewby-at-hotmail.com

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