My last posts on online CPR courses hit a few nerves and there are a few good comments and a lot of interesting Twitter posts about Online CPR courses. When most people think of taking a course the first programs that come to mind are those offered by the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross. Both organizations offer good programs, but they are not the only programs out there. If you searched for CPR courses on the web you'd get thousands of hits back, some from companies you've never heard off. So how do you find a course?
There are basically three types of CPR courses: Classroom, online and self-directed.
Self-directed courses are programs you can purchase with equipment to learn and practice on your own. The American Heart Association's CPR Anytime and Infant CPR Anytime at www.shopcpranytime.org are good examples of this. You purchase a kit which contains a DVD and a small inflatable mannequin. The program does not lead to certification or a CPR card, but is a good way to learn and practice the skills in the comfort of your own home.
Classroom courses are just that, in a classroom - or living room, workplace, etc. This is the traditional course with an instructor and equipment. The courses are usually video based and you watch and practice the skills along with the video and the instructors guidance. Most layperson courses no longer have a written test and the programs are more based on ability to practice the physical skills.
Online courses are taken from a website. Here is where it can get confusing. Any valid and legitimate online course will have a practical skills component. For the American Heart Association the online portion of a course is called "Part 1", you have to meet with an instructor for "Part 2" (and Part 3 in some cases) for the practical skills portion of the course. The instructor cannot issue you a card until you have completed the practical skills component.
Now I can only speak for American Heart Association courses as that is the organization that I am affiliated with. However you may want to question the legitimacy of an online CPR, BLS or ACLS course that does not require a practical skills component. I like to use the analogy that it's like driving a car. You can read the book and take the test, but does that mean you know how to drive the car? Would you want an ambulance crew or ED nurses working on you who had never practiced the skills, but were certified by taking just an online test? Probably not.
Also keep in mind that some of the 'bargain' prices you may see online may not necessarily be a bargain. Speaking only from my experience, the AHA does not set guidelines on what instructors may or may not charge for courses. Some instructors or sites teach entirely for free, others charge just to cover their basic expenses. While there are some out to make a profit, most of us look to charge what is usual & customary and to cover our out of pocket expenses to offer the course. There are many organizations that sponsor courses to keep the charges reasonable, so check around.
Where can you look locally? Start by calling your local hospital and ask if they offer classes. Many Fire Departments offer classes as well as many individual instructors like myself. Most of us are aligned with a local Training Center which may be the local hospital as well. Take a look on the web. If you come across a site that you don't recognize the name look at the course requirements. If it doesn't contain or require a practical skills portion with a local instructor then skip to the next hit on the list. Also make sure the organization has a local instructor in your area who can provide the necessary practical skills component. Not all Training Centers allow their instructors to perform these. You want to make sure that there is someone who is available to offer the practical skills portion before your register and pay for the online course. Also keep in mind that you most likely will have to pay the instructor for the practical skills portion separately from the online course.
If you're boggled by how to determine the legitimacy of an online course then look for a traditional classroom course which you know will contain the practical skills practice required for certification.
My goal is not to confuse anyone away from online courses, or to highlight one national organization. I am very pro-active in Health Education and want more people to learn CPR. But to learn in the correct environment for them from an organization that requires practical skills practice and testing to make sure the skills are taught correctly.