Since the introduction around 1960 of external cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) basic life support (BLS) without equipment, i.e. steps A (airway control)-B (mouth-to-mouth breathing)-C (chest (cardiac) compressions), training courses by instructors have been provided, first to medical personnel and later to some but not all lay persons. At present, fewer than 30% of out-of-hospital resuscitation attempts are initiated by lay bystanders. The numbers of lives saved have remained suboptimal, in part because of a weak or absent first link in the life support chain. This review concerns education research aimed at helping more lay persons to acquire high life supporting first aid (LSFA) skill levels and to use these skills. In the 1960s, Safar and Laerdal studied and promoted self-training in LSFA, which includes: call for the ambulance (without abandoning the patient) (now also call for an automatic external defibrillator); CPR-BLS steps A-B-C; external hemorrhage control; and positioning for shock and unconsciousness (coma). LSFA steps are psychomotor skills. Organizations like the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association have produced instructor-courses of many more first aid skills, or for cardiac arrest only-not of LSFA skills needed by all suddenly comatose victims. Self-training methods might help all people acquire LSFA skills. Implementation is still lacking. Variable proportions of lay trainees evaluated, ranging from school children to elderly persons, were found capable of performing LSFA skills on manikins. Audio-tape or video-tape coached self-practice on manikins was more effective than instructor-courses. Mere viewing of demonstrations (e.g. televised films) without practice has enabled more persons to perform some skills effectively compared to untrained control groups. The quality of LSFA performance in the field and its impact on outcome of patients remain to be evaluated. Psychological factors have been associated with skill acquisition and retention, and motivational factors with application. Manikin practice proved necessary for best skill acquisition of steps B and C. Simplicity and repetition proved important. Repetitive television spots and brief internet movies for motivating and demonstrating would reach all people. LSFA should be part of basic health education. LSFA self-learning laboratories should be set up and maintained in schools and drivers' license stations. The trauma-focused steps of LSFA are important for 'buddy help' in military combat casualty care, and natural mass disasters.