Three Options for Integrating Virtual Learning into Nursing Education Curricula

August 10, 2018

Every nursing educator has an individual approach to teaching. The educator’s approach, their “style,” is reflected in the individual learning activities they choose, how the overall curriculum is structured, the learning process and finally, in measuring outcomes. While there are differences in approaches, nurse educators are familiar with a universal set of challenges, including:

  • Ensuring that students can safely and adequately prepare for their clinical experiences before actually working with patients – or going into environments where students themselves are at risk.
  • Finding opportunities for students to complete their clinical hours – simply getting students placed is becoming more and more difficult, for a variety of reasons.
  • Adapting the way information/training is presented to engage students – today’s students are looking for more learning options than “traditional” classroom instruction, including the ability to study where, when they can.

Our client schools are showing us different ways they use our online simulations to meet these challenges. They, and other nursing schools seeking new but tested tools, are matching our online simulations and virtual scenarios with their individual styles and school philosophy.

Thinking about bringing virtual online experiences into your curricula? Here are three options to consider.

Option One – An Incremental Approach

If you are skeptical about using online simulations, exercise one of the key tenets of nursing: evidence-based decision making. Some of our client schools use one or two virtual experiences to supplement a nursing course, and then evaluate student and faculty outcomes. It’s a concrete way to validate proof-of-concept and decide if it fits your teaching style.

This also might be a good way to go for older students, who are sometimes less comfortable with online learning because that’s not how they have learned in the past. Granted, the majority of students pursuing their diploma (RN) and BSN are under 25. However, the 2016 Biennial Survey of Schools of Nursing conducted by the NLN shows that 30% of RN-BSN students are over age 41, and nearly 25% of Doctorate students are 51 and older.1 In light of nursing shortages, every nurse, at every level, is important. As for the under-25 demographic, online learning is nothing new.

Option Two – A Blended Approach

As nursing training evolved, manikins and sim labs were integrated into curricula. By adding several virtual experiences and crafting tasks relevant to your curriculum, you can complement what’s learned in the classroom, sim labs and clinicals. For example, students who have access to both our flagship simulations, Sentinel City® and Sentinel Town®, can experience what community/population health nursing entails in both an urban and rural setting, without risk. Geographical barriers are lifted. And it calls for comparative thinking, an especially effective vehicle for improving critical thinking.

The George Washington School of Nursing is using a “blended format” curriculum in their accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. This link to a 2014 presentation abstract provides more detail here. In the spirit of full disclosure, GW is not a client school.

Highlights include 91% of students who completed the program agreed or strongly agreed the learning activities were engaging, 78% agreed or strongly agreed the activities were an effective way to learn new knowledge and skills, and 63% agreed or strongly agreed the learning activities made good use of their personal study time. It’s important to note that about one-third of the students thought there was room for improvement.

The lead presenter sums up the discussion by noting: “As some students prefer traditional, classroom-based approaches, it is important to inform applicants of the blended format, so they can self-select into a program that is consistent with their preferred learning style. With careful planning and good instructional design, blended learning can increase active learning in the classroom and provide educators with flexibility to innovate and meet the demands of a fast-paced, challenging curriculum.”

Option Three – Going “All In”

One nursing educator using our simulations has been able to eliminate the textbook for the community health portion of the curriculum. She teaches entirely online. By selecting exercises from our assignment catalog, and providing access to supporting articles, she can cover everything that the textbook would. She breaks the class into two groups and “flips” assignments between them over the eight-week term to minimize the possibility of students sharing their work. Since the work is online, she’s able to monitor the time spent by each student on any assignment and track their activity through the faculty dashboard. She has found it to be more effective in terms of outcomes and enabled more consistent performance measurement.

What’s Best for You?

Is a blended curriculum right for you? The incremental approach? All in? We welcome the opportunity to think it through with you. Contact us and we’ll discuss how our solutions could fit with your educational style, walk you through a demo of our simulations and set you up with a free trial.