HealthNovember 15, 2022

11 active learning strategies to engage active learning

With the patient care and hospital industries evolving so quickly, the way we approach nursing education and classroom learning styles should adapt and grow, too — right? A singular approach of teaching concepts and theories, or the “old school” way, still has its place, but the benefits of implementing active learning strategies in nursing education are impossible to ignore.

The benefits of using active learning strategies in nursing education

Simply presenting course material may provide short-term value, but physical practicing, experiencing, and learning through active engagement helps the roots of that material grab hold. Today's nurses are tasked with effectively communicating with multiple departments through different technology platforms while making critical decisions across a spectrum of patient scenarios. It's not an easy job!

Educators who use active learning strategies in their nursing programs are able to teach to a variety of learners: visual learners, auditory learners, tactile learners, and yes, even those learners who have difficulty remaining seated. But what's more, students are able to learn in a way that most closely simulates real, on-the-job nursing situations, making for a more seamless transition into the workforce.

Active learning strategies to try in your nursing classroom

Okay — so now that you understand the benefits of using active learning strategies in nursing education, try implementing some of the following activities to encourage active learning among your students:

1. Pre-class assignments

Prior to teaching a concept in class, ask your students to research key terms, review patient assessments, required medications or drug classes, and exemplars related to the concept. This will not only help students feel more prepared during class, but it typically leads to a more involved and engaging class discussion.

2. Unfolding case studies

Repetitive PowerPoint presentations can be dry. Try incorporating case studies that include visual cues, lab tables, and patient quotes to encourage discussion among students. This keeps those “necessary evil” slideshows engaging and forces students to apply book knowledge and think critically about real-life examples.

3. NCLEX® practice questions

Working NCLEX practice questions throughout your curriculum will have amazing long-term benefits on your nursing students when it comes time to buckle down and study leading up to the big exam. Have students answer example NCLEX questions individually and then guide and encourage a larger class debate on correct and incorrect answers. Adaptive learning systems like Lippincott's adaptive learning system, PrepU, is jam-packed with NCLEX practice questions and gives students a unique learning experience based on their level of knowledge. It also gives teachers the ability to see exactly where each student in the class is at in the course.

4. Role play

This is a fun one that gets students up and moving around! Have your nursing students act as patients, nurses, family members, and technicians in a skit presentation that reveals a deeper learning point for the rest of the class. For example, the skit could reveal the importance of good therapeutic communication.

5. Concept maps

Use concept maps to cover content acquisition, student assessment, or knowledge applications and then encourage them to take pictures of them on their phones to use as study tools. This style of active learning strategy is great for visual learners. Sometimes seeing a concept laid out and then being able to refer to it again later can make all the difference.

6. Nursing simulation activities

Here's where things can get interesting. Break students into groups and allow them to practice more hands-on interventions and procedures, like a code blue scenario, and use their critical thinking skills to react quickly and efficiently. You, as the educator, can participate and guide as necessary, but take a smaller role and encourage students to do the heavy lifting.

vSim for Nursing
vSim® for Nursing instills the skills for clinical success through realistic patient encounters based on actual nursing scenarios.

7. Brain drain

This is a rapid-fire exercise where students shout out 5-10 concept-related terms that the instructor lists on a whiteboard. Then, as you work through and discuss each term, the instructor erases them one by one, enhancing students' recall capabilities.

8. Mystery/patient/drug in a box

Here's an effective way to implement a hands-on active learning strategy for your nursing students. Place a number of boxes around the classroom with items and pictures related to that day's concept. Students will then use that to build a patient story and present it to the class. The class then brainstorms how a nurse might treat the hypothetical patient. Students will appreciate being able to associate experiences and stories with concepts.

9. Gallery walk

For a gallery walk, scatter pictures and artifacts related to the day's concept around the classroom. Break students into small groups and have them wander throughout the room identifying each item and its relevance to the concept in terms of interventions, patients, and procedures. Use this style of activity to get the blood flowing again after a PowerPoint or to break up a long class — the student who can't stay seated will appreciate it!

10. Compare and contrast

Compare and contrast scenarios really fuel class discussion. As an example, faculty could create two (or more) scenarios of patients with the same symptoms and conditions, and students must discuss how they would treat the patients differently or similarly. This includes medication interventions, recommendations, diagnosis, etc.

11. What if? scenarios

Use "what if" scenarios to transition between concepts or to review theories at the end of a class. Pose various "what if?" questions to individuals or small groups on a clinical situation to force their critical thinking skills. For example, in a discussion of the concept of Perfusion, you could ask questions like: what if a patient is cold and blue? complains of dizziness? develops crackles in the lungs?

Empowering nursing students

Active learning strategies in nursing education is all about empowering students to actually remember the large amount of information they face throughout nursing school. Many nursing students achieve success in their program by memorizing terms and concepts long enough to spit them back up on a test. Don't let those be your students! Help them retain knowledge and graduate with the skills required to be an effective nurse in today's high-intensity, patient care settings through engaging, active learning strategies.

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