Nurse working from home doing paperwork and using tablet
HealthJune 30, 2021

Nursing education post-pandemic: Virtual and in-person hybrid learning may be here to stay

When you think about hybrids, you probably don’t think about nursing education.

The first thing that comes to mind is most likely a car, one that maximizes gas mileage and has a positive impact on the environment. But much like the auto industry, nursing has had to figure out a way to move forward in changing times — which has turned out to be a hybrid of hands-on and technology-driven learning.

Conducted in Q4 2020, the Future of Technology in Nursing Education survey — jointly conducted by Wolters Kluwer and the National League for Nursing (NLN) — evidenced one distinct fact: in the face of a raging pandemic, nursing education had no choice but to shift gears. Before Covid-19, a majority of nursing programs used in-person, classroom education. A small percentage (20%) leaned toward a mix of online and in-person learning. That all changed in March 2020 with the widespread adoption of virtual learning.

From in-person to online – learning transformed

The move from in-person to online was swift and immediate, out of necessity. 73% of fully classroom programs switched to online. As the virus’ progression has begun to abate and vaccines are fully available, programs are embracing a more hybrid concept, a blend of both types of learning. These new approaches have driven significant changes in the world of nursing education.

Acceleration of new technology adoption

In 2016, when Wolters Kluwer and NLN first conducted their first survey, 65% of educators expected their programs to use online/distance learning by 2020. Fast forward to 2020, where 93% used online/distance learning. Virtual simulation experienced similar gains (87% in 2020 vs. 63% in 2016). Educators predict the technologies that are currently being adopted at a faster pace because of the pandemic will maintain the pace through 2025. They believe a robust adoption rate (75% or above) is viable for virtual simulation, online learning, learning management systems, video for skills, secure exam delivery, adaptive quizzing, electronic health record (EHR) applications, and video conferencing by then.

Adoption of technologies may vary, though. For instance, programs with more than 150 students are more likely to adopt new technology than those with fewer students. And those programs making changes to their curriculum to prepare for the Next Generation NCLEX® exam are more likely to adopt new technologies over the next five years.

State nursing boards played a role in advancing technology

Many state nursing boards boosted the simulation share of clinical time during the pandemic. Simulation allows students to go ahead and make mistakes in high-fidelity simulated situations, then understand the consequences so they don’t make the same ones again in real-world clinical settings.

These changes may, in some cases, extend beyond the pandemic, although some expect to move back to pre-pandemic levels of simulation learning. More than half (51%) of those who say their state boards increased the share of simulation also expect the boards will either keep the new levels allowed (17% of respondents), or reduce the levels but keep it above pre-pandemic simulation share allowed (37% of respondents).

The future is in the hybrid model

Even as technology is being embraced, there are still challenges to adoption — particularly lack of funding, which impacts universities more so than community colleges. 65% of programs have developed their own rendition of pandemic hybrid learning, which affords a needed level of student safety, along with the necessary clinical training.

It’s yet to be seen whether hybrid learning will have an impact on test scores or quality of education. But for now, this ability of meshed learning styles to allow nursing students to continue their education is one of the most hopeful things to come out of the pandemic.

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