HealthNovember 20, 2016

What is active learning and why is it important?

Ugh. The dreaded slide deck.

Slide presentations can be so unbelievably tired and boring that often even the person giving the presentation ends up just repeating what’s already on the screen. It’s inevitable.

I think that we can all agree that—unless in the hands of a Steve Jobs-esque educator—it can be one of the least exciting ways to educate (or learn). This is a clear example of passive learning; students are simply sitting there while information is thrown at them and their absorption of it is minimal at best.

Bloom’s taxonomy of learning

Passive learning has its place, certainly, but it exists at the lower end of Bloom’s Taxonomy, encouraging memorization and recall of information. That’s great for Scantron tests, but nursing is an occupational field that demands critical thinking. As such, successful nursing education requires the imparting of higher-level skills, specifically the ability to analyze situational information and apply what one has learned. This is why so many nursing programs are now implementing active learning strategies in nursing education.

Image credit: Patricia Armstrong, Assistant Director, Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University. View source.

Where active learning fits in

Active learning pedagogies offer a clear alternative for nursing educators. In the simplest terms, active learning is the process of learning via engaging with the content. By implementing active learning strategies in nursing education, students can interact with the material via activities such as completing a task or engaging with their surroundings (e.g., discussions, debate, etc.) in ways that promote analytical thought.

Looking at the Bloom’s Taxonomy triangle (the “analyze” layer), we can see how this type of learning helps students to connect the dots between ideas.

Examples of active learning activities can include:

  • Engaging with visual content like live or video demonstration
  • Interactive simulations or games
  • Class discussion or debate where students must take and defend a position
  • Hands-on activities, such as carrying out a procedure firsthand
  • Learning by teaching others a concept

Why active learning works

Evidence shows that active learning promotes recall and deeper understanding of material, as students are engaging with the content directly. For instance, the January 2016 issue of CIN: Computers, Informatics, Nursing included an article examining the effects of a mobile-based video clip on learning motivation, competence, and class satisfaction in nursing students. Students who viewed the clip had much higher levels of learning motivation and class satisfaction than those who did not interact with the clip. They were also more confident in practicing catheterization than their counterparts.

There are also equity benefits with active learning, as lower-performing students have been shown to benefit most from active learning techniques. Another benefit is that, by using different modes of delivery, educators can support students with different learning styles or preferences, as some are more visual or auditory learners.

There are clear ethical and pedagogical benefits to incorporating active learning strategies in nursing education. How is your program approaching active learning?

Want more proof that active learning strategies in nursing education are a win-win for both instructor and student? Watch the webinar at the link below, “Enhancing Student Engagement in a Digital World,” for more suggestions on how to incorporate active learning in your nursing curriculum.

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