HealthNovember 09, 2017

Why content-based learning doesn't work in Nursing Ed

When it comes to teaching strategies in nursing education, content-based learning just can't do the job in today's demanding nursing education space; here's why.

The days of content-based learning are long gone in the nursing world. Today’s educators may recall teaching strategies used in nursing education back when they themselves were students and, in reflecting back, can really understand what’s different for today’s students and upcoming nurses.

Today’s students are inundated with larger amounts of content to learn, and a shorter amount of time to grasp it.  And guess what it means for you educators? It’s time to adjust your curriculums and adapt your approach to the way your students learn. And that happens only through a concept-based curriculum.

The downfall of content-based learning

Tola Pulsnick, DNP, RN, CPNP, Assistant Director of the Associate Degree Nursing Program at Weatherford College, explains that the differences between content-based learning and concept-based learning strategies in nursing education may or may not seem very apparent. In order to understand why concept-based learning works in nursing (and more so than content-based learning), we need to closely exam the differences between the two. Read more in Taking Conceptual Learning to the Bedside: Putting Concepts into Practice.

Content-based learning to many is considered the “traditional” method of learning. However, this more “traditional” method of learning really hasn’t helped students to learn in a productive way. Some may even argue that it’s only helped them to be great memorizers. Content-based learning focuses on:

  • Facts First, Application Second: Pulsnick shared first-hand that content-based curriculums focus heavily on the facts. Because of this, it hinders the ability of the student to understand how to translate those facts and further, how to transfer those skills to the beside.
  • Repetition Across Classes: Content-based curriculums are organized by the category of the patient, which includes basic medical, advance medical/surgical, maternity, pediatrics, mental health, etc.  This leaves a lot of room for repetition, causing educators to teach the same processes, multiple times, and in multiple places (Can you say redundant?!). Not only that, but there’s a greater chance of important items falling through the cracks.
  • Relying on the Educator: With content-based curriculums, there seems to be little expectation for students to take charge of their own learning. In fact, they rely heavily on the instructor to impart knowledge to them, rather than actively being engaged in the learning process.

Why concept-based learning gets an A+

Concept-based learning is an educational method that focuses on the overall big ideas and teaches students how to not only organize and categorize information, but how to apply it to a patient. Instead of content-based learning, which concentrates on the ability to recall specific facts in isolation, concept-based learning teaching strategies really focuses on the understanding of broader principles (concepts) that can be applied to bedside practice. Further, concept-based learning really focuses on:

  • Delivery of Patient Care: Concept-based curriculum involves examining concepts that link to the delivery of patient care. This includes students focusing on key, prevalent examples, and their interconnected nature. This way of learning then allows students to recognize features of a condition and begin to apply what they have learned to a variety of situations.
  • Finite Number of Concepts: Because there is a finite number of concepts and key ideas, an active process of identifying factual information and exemplars with the appropriate concepts starts to take place.

Active Learning Techniques: Concept-based learning allows for an active learning classroom including things like case studies, situational questions, and application and evaluation level questions. These techniques allow students to take the knowledge imparted to them, consider concepts they’d like to utilize, and then put those concepts into practice.

Moving to a concept-based curriculum in nursing is really the only way to effectively teach students the material they need to become the nurses we rely on and depend on in today’s world.  To learn more about the value on conceptual learning see our suite of nursing education solutions.

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