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How to Use the Science of Learning to Help Students Think More Like a Nurse

By May 24, 2018 February 1st, 2019 No Comments

Despite what has been an assumption for decades in education, did you know that there is no such thing as learning styles?

There are only learning preferences.

And when an educator utilizes teaching strategies that students prefer (visual, kinesthetic, etc.), it can adversely impact and weaken student learning!

By making students work harder and utilize learning strategies that are not their style or preference will strengthen student learning.

I heard this information first hand at the Kentucky League for Nursing conference last week in Louisville. I was the presenter for the afternoon session and Dr. David Daniel, Ph.D. was the morning keynote speaker who is a professor of psychology at James Madison University and an expert on the science of learning.

Science of Learning

Here are the highlights of his presentation that will help every nurse educator use the science of learning to help students think more like a nurse:

  • Meaningful learning is work. Passive learning and spoonfeeding students abort the learning process. Work and effort is required when a student is learning to develop new neuronal connections. The brain never stops growing or expanding. Neural plasticity is the term that describes the new connections that a brain makes with active learning and also the atrophy of the same neurons over time when these connections are not used such as when a nurse retires or disengages from practice.
    To form new connections learning must be active. Never forget that neuronal cells that fire together, wire together and become more efficient with time and repeated practice.
  • Taking notes from PowerPoint is the worst way to learn for the long term. Passive learning does not lead to meaningful learning or long-term retention. If you are going to use PowerPoint put as little text on the slide as possible. Use images and your presentation as the foundation, so students have to synthesize and organize the content in their brain and do this work themselves. This strengthens the effectiveness and retention of lecture content.
  • Cramming works, but only for the short term. Though information can be retrieved for a test the next day, it does not sink in or is retained for long-term memory and recall. For learning to be durable, it needs to be spread out over time and integrated throughout the content over time. This is called retrieval practice, and knowledge needs to be revisited over and over in different contexts to strengthen student learning.
  • Emphasize deep learning of what is most important. Simplify what is taught with essential takeaways at the end of each lecture, so students know what to focus on. By deeply processing knowledge that is most important, it will be more likely to be retained long-term.
  • Writing notes is better than typing. Encourage students to put away a laptop and use handwritten notes to make more connections and more efficient processing of information using the kinesthetic senses while in class.
  • Rereading the textbook is not effective to learn new content. To strengthen student learning when reading the textbook (yes, students still need to read!) encourage them to read it differently by slowing down and then summarizing essential content in their own words, not just highlighting everything that seems important.
  • Emotions and learning are linked. A certain level of emotion such as anxiety, fear, or better yet inspire students to be the best will strengthen student learning and motivate them. But too much stress or fear will have the opposite effect and cause them to shut down.
  • Millennial students are no different than any other students. When it comes to the science of learning these principles work for all generations and ages! What is different with this generation of students is that they have had their life structured for them growing up and struggle to make choices. They have a fixed mindset and are uncomfortable taking risks. Be aware of this tendency and help your students grow while a nursing student in your program.

Making it Practical

Dr. Daniel made it clear that he does not want to teach cookbook strategies for nurse educators. Instead, he provided these and other principles to guide how educators teach to strengthen student learning.

As a nurse educator who has successfully implemented transformational change and has helped other educators do the same through my presentations and clinical reasoning resources, I would like to add and highlight the following strategies to make what Dr. Daniel shared practical for nurse educators:

  1. Make learning active! Burn the ships and do not go back to passive learning and PowerPoints that regurgitate textbook content. Spoon feeding students may keep them satisfied, but it will not prepare them for clinical practice.
  2. Emphasize deep learning of what is most important. Identify what content is essential for first-year generalist nursing practice and everything that you teach. An excellent educator simplifies content and does not make it more complex or additive. Identify the need to know pages in the textbook (NOT entire chapters) and have your students summarize this essential content to strengthen student learning.
  3. With great power comes great responsibility. Motivate students with the incredible responsibility of holding the life of another patient in their hands. The weight of this burden needs to be felt by each student, so they are motivated to be the best and not just good enough to pass the test.

In Closing

Use the science of learning to strengthen and improve your practice as an educator.

Step back and reflect on your practice using the principles shared in last week’s blog to identify what you are doing well and what needs to be improved to make this essential content practical.

You are on a journey as an educator and never truly arrive.

Identify your next step and what you will do differently to not only improve your effectiveness as an educator but more importantly strengthen student learning, so your students can think more like a nurse and graduate practice-ready!

Comment Question:
What strategies have you successfully implemented that reflect the science of learning?
Comment below and let the conversation begin!

How to Make Learning ACTIVE and Meaningful

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See for yourself how this unique resource can strengthen student learning and empower you with essential teaching and practical support!

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How to Teach Students to Think Like a Nurse!

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What do good nurses and airline pilots have in common?

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