The challenges of nursing education today are to make the programs practical, accessible and attractive to a larger and more versatile cohort of students. The recent Covid-19 pandemic has further reinforced this need and demonstrated that on many levels blended learning has the potential to meet this challenge.
Blended learning combines face-to-face learning and online learning – the traditional classroom blended with a technology-based approach to learning. The online environment can be synchronous or asynchronous (this can be the perfect combination for adult learners, and especially shift workers).
Online learning environments can provide interactions, engagement with knowledge, learning resources, speakers and peers. A “flipped classroom” approach can improve face-to-face exposure.
Online can offer a very rich virtual workspace in which interactions can occur between students in real time or via discussion forums. Students indicated that they appreciated the flexibility and convenience of being able to work at their own time and place, and that they accommodated the demands of, for example, childcare.
“The ease of access and navigation of any virtual learning environment is crucial in the delivery of online education”
The flexibility offered in a blended learning approach can also foster a sense of empowerment – learners can, at many levels, plan their own learning and take increased responsibility for it. We aim to develop independent, autonomous and lifelong learners – this may mean that this approach can help achieve this goal.
Online delivery, however, is not without its problems – as many of us have recently experienced during the pandemic. There are often technological issues, a lack of non-verbal cues and an increased demand for time. The capacity and access to IT greatly affects student engagement, and the ease of access and navigation of any virtual learning environment is crucial in the delivery of online education.
In addition, there may be a risk that traditional teaching roles become blurred and that some educators focus primarily on technology, and less on learning outcomes.
Nursing students need clear guidelines and preparation before entering any virtual education. A “pre-course” assessment of computer skills and accessibility is crucial, and ongoing support should be available. Without it, students can become increasingly frustrated, and learning can get lost in a mirage of technological hardship – exacerbating stress levels for everyone involved. Preparation and reassessment are the key to success.
The challenges can also include a sense of social isolation and interaction. The facilitator is essential in creating an online student community, allowing students to feel confident and supported in their work both independently and with each other. Face-to-face opportunities should occur early in the programs, allowing sufficient time for social interaction.
Blended learning has the potential to challenge students to engage in constructing their learning and applying it to practice.
While face-to-face learning will always have a place in the education of nurses, the virtual learning “environment” also has potential. It is certainly the future of nursing education today, and with meticulous precision it will be a positive and comprehensive journey. Inclusiveness is the key to success.
Fiona Cust is Associate Professor of Child Nursing and Collaborative Practice, Staffordshire University