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Enhancing nursing curriculum with an injection of technology

By: Gina Cronrath, MSN, RN, CDE

Use online tools to engage and motivate students.

Evidence-based research has changed teaching from a traditional teacher-centered approach to a student-centered (constructivist) approach. According to neuroscience research, the traditional approach primarily uses only the posterior cortex, whereas enhanced learning with technology uses both the posterior and anterior areas of the brain cortex. Enhanced learning with technology improves education by tapping into different learning methods and styles.

This article explores how online technologies can enhance learning and how to incorporate them into nursing curricula. (See A framework for learning.)

A framework for learning

Incorporating technology into nursing curricula is supported by the Experiential Learning Model framework, which theorizes that

  • learning happens in all settings
  • each person’s experience is unique
  • individuals develop a preferred learning style.

Instructors can create a learning environment within this framework that holds students’ attention and fosters engagement by providing opportunities for group activities; problem-solving; simulations; concept mapping; and other student-centered, technology-driven learning using online tools such as

  • Animoto ( This drag-and-drop video maker is easy to use.
  • Glogster ( This tool allows users to create online posters to tell stories and share information.
  • Powtoon ( Instructors can create engaging content with this animation software.
  • Voki ( Students and instructors can share information through avatars.
  • WebQuest ( Instructors can use this tool to create inquiry-oriented lesson plans in which the information students work with comes from the web.

Overcoming barriers

Technology is more than a cultural trend; it’s the primary method by which individuals and organizations use and transmit information. Incorporating it into nursing education enhances collaboration, information sharing, critical thinking and communication skills, and student engagement. For example, Web 2.0 technology—blogs, wikis (online collections of definitions and information, such as Wikipedia), social networking (such as Facebook and Twitter), and other web-based applications (such as Voki talking avatars)—is interactive and engaging. The National League for Nursing (NLN) Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (CNEA) and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing have revised nursing curriculum standards, encouraging informatics and technology competencies into nursing education programs.

Barriers to adopting new technologies include lack of familiarity with what’s available as well as the time and cost associated with nursing faculty learning and using the technologies and changes to existing curricula. Most students, who grew up with computers, are more comfortable with technology than many nursing faculty are, who generally are over age 50 and grew up before the daily use of computers. To ease this gap, resources have been developed by the HIMSS Technology Informatics Guiding Education Reform (, American Nurses Association (ANA), and NLN to help nursing faculty learn and implement new technologies. 

Nurse educators’ responsibility

According to Provision 7 of the Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements (the Code), nurse educators have a responsibility to develop students’ professional values and informed perspectives on nursing and healthcare policy, support evidence and ethics in practice, and foster students’ commitment to practice to the full scope of the nursing profession. They can do this by using simulation technology, adopting a student-centered classroom approach, developing stronger partnerships between academic and practice settings, and integrating computer-based technologies to create an interactive environment that improves students’ engagement and their motivation to learn.

NLN research indicates that when students are more involved and active in their own learning, their motivation, critical problem-solving skills, and knowledge retention improve. This is evidenced by higher first-time passing NCLEX scores.

Technology options

Initially, nursing instructors may be apprehensive about using Web 2.0 technologies, but researchers have found that after instructors participate in online tutorials and workshops, they feel competent and eager to try the technologies in the classroom. For example, in a study by Luther and Pickering, Voki (a computer-generated talking avatar used by students and instructors to record information on a topic and then embed it into nursing content) was shown to promote learning, diversity, and improved English in introverted English as a second language (ESL) students. Voki allows these students to express the knowledge they want to convey more creatively.

Blogging (online journaling), nursing student chat rooms, and social media (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) also promote a student-centered approach to learning. These sites and applications allow students to form small discussion groups that also can include professional nurses and members of other healthcare disciplines. Luther and Pickering’s research indicates that students reported enhanced learning, increased collaboration skills, and support.

Other online video and content creation tools that can aid learning include Powtoons, Animoto, WebQuest, and Glogster. They offer tutorials and free trial periods and are reasonably priced for students and educators.

Leadership support

School administrators and faculty as well as workplace nurse mentors, preceptors, administrators, staff educators, and providers can promote and support ongoing education with computer technology used in patient care. Nurse educators and other leaders can help shape education policy by analyzing and measuring the success of learning with technology.

Accrediting agencies for nursing programs—such as the NLN CNEA, the Accreditation Commission for Education on Nursing, and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education—provide accountability for nursing programs to provide appropriate outcome measures and quality improvement. For initial and ongoing accreditation, a college or university must have academic standards that are consistent with current, evidence-based pedagogy. Using technology in nursing program curricula is among the current criteria recommended by various accrediting bodies.

Knowledge is power

Provision 9.2 of the Code notes that nurses must assist with nursing education in developing regions around the world. With global access to the internet, technology could have far-reaching effects in nursing education, especially as more online, distant education is implemented. A student-centered approach that uses creative visual and auditory technologies and incorporates different learning styles can transcend a diverse student population.

As evidence-based research (by Billings and Halstead, Carroll and Bruno, Luther and Pickering, among others) has shown, teaching with technology improves retention, critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, and collaboration. Educators have a responsibility to do all they can to promote and facilitate learning in their students. With more understanding comes less fear. In other words, knowledge is power.

Gina Cronrath first used her teaching skills as a certified diabetes educator and more recently as an associate teaching clinical professor at Washington State University College of Nursing in Spokane.


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