Nursing Education

Engaging Students in Active Learning

A short video clip that provides you with specific ways to get buy-in from students for competency-based learning

Competency-based education demands more from learners. Discover strategies from nurse educators experienced in this type of learning to gain commitment from your students to support this new model.


Peg Rauschenberger:

I think we all have experienced though, especially when they’re starting out those students who enter the classroom, sit in their seat and wait for us to just pour that knowledge and those skills into them.

I’m going to sit here and maybe absorb it by osmosis or something, but most students learn very quickly that they have to work in order to learn, I hope. But competency-based education does require a new level of commitment from students along with more or maybe different kinds of work from them. In some cases, this will be a significant change for students. We see it, especially in our transfer students who come in from other colleges and universities. And it’s like, as Ann talked about the self-assessments, we make them write, which is a paper after they write the paper. And so it is kind of a wake up call, and sometimes there’s some resistance, because it’s work. We have found though that in the long run, students eventually become strongly committed to competency-based education and they have stronger feelings of self-efficacy and self confidence, so what does it take though for us to get them committed? How do we give them a little nudge along in the process to being committed to competency-based?

Well, traditionally, and I’m making generalizations, but traditionally learning outcomes are focused on memorization, comprehension, and passing tests. In competency-based learning the focus is placed on deep, deep understanding that is demonstrated then through application. This means that learning outcomes are proven by action and focus on building the skills that students need to become skilled nursing professionals. And skills, meaning not just sticking people with things. When students come in, that’s often I can’t wait to start an IV or something, and the skills are so much more than that, as we all know. But transparent goals and outcomes help the student take responsibility for their learning path, so I always say to my students, I make us go over the outcomes for the course on the first day of the course, because I tell them, how can you work toward a goal if you don’t know what it is. Because students often get that syllabus and never look at the outcomes or the unit outcomes, what are you supposed to accomplish in the learning this week?

I use the language of outcomes with them from day one and tell them, so what was the learning outcome regarding that for today? That ownership in turn helps them become better learners as students, but it’s also setting them up for their future, that lifelong learning and taking accountability for that learning. If you take a look at, and I did, and I have over time at the literature on student motivation in competency-based education, especially. Most of it addresses students who are in high school programs, but I’m going to tell you that our lived experience at Alverno, which… All right, there is a book called Learning That Lasts, I don’t know if you’re going to mention it at all Ann, at some point, edited by Marcia Mentkowski that we all wrote some time ago. But it talks about how you don’t just learn for an exam and then it’s gone, learning that lasts. Our lived experience validates what…. The literature says about high school students is very similar, it’s very similar.

It comes down to intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic, okay. Meaning extrinsic or controlled motivation comes from systems such as reward and punishment, which is a traditional kind of grading. That is their goal, they want a grade, they want a score on an exam and those kinds of motivations can be useful in the short term, but don’t last. And don’t help the students want to seek more. They just… I got the grade, thank goodness, and I move on. Now you’re hearing us talk about exams, we do have exams and students have to pass NCLEX and they have to get a certain score on our exams, so don’t think that we’re anti exams. But sometimes when that’s the only motivation is a grade of some sort we’re missing out, we’re missing out. Self-determination theory, if you take a look at that explains that motivation will increase when students experience several things. One, competence. I can be successful, okay. I feel like I can be successful.

Relatedness, I have meaning to this process and I’m connected to those outcomes. I’m not just a body in the seat, I am related to this and people are dedicated to helping me to learn. And then some autonomy, when we’re talking about competency-based education, if you look at some of the literature on that, when you go to the extreme, some of it competency-based is where you work through at your own pace and all of, that’s not the Essentials or AACN attempt. They’re thinking semesters and not the self-paced kind of learning. There’s a place for that for certain things, but it doesn’t tend to work very well in nursing programs, but that’s a whole nother discretion we can have another day. But they need some autonomy, some control over the process of their learning so that they own it. We can’t forget though that motivation, and I think we can all speak from experience ebbs and flows. I have some days I’m more motivated than others.

Faculty commitment, clear explanations of expectations and processes, pertinent feedback to students, and enthusiasm. Some people call me the cheerleader, that’s sort of… My one class was so unmotivated I remember I even got pompoms and I was going, you can do it, you can do it. That was a bit much. I only did it once, but our enthusiasm can shape that intrinsic motivation by helping them to see that becoming competent is going to make them feel like the true professional they’re becoming. We have found in the long run that students become strongly committed to competency-based education. Again, because of those feelings of self-efficacy. In a nutshell, what it takes to get them committed, cognitive understanding of the necessity of being able to do something with what they know and that competency-based learning and how it works, okay.

They have a cognitive understanding of it. Then they need that emotional acceptance. They need to move from, just tell me what I need to know. And we have all heard that. And I even feel that way sometimes. The book was Learning That Lasts and Make it Stick. I’m sorry, the chat pops up, some of them I respond to. Okay, emotional acceptance. Again, they need to move into taking ownership, taking responsibility for their own learning. And we can again, nudge them along the way. And lastly, they need the motivation. And what really gets them motivated is success, so you can set up experiences that they can be successful at and feel like I can actually do things with what I’m learning, I can make judgements, I can act as a nurse because I have practiced and demonstrated it in other ways. And it’s very motivating then to continue with that process, so that’s what we need from students and it falls on us to kind of set it up so it can happen