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Best Online Teaching Practices for Nurse Educators

Online education has become an increasingly popular method of instruction and learning. As of fall 2020, more than 50% of postbaccalaureate students reported taking all courses online. The demand for online coursework and degree programs continues to increase, requiring educators to prepare accordingly.

Nursing certification and degree programs are no exception. As nursing education continues to adapt to the changing landscape, nurse educators must understand and anticipate the needs of online learners by implementing best practices to ensure student success.

Graduates of an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Nurse Educator program, like that at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), are well equipped with online teaching best practices. They gain the skills and experience to work with adult learners in the nursing field by using effective, robust curricula.

Understanding Adult Learners

Adult learners have unique characteristics that impact the effectiveness of online teaching practices. These characteristics include their motivations, learning styles and preferences. Adult learners are primarily self-directed and prefer to learn at their own pace. They are goal-oriented, driven by specific learning outcomes and motivated to achieve personal learning goals. They also have a wealth of life experiences and knowledge they can draw upon to enhance their learning.

Adult learners also enjoy collaborating with colleagues and appreciate the real-world application of theoretical concepts. As such, the design of online teaching practices should accommodate these characteristics. Nurse educators much teach to several learning styles — particularly those that adult learners prefer.

Best Practices for Teaching Nursing Online

Effective online nursing education programs encompass clear guidelines, well-prepared and interactive learning materials, and an accessible and engaged instructor. To provide the highest quality learning experience, nurse educators should incorporate the following evidence-based strategies into their online instruction experience:

Robust and Interactive Course Instruction

An informative, well-organized variety of clearly defined course materials can make an online learning experience easy to understand, foster engagement and set students up for success. Materials include assignment due dates, learning objectives, nurse educator introduction and course instructions. Course presentations should include opportunities for competency-based learning, peer collaboration and real-world application experiences.

Offering diverse materials and experiences allows students to select their preferred learning method and feel included. Interactive activities — such as case studies, simulations and quizzes — can help adult learners engage with the course material and apply what they have learned. Collaborative learning activities like group projects and discussion forums can connect adult learners with their peers and build a supportive online learning community. Multimedia resources such as videos, podcasts and infographics can help adult learners better understand complex concepts.

Engaged and Interactive Nurse Educator

An actively engaged nurse educator is fundamental to student learning, satisfaction and success. Nurse educators should be friendly, approachable and available during office hours. Timely response to emails, requests for additional support, discussion board posts and grading is critical for developing trust and rapport with online students. Meaningful and purposeful interactions between educator and student encourage engagement and foster personal connection, which is essential in an online environment.

Another essential attribute of an effective nurse educator is providing timely, personalized and constructive feedback on assignments and discussion posts. This practice promotes respect for the opinions of others, nurtures diverse thinking and encourages respectful debate of one’s thoughts on a topic. Posting and emailing weekly announcements is another way nursing educators can establish their presence in an online course. Visibility, engagement and timely responses will ensure online students of their instructor’s investment in their learning and success.

Assessing Progress and Measuring Outcomes

Nurse educators must present clearly defined grading criteria to assess student progress and the methods used to measure learning outcomes. The course introduction should include a detailed course rubric, assignment deadlines, grading policy, personalized feedback delivery and ways a student can track their progress throughout the course. Include detailed instructions regarding the measuring of learning objectives and student performance. Quality feedback on discussion posts, projects and other graded assignments increases student satisfaction. Setting clear and detailed expectations can reduce confusion and provide consistency.

How an Advanced Degree Can Help

Understanding adult learners’ unique characteristics and needs and using effective online teaching methods are essential for nurse educators and student success. The most effective nurse educators provide clear instructions, set specific expectations, are present and responsive, use various teaching materials and methods to accommodate different learning styles, encourage participation through timely feedback and grading and foster a supportive online learning community.

By using these best practices, nurse educators can create engaging and effective online courses that meet the needs of adult learners. Graduates of UNCW’s online MSN Nurse Educator program will gain critical skills in online nursing education. The Foundations and Evidence-Based Practices for Nursing Education Distance Learning course especially teaches nurse educators to “explore relevant teaching and learning theories from the perspectives of education and nursing as a foundation to critique curriculum models, choose pedagogies, and analyze evaluation strategies” in online learning.

Learn more about UNCW’s online MSN Nurse Educator program.

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