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E-ducation in Action

January 11, 2007
by Linnea Carlson-Sabelli, APRN-BC, TEP
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Online learning can help prepare advanced practice psychiatric nurses for national competency certification.

Chicago-based RushUniversityMedicalCenter recently embarked on a project to bring an online learning program to prepare its psychiatric nurse practitioner students for National competency certification.

After providing in-person training for years and watching enrollment decline, the faculty at Rush wanted to create an innovative program to increase the number of Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners by putting Rush University Medical Center's "Innovation, Collaboration, Accountability, Respect and Excellence" (I CARE) mission into action.

With the support of a Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) grant, the faculty committed to developing an online Masters and Post Master's Certificate program that would allow the university to reach out to nurses living in underserved rural areas who wanted to expand their nursing careers into psychiatric nursing but would not have access to a university to take courses.

The faculty knew that online solutions were more costly than classroom training upfront but that, over time, the investment is leveraged and maximized by building on to it and sending more students through it until the cost is ultimately less than classroom training.

Rush partnered with Knowledge Anywhere, Inc., a Bellevue, Wash.-based company that specializes in building custom online learning solutions for organizations, to build a clinical evaluation method and competency-based learning activities for psychiatric nurse practitioner students at remote practicum sites.

There are two major components of the learning and performance system:

1) Evaluation: Online clinical evaluation scale — students in the clinical area can be rated against national competency requirements. In the case where a student either cannot get the experience to practice a competency or barely makes the competency requirements, they have the opportunity, within the program, to develop an action report for themselves, stating to their preceptor and the university how they plan to achieve their objectives and meet the competency requirement.

2) Learn More Scenarios — This portion of the online education provides students struggling to meet a competency requirement interactive online role-based scenarios that allow students to select responses based on good practice or reliable misconceptions and experience the consequences of their actions. Acting on a misconception provides learning in a "mistakes allowed" atmosphere without affecting an actual patient.

The major advantages that the Rush faculty see as a result of taking the education online are:

1) Frequency of reflection — The online site ensures that students are viewing the full range of Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner competencies and reflecting on their ability to meet these competencies weekly, gradually socializing them to the breadth of the role.

2) Access — The online learning site provides the opportunity for RushUniversity to reach out to remote learners and serve learners in underserved areas. It also enables nurses in rural communities to take the knowledge of the training and return to their rural communities and serve them.

3) Accountability — The University is privy to the scores of the students and the transcripts from their learning. The school keeps these records on file and can thus document each student's education more completely.

4) Collaboration within the online environment— Students can have online discussions with each other and share experiences and clinical stories. While the feedback from the faculty remains private, the students are able to expand their learning experience by tapping the knowledge of others.

5) Customization of educational experience — Since nurses enter the Rush online educational program for psychiatric nursing with a wide variety of experience, the faculty members appreciate being able to tailor the education for each student.

Implementing Online Learning

Gaining the support of the entire organization is a critical component of implementing an online learning tool within the healthcare setting.

As RushUniversity learned when selecting Knowledge Anywhere as its vendor, it is important that organizations select a provider that can:

1) Be innovative — The company must have the expertise and desire to think critically and make the site innovative.

2) Take action — The vendor should be able to take the ideas that your organization has brought forth and put those ideas into action without diluting the ideas with its own preferences or templates.

3) Onsite — A representative from the vendor company should be able to go onsite to the organization to discuss what the purposes and desires are for the site. This is an expense that the organization will typically need to incur but it ensures the project gets off to the right start and is an important investment for the project.