E-ducation in Action

June 24, 2011
Chicago-based RushUniversityMedicalCenter recently embarked on a project to bring an online learning program to prepare its psychiatric nurse

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.

4) Provide Talent — The vendor team needs to be talented and personable. The partnership is relatively long-term and there is quite a bit of mindshare that occurs. It is important that the vendor provide a smart and experienced project manager to each client, regardless of the size of the project.

5) Expand — The vendor should have the ability to take the content from the organization and expand it through games and other features that increase the interactive nature of the site.

6) Negotiate — It is very helpful if the vendor has experience in and takes the initiative to negotiate with the internal technical departments at the organization so that faculty members do not need to engage in internal discussions around technical capabilities.

Enthusiasm for the tool should grow organically within the organization. Outside the organization, there are numerous ways to publicize and generate excitement and demand for an organization's online learning program. For RushUniversity, a five- month advertising campaign on AllNursingSchools.com proved to be very helpful.

RushUniversity views its online educational program as a co-creation, a collaborative effort between the faculty and students. At the beginning of each quarter, the students are told about updates to the tool and an inventory of what is available to them. The students' feedback is solicited throughout the process so that it can be incorporated into the constantly growing landscape of the online experience.

For the organization to create an online education program, in partnership with a vendor, it is important that it:

· Have one person at the organization dedicated to the project that is a liaison between the organization and the vendor and is responsible for ensuring the vendor receives all deliverables on time.

· Invest the time and money in planning and brainstorming on the front end to ensure the project has the resources it deserves and gets off to a solid start.

· Articulate and express what it wants

Rush University College of Nursing is committed to equipping students with the knowledge base, critical thinking skills and understanding that will enable them to make good decisions with patients.

The tool that Knowledge Anywhere created enables Rush nurse practitioner students to evaluate their growth toward meeting national competencies on a regular basis, to identify competencies that are not available in their clinical practice site, and gain practice with these competencies in a virtual environment. It also builds community and provides a communication bridge among university faculty, the students and their clinical site preceptors in underserved regions, as an answer to increasing the number of health care professionals serving persons with psychiatric problems.

Linnea Carlson-Sabelli, APRN-BC, TEP, is with RushUniversityCollege of Nursing.