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Honoring Prior Knowledge of Nurses with Personalized, Adaptive Learning

 

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAYhAAAAJGNkMjM3NTE1LWU5MmYtNGQ4MC1hMWI2LWQyNmJlODZiZWY5Ng[1].jpgRuth Tarantine is Dean of Nursing at Colorado Technical University (CTU), where she oversees undergraduate and graduate-level nursing programs. CTU offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing completion program for current Registered Nurses (RN-BSN), Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program in Nursing Education or Nursing Administration, and is currently developing a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. These programs are available online—and, thanks to Ruth, these programs now incorporate personalized, adaptive learning.

CTU has been deploying personalized learning in most of its programs for a few years now, using a self-branded version of Realizeit called “Intellipath”.  When Ruth was invited to join CTU as dean in 2015, the nursing programs were among the few remaining programs that didn’t use the platform.

“I took on this role at CTU to do something that hadn’t been done before,” Ruth told us in a recent interview. She seized the opportunity to put personalized, adaptive learning to work for nurses throughout each nursing course—something no other school had done before.

Ruth has been a practicing nurse, nurse educator, and academic for more than 25 years. And for much of that time, she’s been enthusiastic about the potential for adaptive learning technology to transform nursing education. But she didn’t start out that way.

From Skeptic to Evangelist

“In the 1990s, when the NCLEX-RN went adaptive, I was working as a nurse educator within a health care organization, and I was initially skeptical,” she says. “I didn’t understand how in the world this format could prove competence when it would end the exam in as few as 75 questions.  I, and many other nurse educators at the time, thought it would damage the profession.”

However, working with new nurses soon gave Ruth reason to change her mind. “I would regularly ask graduate nurses, ‘How many questions did you have to answer before the test stopped?’ And it turned out there was a strong correlation between the number of questions asked and clinical performance—nurses who answered fewer questions usually aced the test, and those nurses performed better in clinical practice. After a while, I couldn’t deny that the new adaptive test format was a good predictor of nursing competence.” From that point on, she became an early believer in adaptive technology’s potential as a powerful tool for assessment.

As her career progressed, Ruth moved into the design and development of online nursing courses and programs. She became a leader in converting complex BSN and MSN programs, helping public universities take their content and re-purpose it for online programs, as well as  leveraging technology to build the infrastructure that allows for nationwide student practicum experiences. But at the back of her mind, she always wondered if it would be possible to teach an entire course using adaptive learning, not just conduct assessments.

For her, that meant developing highly impactful nursing programs that could span a range of specialties in the profession. “There are always knowledge gaps in nursing,” Ruth says. “Gaps begin as soon as new nurses enter the profession because they specialize, and those gaps widen throughout their careers.” As a result, when nurses return to school to complete a BSN or earn an MSN, “They’re forced to take the same basic set of courses no matter what prior knowledge or experience they have, which can be frustrating.”

At CTU, Ruth saw how Intellipath (Realizeit) was helping faculty assess students’ prior knowledge and meet them where they were. “This way, they can glide past what they already know and focus on new content or areas where they have gaps. In addition, we designed the content to reinforce fundamental concepts, so they’re firming up their foundation while enhancing their skills.”

A New Approach to Course Development

Because the existing RN to BSN program was accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), Ruth had a number of requirements to fulfill while converting the program to accommodate Intellipath. She re-engineered the content and existing course format until she found the right mix of adaptive to traditional learning modules within each course—about a 60/40 split.

“Building the MSN from scratch after that was actually easier,” she said.

Ruth identified working with subject matter experts (SMEs) as a key challenge. “We had to divorce ourselves from previous methods and practices used in conventional online course design,” Ruth explains. “That took some re-training for the SMEs, but we got there.”

The result? She and her team built out 24 courses in 12 months. She is now developing the Doctor of Nursing Practice program, which will contain more of a writing focus while still incorporating (Intellipath.)

Honoring Prior Knowledge—and Hectic Schedules

With these programs now underway, Ruth and her faculty are able to quickly assess each student’s individual gaps and place them on the most efficient and effective path to achieving the necessary mastery thresholds. For example, they can provide remedial material for students who have not taken a statistics course recently.

When she reads evaluations and talks to students, they all say the same thing. “They constantly tell me they want more adaptive, more Intellipath,” Ruth says. “They appreciate that they can see how they’re progressing against program outcomes as they move through each course. They have evidence that lets them know how they’re doing.” In addition, students feel their time is respected—and that’s especially important for adult learners who are also fulltime working nurses. “Everything about our program underlines that we respect our students’ time, from how we award credit for prior learning to our use of Intellipath.”

The personalized and adaptive platform benefits faculty, too. They can see in real time how each student is progressing using the learning analytics. “Traditional programs are built on assumptions about student progress,” Ruth told us. “Realizeit is built on evidence. The analytics are a gold mine.” In addition, faculty are able to revise course content whenever they need to, quickly and easily.

Realizeit also helps administrators like Ruth provide documentation and evidence for accreditors. “We can give them so much more information now,” she says. During a recent visit by their accreditor, Ruth and her team laid out the knowledge maps for each course to show exactly what students were learning. She was also able to provide detailed student performance data from her “gold mine” to show them how students were responding to the adaptive learning format. 

The Verdict – Ushering in a New Era for Nursing Education

Ruth stresses that making the change to personalized, adaptive learning with Realizeit requires some adjustment to how courses are designed and developed within your institution. “It requires a much more holistic approach,” she says.

However, she believes it’s absolutely worth it. “We’ve taken very advanced, complex programs and improved them with Realizeit. I’ve believed that adaptive was the way forward for nursing education for years, and now I have two programs proving that it indeed works at different program levels.”

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