Optimizing the learning potential for the distance learning students




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Optimizing the learning potential for the distance learning students

Focusing on the tension between experience and competence.
An analysis of nursing education offered in three different learning programmes.
The focus is on analysing the distance learning programme in relation to the other learning programmes.


Trine Ungermann Fredskild
TUF@ucsyd.dk

University College Syd, sygeplejerskeuddannelsen
Agervang 2
6400 Sønderborg
Denmark

Abstract


The distance learning programme has made its entrance into nursing education, and many see it as a break with the education’s traditions of teaching in the classroom, in practise rooms and at the patient’s bedside (Chaffin & Maddux 2004)(5).

Traditionally, many of the technical skills and personal qualities that nurses must acquire are learned through interaction with others. The distance learning programme has therefore given rise to some new problems and challenges, and this article discusses some of these.

Empirically, the article builds on a comparative study of three student nurse classes from two Danish nursing schools, including one based on the distance learning programme. By following both distance learning and traditional nursing students in their clinical training, light is cast upon the differences and similarities that may exist in the clinical skills and competences that the students gain under the two programmes.

Theoretically the article builds on Etienne Wengers theory on learning in communities of practice, focusing on the relationship between experience and competence in learning related communities of practice (Wenger 1998; Wenger 2004)(36)(37).

The article contributes with findings that are related to the differences between the programmes and the different types of students that each programme attracts. The article argues that an increased didactic and pedagogical focus upon the field of tension between experience and competence will enable an optimisation of the learning conditions of the distance learning students in their clinical teaching. The article, in conclusion, thus places focus on the questions surrounding teaching design in relation to the distance learning programme.

Keywords: distance learning, nursing education, learning processes, nursing skills and competences, communication

Introduction


When nursing education in the form of distance learning was introduced in Denmark, it raised many questions from nurses concerning both the clinical and the theoretical parts of the education. The reactions to the fact that a clinical, professionally oriented education, which nursing education in fact is, was offered as distance learning were many and sceptical. Some of the questions that arose in connection with the fact that the distance learning programme became a reality were ones such as: Can you study nursing from home? Do you become skilled enough to function as a nurse? Do the students learn enough? Can the students remain in touch with reality? And, what about the conditions for patient care in an ever more technologically based healthcare system, and now in an ever more technologically based education system? (Sievert, Larsen & Frederiksen 2003)(29).

Nurses’ understanding of nursing as a profession that demands personal and humane qualities, which traditionally have been developed in dealings with other people, resulted in a certain scepticism of the distance learning programme in nursing circles. Many saw the change of programme as a clear break with strong traditions in both profession and education, and, along with the new programme, a long tradition of educating nurses in classrooms, practise rooms and in clinical training has been put on test.

This research project was initiated in order to penetrate deeper into the range of questions and problems that the new programme raised, and from the assumption that the change in the programme might lead to changes in the competences and qualifications developed by the students. The research questions that forms the background of this paper is:

How are the development of basic clinical nursing skills, interaction with patients, and cooperative and problem-solving competences affected by the fact that students have received their theoretical teaching via the distance learning programme, rather than via the traditional programme?

How is the development of communicative relations and competences during interaction with fellow students, teachers and patients, as well as the development of a technical language, affected by the fact that the students have received their theoretical teaching via the distance learning programme, rather than via the traditional programme?

The study involves comparative research of the programmes with focus on whether students of, respectively, the distance learning and the traditional programme can achieve the same skills and competences.

The aim of the study is to contribute with an illumination and a clarification of the influence of the distance learning programme on student learning in nursing education. And it is the purpose to draw attention to the special challenges that the distance learning programme creates.

In spite of the fact that there is, today, a discussion taking place about e-learning within education generally, the following literature review will alone encompass the distance learning programme in relation to nursing education, as this education is the focus of the research.
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