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Bridging the nursing theory-practice gap with enquiry-based learning

A relaxed female nurse in turquoise scrubs looks at the camera and smiles.

A new report from The Open University explores how the use of enquiry-based learning (EBL) is supporting learners on their journey to becoming registered nurses. Created in partnership with the National Health Executive (NHE), the Enquiry-based learning: Transforming nurse education report is relevant to employers and educators who are supporting nursing students.

The OU has been delivering nursing education in partnership with healthcare employers since 2002, based on a flexible approach which combines supported distance learning and practice-based learning in the workplace.  In 2018, the OU launched its new future nurse curriculum.  Striving for innovation, this new curriculum adopts an enquiry-based learning pedagogy to help bridge the theory-practice gap.

Dr Rebecca Garcia, Associate Head of School Nursing and Health Professions at the OU, said “We have embraced the concept of Enquiry-based learning (EBL) as the theory of learning of our nursing programme. Our EBL modules educate nurses differently and this report highlights how this concept is transforming the way we develop nurses.” 

EBL is based around a five-stage framework which encourages students to take the lead in directing their learning.  Students engage together around a given scenario, and with the support of a facilitator, address complex clinical and social presentations.  The students formulate questions, engage in discussions and find solutions, encouraging peer collaboration and building a community of learning.  Dr Nicky Goodall, Lecturer in Adult Nursing specialising in the integration of EBL into the nursing curriculum at The Open University, added “EBL helps nurses to develop as professionals. They can apply their skills to unique situations, and it also prepares them to expect they’ll encounter things they can’t do alone.”

The impact of this EBL approach is examined in the report, looking at the experiences of OU nursing students who have recently completed EBL nursing modules. These OU nursing students cited various benefits from their enquiry-based learning experiences, such as building their team working skills, increasing their confidence, and crucially helping to develop their skills in caring for patients.  The benefits centre around seven key themes which are explored in the report.

Next, read the Enquiry-Based Learning: Transforming nurse education report, or find out more about The Open University’s BSc (Honours) Nursing degree and Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship.

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