The History of the NLN and Experiential Learning Part 1: 1893 to the 1960s

By: M. Elaine Tagliareni, EdD, RN, CNE, FAAN

The History of the NLN and Experiential Learning is a two-part series. Part 1 focuses on 1893 to the 1960s.

Historical part 1 - robbThe National League for Nursing was formed in 1893 by courageous superintendents of US training schools at the Chicago World’s Fair; these creative and visionary pathfinders recognized the need to formalize the training of nurses throughout the United States. Chaired by Isabel Hampton (superintendent of Johns Hopkins), the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools for Nurses was established in response to prevailing chaotic conditions in nursing education and practice. The goals of the new Society were: 1) higher minimum entrance requirements, 2) improvement of living and working conditions for pupils, and 3) increased opportunities for postgraduate and specialized training. Throughout the 20th century, NLN leaders brought social reform to the practice of teaching nursing by standardizing nursing curricula nationally, organizing nurse educators to engage in faculty development, and establishing voluntary accreditation as a mark of excellence. This year, the NLN will celebrate its 125th year of bringing excellence and leadership to nursing education during the NLN Education Summit in Chicago, September 12-14.

From the very beginning, practice opportunities for students in a lab were considered to be rich learning opportunities to integrate theory with practice. As early as 1914, at the 20th Annual Convention of the National League of Nursing Education (forerunner of the current NLN) in St. Louis, Missouri, Miss Eakins, superintendent of the Michael Reese Nursing School in Chicago, spoke to the assembled delegates about experiential learning:

“Women who come to train as nurses are not the type that are satisfied with mere book knowledge. They come because they crave activity. They are the women who accomplish most when their hands and brains work together. They enjoy practical nursing classes, for it is taught as laboratory work. They will enjoy and make use of the sciences just to the extent that we can arouse their interest and correlate it with their hard work. Cannot this best be done by the laboratory method?”

Historical part 1 - Professor-Isabel-Maitland-StewartAlthough “Mrs. Chase” was delivered to the Hartford Training School as early as 1911, the practice of manikin use was not widespread in training schools. Yet, leaders of nursing clearly understood the need to develop pedagogies to facilitate experiences that foster thinking and clinical reasoning skills for students. In 1929, Isabel M. Stewart, head of the League’s Educational Committee, called for a greater emphasis on contextual learning:

“Professional procedures cannot usually be mechanized or routinized. They often have to be improvised to meet the situation. There is a constant demand for individual judgment and adaptability on the part of the nurse, especially in crises or emergencies which are likely to be frequent in professional practice and which often demand decisions involving vital human issues”.

The use of Resusci Anne was common practice in the late 1950s and 1960s to not only teach basic CPR but as a way to teach patient transfers and the making of an occupied bed. Task trainers were used extensively. These approaches to experiential learning heralded the modern era of simulation in nursing education.

Part 2 of this series will focus on the 1960s to the present.

2 thoughts

  1. Thank you for the information….very interesting read & most helpful on my most recent MSN assignment

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