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Reexamining How We Teach and How Students Learn to Meet the Needs of Future RNs

By: Susan Gross Forneris, PhD, RN, CNE, CHSE-A, FAAN, National League for Nursing and Barbara J. Patterson, PhD, ANEF, FAAN, National League for Nursing

As nurse educators, do we still fall prey to the misguided notion that content delivery constitutes teaching and learning? It is well documented that the United States will need 1.1 million new RNs by 2024 (American Association of Colleges of Nursing [AACN], 2017). The shortage of nurses naturally extends to higher education and the shortage of faculty to manage increasing enrollments in schools of nursing (AACN, 2017). The high volume of learners currently and anticipated in nursing education programs strongly suggests that as educators, we must teach with excellence and at higher levels than ever before. Our goal—to prepare future nurses for successful transition into a practice that is extraordinarily complex across the continuum of care (Forneris et al., 2022).

As nursing practice and health care change, nursing education must also evolve. However, lecture continues to dominate, and its varied approaches contribute to the ongoing debate between practice and education as the theory-practice gap widens. The debate is alive and well in the literature and highlights the disparity between academic outcomes and practice performance outcomes (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018; Kavanagh & Szweda, 2017; Kovner et al., 2016; Kramer et al., 2017).

This debate also highlights that faculty are not unaware of the impact of contemporary neuroscience on teaching and learning strategies. But emphasis has been limited to explaining neuroscience principles and their importance, not on the application of strategies (Bristol et al., 2019; Kaylor, 2014; Shin et al., 2015). Interestingly, external to nursing education, brain science has evolved with limited dissemination of new knowledge and strategies outside the discipline of education (Chang et al., 2021; Dubinsky et al., 2019; Weinstein et al., 2018).  

As nurse educators, the key to understanding and implementing brain science is our ability to translate what is known from the science into our day-to-day teaching. Here are three key points for educators to consider (Patterson & Forneris, 2022):

The need to transform nursing education and build faculty expertise in the use of these brain-based teaching strategies, with the ultimate goal to secure higher-level reasoning skills in learners, is paramount. We must move beyond describing the strategies and, instead, engage in faculty development that provides opportunities to experience these strategies in action. For contemporary educators, this means making an important cognitive shift, from teaching in mind to learning in mind.Embracing these strategies may be successful in achieving higher levels of learning because brain science strategies emphasize learning in every encounter, not just at summative points (Weinstein, 2018). Teaching and learning blend along a continuum. Brain science teaching and learning is successful because the learning encounter is focused on guiding the learner on how use the content and assessing learning impact in the moment.

Nursing education must do better at providing faculty development and support (Gunberg Ross & Silver Dunker, 2019; Silver Dunker & Manning, 2018). As we move forward in our development of contemporary teaching and learning to meet the needs of our future professional nurses, the generation of development programs that provide faculty with a lived experience in how neuroscience principles are employed will assist nurse educators in making the necessary cognitive shift to transform nursing education and advance the practice of nursing education.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2017). Special survey on vacant faculty positions for academic year 2017–2018. Portals/42/News/Surveys-Data/vacancy17.pdf

Bristol, T., Hagler, D., McMillian-Bohler, J., Wermers, R., Hatch, D., & Oermann, M. (2019). Nurse educators’ use of lecture and active learning. Teaching and Learning in Nursing, 14, 94 – 96.

Chang, Z., Schwartz, M., Hinesley, V., & Dubinsky, J. (2021). Neuroscience concepts changed teachers’ views of pedagogy and students. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, Article 685856. 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.685856

Dubinsky, J., Buzey, S., Schwartz, M., Roehrig, G., MacNabb, C., Schmied, A., Hinesley, V., Hoelscher, M., Michlin, M., Schmitt, L., Ellingson, C., Chang, Z., & Cooper, J. (2019). Contributions of neuroscience knowledge to teachers and their practice. The Neuroscientist, 25(5), 394 – 407.

Forneris, S. G., Mariani, B., Bradley, C., & Daniels, A. (2022). Benchmarking educational best practices: Underpinnings from simulation. In P.R.Jeffries (Ed.), Clinical simulations in nursing education: Advanced concepts, trends, and opportunities (in press).

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Kavanagh, J. M., & Szweda, C. (2017). A crisis in competency: The strategic and ethical imperative to assessing new graduate nurses’ clinical reasoning. Nursing Education Perspectives, 38(2), 57-62.

Kovner, C. T., Djukic, M., Fatehi, F. K., Fletcher, J., Jun, J., Brewer, C. S., & Chacko, T. (2016). Estimating and preventing hospital internal turnover of newly licensed nurses: A panel survey. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 60, 251-262.

Kramer, M., Brewer, B., Halfer, D., Hnatiuk, C. N., MacPhee, M., Duchscher, J. B., Maguire, P., Coe, T., & Schmalenberg, C. (2017). Impact of professional nursing practices on patient/nurse outcomes testing the essential professional nursing practices instrument. Journal of Nursing Administration, 47(5), 278-288.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2018). Bridging the education-to-practice gap. In National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Improving Health professional education and practice through technology: Proceedings of a workshop (pp. 19-28). National Academies Press.

Patterson, B., & Forneris, S. G. (2022). Faculty as learner: Neuroscience in action. [Manuscript submitted for publication].

Shin, H., Sok. S., Hyun, K. S., & Kim, M. J. (2015). Competency and an active learning program in undergraduate nursing education. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 71(3), 591-598.

Weinstein, Y., Madan, C. R., & Sumeracki, M. A. (2018). Teaching the science of learning. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 3(2), 2-17. https//

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