Technology changes in the proverbial blink of an eye. Working and teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic has proven how much it will be used in the field in both practice as well as nursing education.

Julie Stegman, Vice President, Nursing Segment of Health Learning, Research & Practice at Wolters Kluwer, took time to answer our questions about their survey, Future of Technology in Nursing Education.

Why did you decide to conduct this survey? What did you hope to learn from it?  

As technology advances, and more and more people have access to computers and smartphones, tech is augmenting almost every workforce. Nursing is no exception. We originated our first survey around technology usage and adoption in Nursing Education five years ago to understand how rapidly nursing programs were implementing technology as part of the education process. Technology helps nursing educators prepare students for practice so they can deliver the best care to patients everywhere, and today’s students have an expectation for a dynamic and multi-modal learning experience.

We decided to refresh our survey this year to understand the shifts in education related to the COVID-19 global pandemic and beyond. We surveyed nursing deans, program directors, and faculty to identify their plans for technology usage, adoption, and investment during the next five years and explore the barriers and opportunities related to those plans.

What are the most important results of the survey? What does this say about the future of nursing education?

Some of the results of the survey were predictable: over the last year and a half, there’s been a massive transition from in-person learning to virtual learning, with some 73% of institutions going fully online at the start of the pandemic, and another 22% adopting a hybrid model.

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Though the adoption of virtual simulation and other technologies were already in play in nursing education before COVID, the pandemic greatly accelerated it out of necessity. Some 48% of respondents say they plan to invest more in virtual simulation during the next 2 years, with virtual simulation reaching full adoption by 2025.

Overall findings of the survey point to a “classroom of the future” that is hybrid, geared for digital learners with emerging and existing technologies.

How did the study work?

For our Future of Technology in Nursing Education survey, Wolters Kluwer carried out six in-depth interviews with qualified nursing respondents in August 2020, followed by a quantitative online survey sent out in December 2020. The purpose of the study was to understand technology trends. The online survey, done in collaboration with the National League for Nursing, was sent to a list of nursing administrators, faculty, and Deans provided by the National League for Nursing, yielding 450 responses.

The opinions of these respondents were critical to capture because they represent real nursing education leaders making a difference in the world of nursing education today. No one can better speak to both the day-to-day circumstances and the long-term technological trends than these respondents, and we are very pleased with our sampling.

What survey results surprised you the most?

As we showed with our previous survey, nursing education continues to be an area of early adoption of technology. This has been particularly evident in simulation learning, including research into the value and effectiveness of this learning modality. Our survey continued to reinforce this shift, with nurse educators looking ahead to fuller scale adoption of technologies as well as a continued interest in emerging technologies.

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I was most surprised that the incredible shift to online learning we experienced during COVID-19 is anticipated to continue with three in ten (31%) educators saying their programs will offer the same number of online courses, and 39% indicating their program will offer more online courses.

What are the three key barriers that the survey showed are barriers to the adoption of technology? Any ideas how the nursing field can overcome them?   

Various factors are hindering tech adoption in nursing education, including a lack of funding and lack of technology infrastructure.  Another difficulty nursing education is facing as a side effect of increased tech adoption is faculty who may be resistant or slow to change their approach to teaching, with many faculty members opting to retire and leave the workforce. This has the potential to exacerbate an existing shortage in nursing faculty. We need to remedy this shortage to ensure that all qualified applicants can enter nursing school and become practice-ready nurses to mitigate and meet the anticipated patient demand.

COVID-19 has shown us that learning technologies need to be in place to continue to provide the best possible nursing education in the face of unpredictable learning environments, as well as address many pre-existing challenges educators faced with clinical learning. We anticipate that the pandemic and the associated shifts in learning and teaching approaches will also force a shift in funding which will help address previous hurdles as many of these solutions move from “nice to have” technologies to those that are necessary within nursing schools.

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To address the gap in nursing education as a result of recent waves of retirements, we need to ensure educating future nurses is seen as critical to the nursing profession and address the challenges that create this faculty shortage. This includes compensation differences in clinical roles vs. education and ensuring that masters and doctoral programs can also increase acceptance of applicants. In addition, it’s critical to ensure that future educators are familiar with and embrace the benefits that educational technologies can bring to the learning process.

Ultimately, the #1 goal for nurses is to provide the best care to patients, everywhere and in any care setting. This begins with education and it’s essential that nursing faculty and students have the tools available to empower them to be ready to enter the workforce. The Dean’s Survey helps us understand which technologies are likely to drive this momentum, and where we can continue developing solutions to help prepare practice-ready nurses.

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