Every month, we hear from Laura Gonzalez, President-elect of International Nursing Association for Clinical Simulation and Learning Standards (INACSL) and Vice President of Clinical Learning Resources at Sentinel U.

This spring, nursing education was re-envisioned by the American Association of Colleges of Nurses when the AACN published a new framework for the preparation of nurses. This update showcases how the field of nursing education is taking a more holistic approach to learning, and leveraging every resource and tool available.

AACN Revised Framework Centers Around Ten Key Domains

The philosophy is less about the level of learner—whether they are undergraduate or graduate level, and similar questions—and more about the role of education throughout a nurse’s professional career. The revised AACN framework considers lifelong learning, applied experience, and recognition of the many ways nurses come into the profession.

In the past nurse educators aligned curricula according to the “essentials.” Now, we will need to re-envision our curricula and map to 10 domains identified by AACN, which include:

  • Knowledge for Nursing Practice
  • Person-Centered Care
  • Population Health
  • Scholarship for Nursing Practice
  • Quality and Safety
  • Interprofessional Partnerships
  • Systems-Based Practice
  • Information and Healthcare Technologies
  • Professionalism
  • Personal, Professional, and Leadership Development

These core competencies are informed by the expanse of higher education, nursing as a discipline, and a breadth of knowledge across various channels.

In the AACN’s new guidelines, these domains are also closely tied to designated concepts that include clinical judgment, communication, compassionate care, and diversity. By naming these concepts and stating clearly how to integrate them into domains, we are guided toward greater accountability to provide the best quality care to everyone.

New to the essentials is the concept of competency-based education. Competency-based education empowers the learner to drive the educational experience. The competency-based approach is student-centered, and learning outcomes are delineated.

Competency-Based Education Empowers Nurses To Control Their Education

Why is this shift to competency-based education so valuable?

AACN recognizes that nursing education is evolving from the strictly traditional classroom-and-clinical format to a more innovative, technologically-enhanced format. Learners can now take advantage of their preferred learning style and experiment with new modalities, while removing barriers like logistics—scheduling, location, limited clinical opportunities, and so forth. Students are becoming more responsible for their own learning.

With this mind shift, virtual simulations are becoming a mainstay of nursing education, and facilitating the acquisition of both knowledge and confidence in practice. Virtual nursing simulations such as Sentinel U put the learner in charge of their education following competency-based guidelines.

With our unique serious game approach learners can challenge themselves and repeat the experience which encourages deliberate practice for mastery (McGaghie, et al.,2015, Gonzalez & Kardong-Edgren, 2017). Learners can control their pace and advance as they demonstrate mastery.

Deliberate practice under the right conditions can help the learner improve skill performance and retention. Repeated performance results in optimal performance (Foronda, 2020) that is maintained over time. Virtual simulations create a safe space for students to practice in, which in turn also allows their confidence to grow.

The theoretical underpinning for the Sentinel U product line is based on increasing order of difficulty from simple to more complex. Nurses advance as they master each level. Each simulation includes real-world context and a set passing standard for each concept. Likewise, our virtual simulations provide continuous feedback, which allows the learner to reflect on their individual performance and identify opportunities for improvement in a safe environment.

Another important aspect of the new core competencies for professional nursing education are the domains that have been identified. Our flagship product Sentinel City continues to demonstrate user acquisition of competencies including population health, interprofessional partnerships, systems-based practice, and quality and safety.

Leverage Virtual Nursing to Meet New AACN Guidelines

In our virtual world, the learner can experience healthcare delivery across the continuum of specialties and scenarios, through a community and population health lens. Within the context of how AACN is re-envisioning nursing education to meet modern nursing needs, virtual simulations are an essential way that educators can deliver tangible results for their students while also being more creative in seeking out learning opportunities.

Virtual simulation will only continue to grow into a more prominent role in nursing curricula as we move to competency-based education for all.