Moving to a Concept-Based Curriculum; Think About This.

Are you considering a change to a concept-based nursing curriculum or are you in the process of developing and implementing a concept-based curriculum? Being from North Carolina, I was involved with the statewide move to a concept-based curriculum. North Carolina embarked on this journey well before there were many resources available to assist us with this task. Now more than 10 years after the Curriculum Improvement Project (CIP) proposal was sent to the North Carolina Community College System, I have learned so much from working with many schools across the nation who are in various stages of implementing a concept-based curriculum. Three common things come to light as both challenges and triumphs, when faculty discuss their implementation. Here I would like to discuss some strategies for facing these challenges and turning them into triumphs!

  1. Preparing your faculty. Faculty come into the concept-based curriculum process with varying levels of knowledge and understanding. If you have faculty members who have been acting on a curriculum committee, they most likely will have more advanced knowledge than those faculty who have not. Providing faculty with concept-based learning resources is vital to helping them become knowledgeable and ready to make the change to teaching conceptually. There are several experts who have written resources for faculty. One very valuable resource is the book by Jean Giddens, Linda Caputi, and Beth Rodgers, titled Mastering Concept-Based Teaching (2015, Elsevier.) This books takes faculty from the basics of understanding concepts and exemplars to providing strategies for teaching conceptually across the curriculum. Providing professional development opportunities for faculty is essential as well. There are many options available today, including introduction to concept-based curriculum workshops and the more advanced, implementation of a concept-based curriculum type workshops. Maybe the most important of all (according to many faculty) is providing faculty time to actually prepare for this new pedagogy. Faculty who are not given time to plan and develop lessons based on the concepts, often fall back into their old ways of focusing on content.
  2. Preparing Your Clinical Partners. A concept-based curriculum doesn’t stop when the student leaves the classroom. Clinical teaching and learning experiences need to be concept-focused as well. Past practices of having classroom, skills lab, and clinical learning in silos is no longer effective in teaching students to critically think and make clinical judgements. Clinical facilities have long been accustomed to the nursing students caring for the “total-care” patients, as the student will only have that one patient and can spend more time providing care. While it is important for nursing students to learn the art of caring, today’s nurse is required to make clinical decisions that could mean life or death for the patient. Clinical experiences should focus on helping students develop a deep knowledge of nursing concepts and be able to apply that knowledge to all patient situations. Clinical assignments should no longer be focused on the quantity of patient care tasks a student can perform, but rather on making clinical decisions about patient care and safety. Focusing assignments on the type of patients the student nurses will be caring for in practice and developing a deep understanding of those patients conditions and needs is critical. Have you ever gone to make clinical assignments and the nurse tells you to pick a certain patient with a rare condition that the student will never see again? While the student certainly can learn from seeing this condition, isn’t it more important for the students to have a deep understanding of the patient with perfusion, gas exchange, and metabolism conditions. I live in the “stroke belt” where many patients we care for have hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and often develop kidney disease as a result of these conditions. These conditions also often lead to stroke. Wouldn’t it be more important for my students to have a deep knowledge of these concepts, the risk factors associated with these conditions, and be experts at managing the care of these patients? Communicating to your clinical agencies and advisory boards is critical. They need to understand that as your curriculum moves to a concept-based model, the clinical assignments will also become more conceptual. Provide them with research on students’ critical thinking and clinical judgement abilities after completing a concept-based curriculum. This is their goal when they hire your graduates!
  3. Changing Your Students’ Mindset About Education. Some very important principles of a concept-based curriculum include student responsibility for their learning, active and engaging classrooms, and building on previous knowledge. So many times nursing students come to us being very successful at knowledge and understanding of content. This is often how they learn in K-12, as well as some of their prerequisites. Nursing requires students to take their learning to a higher level. Reflecting on Bloom’s Taxonomy, nursing students need to be able to apply, analyze, evaluate and create when making clinical decisions. Help your students learn from the very first encounter, such as information sessions or orientation, that nursing school is different from most other classes and education settings they have experienced. Students need to come to class with knowledge and understanding, which they can learn through assignments outside of class. In class, the nurse educator will focus on assisting students with the higher levels of thinking. Consider faculty assignments when moving to a concept-based curriculum. Place your most knowledgeable and passionate faculty in those first foundation courses to set the tone for your students. If you maintain high expectations, students will most likely rise to challenge.

I hope these tips are helpful and will guide you as you embark on your new curriculum. I don’t like to say, learn from my “mistakes” because I am an optimist, but take advice from someone who did face challenges and never thought about these important things at the outset!

Click here to learn more about Elsevier's concept-based curriculum solution.

Tammy Pleasant,


Digital Product Educator