Personal Learning Environments and Clinical Judgment

Each student has a unique way of navigating and managing his/her world. How do you bank? What books do you read and how? Where is your calendar (phone, online, bathroom mirror, etc.)? How do you stay in touch with friends and family? Follows, SMS texting, phone call, note on the counter before you leave for work?

This social fingerprint spills over into education. No two people are the same in how they manage the world around them. One millennial nursing student said he does not like ebooks because he needs to have the paper book spread out on the kitchen table while he is studying. Meanwhile, he Snapchats and Instagrams questions to his peers as he studies. One 40-something nursing student says she can only use ebooks because she has to be able to study while running kids to soccer and dance, so having her books on her laptop is vital.

Learning how to learn involves a lot of creativity and knowing what works for one’s self. Clinical judgment is the actual “doing” part of critical thinking and decision making. The learner must be in the driver’s seat to make these constructs come to life. To truly meet these goals, we need to facilitate personal learning environments (PLE).


This goal of developing a PLE philosophy in academia must be balanced with the reality of what students will see in practice. As they enter practice, they will be faced not only with complex client needs, but complex and ever-changing communication and information management structures.

So how do educators tackle this? One word: VARIETY.

We need to create learning experiences that not only promote success in students’ individual learning styles/preferences but also in areas in which they are not comfortable.

Social Media in Education

Because of the need to protect patient privacy, many in health care and education shy away from social media (SM). As a result, many of the benefits of SM are not explored by students. The constant connection and support are not only a benefit to client health, but also to learning. Faculty should encourage students in the HIPAA-appropriate use of SM for both meeting client needs and meeting their own personal needs as students.

Information Management

Demonstrate for students how to mix modalities when studying by using a tool such as Sherpath. Often students don’t personalize their learning environment because they are stuck in a rut. For instance, the online student may think they can only use technology to study/learn. If working with online students or creating a video, ask students to have a piece of paper ready while working through their lesson in Sherpath. Then, a few minutes into the lesson ask them to write down three words that are most important to them in what is being studied/explored. Next to each word, they draw a simple figure/image/shape. Finally, ask them to share their creation by snapping a picture and uploading it with a brief explanation into your course discussion forum. This not only helps them learn what is being covered at that point in the class, but it also helps them become more creative when developing their own PLE.

Another important concept when it comes to information management with Sherpath is that each student has their own set of strengths and, subsequently, educational needs. Therefore, students need to be mentored in the area of identifying their own needs. This is where self-assessment with Sherpath’s quizzing function becomes vital. Show students the importance of frequent self-assessment by using Sherpath’s quizzing tools in class for games and peer activities. Then show them, in class, how to DO SOMETHING with what they got wrong by going back into the lesson. Remember that clinical judgment is the DOING that follows critical thinking; and students will do what they see YOU DO.

Do Something

The best “DO SOMETHING” strategy — as part of remediation for personally identified gaps — relates to a clinical situation. This is where the students get an opportunity to create. Have the students pick one of the questions they got wrong on a Sherpath quiz. Next, ask them to create an SBAR (e.g., a hand-off report in the format of situation, background, assessment, recommendation). Then, have them use their phone to create a three- to five-minute video of them giving the report.

After creating the video, students upload it as an attachment in the discussion forum. The faculty then chooses one to share with the class for all to critique. For the one chosen to share, that student gets an extra point on the next exam. When sharing the video, the audience of students then offers two compliments and two suggestions to be uploaded to the course discussion forum or closed Facebook group.

For the student who is an English language learner, using case studies in Sherpath is key. As they identify personal areas of weakness, show them how to work through corresponding case studies as a way to helping them truly understand the DOING that is so vital when it comes to the content being learned.

The Power of Personal Learning Environments

The power in this process is multifaceted. Consider the following:

  1. Students “learn how to learn” by mixing technology with non-tech modalities
  2. Students learn the importance of engaging the clinical setting when studying
  3. Students develop communication skills both in person and virtually
  4. Students are encouraged to use tech tools that they see the instructor using

For your organization, as you seek to promote retention and success of students, using Sherpath gives you the tools you need to meet a variety of learning needs. Dream big, start small, act now. What can you do today to start your students down a path of creating their own PLE?

Get valuable tips from Nurse Tim on teaching a diverse group of students by reading his article Nursing Education and the Multigenerational Classroom.

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