A Few Things to Think About When Moving to a Concept-Based Curriculum

Woman raising her hand in class

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 (CBC)? Personally, I was involved with North Carolina’s statewide move to a CBC well before there were many resources available to assist us with this task.

More than 10 years later, I have learned so much from working with many schools across the nation who are in various stages of implementing a CBC. For me, three common things come to light as both challenges and triumphs when faculty discuss their implementation. Below are a few strategies for facing these challenges and turning them into triumphs!

Preparing Your Faculty

Faculty come into the concept-based curriculum process with varying levels of knowledge and experience. 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. That’s why it’s important to prepare them with conceptual learning resources such as Mastering Concept-Based Teaching. This book is ideal for teaching faculty everything from CBC basics to conceptual teaching strategies across the entire curriculum. Another idea is to conduct professional development workshops. These informal sessions can range from an introduction to conceptual learning, to the full implementation of a concept-based curriculum. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to give faculty time to prepare for this new pedagogy. Faculty who are not given time to plan and develop concept-based lessons are in danger of falling back to their old ways of teaching.

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 judgments. 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 give them the ability 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, I believe it’s more important for the students to have a deep understanding of the patient with perfusion, gas exchange, and metabolism conditions. Communicating this 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!

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, (e.g., 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.

It’s also important to 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 solutions.