From elementary to college environments, virtual education is now commonplace, and, according to Jillian A. Russell, MSN, RN, NPD-BC, program manager at the Association for Nursing Professional Development, careful planning and creativity can make remote experiences just as—or even more—effective as traditional, in-person learning.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of virtual learning was growing, but technology and learner preferences created challenges. Today, as we begin to see some relief from the pandemic, the shift to virtual learning is expected to prevail.

In a session for the ONS BridgeTM virtual conference on September 9, 2021, Russell said that during COVID-19, “many graduating seniors completed their nursing practicums virtually without ever stepping foot in a patient room,” and she urged attendees to think about the impact that virtual learning has on the audience. She shared several concepts to improve virtual learning activities regardless of objectives, such as enhancing professional skills, completing academic degrees, providing education to patients or staff, or effectively providing telehealth.

Virtual education offers several benefits over in-person learning, including the lack of geographic limitations and the ability to easily incorporate and share experiences through video. However, it also has challenges. When designing programs, Russell urged nurses to think about their own challenges and irritations with virtual learning so they can design creative ways to address them.

Russell shared five best practices of virtual education.

  • Know your audience: What may work for one group may not work for another, in terms of both needs and technology. Staff education may be bound by accreditation criteria and firewall limitations; they may not be able to access certain websites or tools and may have limited time to learn. Patient education requires compliance with the Health Information Privacy Protection Act and has medical record limitations. Patient learners may not be familiar or comfortable with video conferencing tools or even lack the right equipment and internet connections.
  • Embrace microlearning: By “chunking” information, participants can learn about each concept in short segments before moving onto the next. According to MedBridge, microlearning “places emphasis on repetition, practice, and reinforcement over time,” which helps with knowledge retention. A helpful tool for patient education is the Health Care Education Association, which offers guidelines and references for developing effective education programs.
  • Ease-of-access: Use of tools such as QR codes can help people get to specific resources easily, such as how restaurants began sharing menus during the pandemic. Russell demonstrated how many cell phones incorporate QR readers right into the camera. Another tool that Russell uses is short-burst videos, where she can share concepts easily using just her phone and the free Adobe Spark Video app. Other video creation tools include iMovie, Screencast-O-Matic, and Filmora.
  • Point of contact: Always provide learners with a point of contact to provide further explanation and assistance with technology and formats. Although some education is conducted independently, learners should not be left to completely fend for themselves.
  • Creativity: Russell shared several tools that can augment the learning experience and aid engagement. Many of these have a free option to trial:
    • Flipgrid: This tool enables users to engage in video discussions.
    • LoQuiz: This gamification platform uses fun and engaging activities to learn.
    • PollEverywhere: Live online polling, surveys, Q&A, quizzes and other audience tools are possible through this online tool.
    • Mentimeter: This is another way to incorporate live polls, quizzes, and Q&As into presentations.
    • Padlet: Almost like a notepad on steroids, collaborate with others by contributing ideas, creating posts, and sharing pictures and video.