1. Onello, Rachel L.
  2. Moulton, Michelle C.

Article Content

As nursing education faces an unpredictable landscape within a global pandemic, an evolving demographic of learners, and a transformed Next Generation NCLEX(R), nurse educators are experiencing unprecedented external forces. Navigating this terrain highlights the need to reexamine the pedagogical decisions driving the design and facilitation of learning. As scholars, we are trained to access, appraise, and apply evidence to inform practice. Yet, our body of nursing knowledge is predominantly focused on student-perceived measures rather than translational outcomes to inform best practice in teaching and learning. Searches of the literature reveal a current body of knowledge saturated with measures of self-confidence, satisfaction, and student perceptions of learning. If we are to advance the science of teaching, evidence of best practices of teaching and learning must grow beyond primary outcomes within the affective domain.

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Research in nonnursing cognitive psychology (Gurung, 2020) suggests students are poor judges of their own learning. Students with lower mastery are more likely to overestimate their knowledge and confidence than students with higher mastery (Hartwig & Dunlosky, 2017). With the current saturation of student self-perceptions, this potential for inaccurate judgments of learning and illusions of knowing significantly challenges our understanding of best practices for nursing education (Brown et al., 2014). Advancing the science requires moving research beyond learner self-confidence and into the space of learner self-calibration - the ability to monitor one's knowledge and accurately assess one's abilities through metacognition (Callender et al., 2016).


The necessary shift in focus from self-confidence to self-calibration is not exclusive to nursing education. Practice-driven professionals (Medina-Ramirez et al., 2020) and high-performance athletes (Kitsantas et al., 2018) understand the importance of calibrating thinking in real time and focus programs of research on developing metacognitive skillsets in learners and trainees. Although measures of self-confidence may fuel the achievement of competence, leveraging self-calibration can inform the pursuit of excellence. The skillset needed to make meaning of information, recognize salience, and navigate variability relies on the establishment of refined cognitive pathways. It requires diving into the brain science of teaching and learning - strategies that leverage how the brain is neurocognitively wired to store information, make meaning, and learn (Carey, 2015).



Understanding the science behind brain-based teaching and learning becomes critical as we prepare students for the Next Generation NCLEX, where decision-making matters more than ever. Many educators are familiar with the "right destination, wrong road" phenomenon where students arrive at the correct answer for the wrong reason. With a renewed emphasis on the cognitive processes used to drive decision-making, it is imperative that our teaching builds the metacognitive skills necessary for students to arrive at the right answer for the right reason. This necessitates evidence-based strategies for helping students learn how to self-calibrate their thinking and effectively engage in self-regulated learning.


There is extensive domain-specific evidence on teaching strategies supportive of self-regulated learning and improved calibration (Wang & Sperling, 2020). Within the arts and sciences, evidence supports improved learning outcomes from brain science-based approaches (Carey, 2015). Yet, our understanding of how these brain science concepts translate to nursing education is limited, and scholarly inquiry into best practices in brain science-based teaching within the nursing domain is needed. In addition, the recognition that nurse scholars cannot accomplish research-driven educational transformation in a vacuum is essential.


In clinical practice, nurses are integral members of the interdisciplinary care team, with individual members contributing their training and expertise to improve outcomes. Yet, in our role as educators, we infrequently embrace this interdisciplinary paradigm. Often, we embark on inquiries into the science of teaching and its impact on learning outcomes without the collaboration seen at the bedside. To date, research in nursing education lacks a robust body of knowledge reflecting interdisciplinary research on best practices of teaching and learning with colleagues in the fields of education, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience.



Given that many nurse educators lack formal pedagogical training (Bullin, 2018), our current approach to research in nursing education is akin to our clinical role in caring for a patient with Type 2 diabetes without the collaboration of a diabetic educator and nutritionist. Although each profession has its discrete body of knowledge, there is synergy from drawing upon and integrating expertise. The ideal approach to research in nursing education would mirror this interprofessional synergy as we work to transform nursing education with brain-based research at the class, course, and program levels. Drawing upon the expertise of our interprofessional colleagues, we can build our unique body of knowledge in brain science-based approaches within the nursing domain.


Recognizing this, consider potential questions lingering beyond student perception and self-confidence: What brain science-based activities shown to be successful in the arts and sciences translate to improved learning outcomes in nursing education? How do educators leverage the neurocognitive process through which students develop nursing-specific knowledge? What are the most effective strategies for cultivating reflexive thinkers, and what longitudinal impact do those teaching strategies have on bedside care?


Answering new questions and advancing research in nursing education necessitates seeing part of our role as teaching students how to think and learn in alignment with brain science. By understanding how the brain works and leveraging those characteristics to maximize the learning process, we can move nursing students to more meaningful learning that not only prepares them for the Next Generation NCLEX but also has the potential to translate to improved bedside care. In short, students need to learn how to learn. Part of our role as educators is to teach them how to think. Also, our role as scientists is to generate the evidence.


By understanding how the brain works and leveraging those characteristics to maximize the learning process, we can move nursing students to more meaningful learning that not only prepares them for the Next Generation NCLEX but also has the potential to translate to improved bedside care. In short, students need to learn how to learn.


Before we can transform teaching, we need science to guide us. In the spirit of our collaborative roles within clinical care, we must embrace drawing upon our colleagues' expertise in education, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience to inform our next steps in advancing research in nursing education. Just as we ask our students to lean into the vulnerability of learning, we must ask the same of ourselves as scholars and educators. To do so may require leaning deeper into rethinking our need for translation of evidence across disciplines, embracing curiosity on how brain-based teaching and learning can inform our advancement of nursing education. It requires from all of us a commitment to moving beyond self-confidence and toward brain science-based approaches to transformational teaching.




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