The importance of didactic and clinical learning in nursing education

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, more than 36,000 nursing students completed their studies between 2021 and 2022. Their studies were a combination of didactic and clinical instruction. Both are necessary components of nursing education.

When you enroll in a nursing program, your curriculum may not necessarily delineate them. As a student, however, you need to know the difference between the two, their benefits, and how you can make the most of both.

In the University of Indianapolis DNP-FNP program, for example, the information booklet states that the course has both didactic and laboratory components. The curriculum covers topics such as pediatric primary care, advanced practice across the life span, and primary care transition to advanced practice.

Although it doesn’t specify which of those courses is didactic and which is clinical, you will see that the course comes with automatic clinical placement.

What is the difference between didactic and clinical education?

Didactic learning explained

Didactic education is the learning you do in class. It is teacher-centric. Instructors provide information to students who take notes that they can use for revision or reference in the future. Didactic learning is used to pass on facts and theories.

New technologies have seen an evolution in didactic instruction. Students aren’t tied to classroom learning. They can receive instruction through online videos and audio, recorded lectures, YouTube videos, and more.

If you enroll in an online University of Indianapolis DNP-FNP program, for example, most of your lectures will be pre-recorded for you to access from anywhere, at any time. The instructor also uploads reading materials such as lecture notes and textbooks.

You can contact your instructor to ask questions after you listen to the lectures, just like in a normal classroom.

This is to pass on facts and theories that are necessary for nursing practice. These facts equip you with the knowledge you need to be a competent, confident nurse.

Didactic instruction has certain recognizable characteristics:

  • It is based on a lesson plan.
  • The lesson is intended to achieve the stated objectives.
  • The teacher undertakes periodic student evaluations (tests and exams).
  • It features group discussions.
  • There are consistent learning schedules.

What are the benefits of didactic learning in nursing?

Didactic teaching has been the primary method of instruction for centuries. It is preferred because it has distinct advantages:

  • It is the most efficient way to present large volumes of knowledge.
  • It helps to teach critical thinking skills.
  • Many students are familiar with this way of learning – they have used it since childhood.
  • Teachers are also comfortable with it – they can present theories and facts rather easily.
  • It doesn’t require much by way of resources.
  • It is time-economical.

The main drawback of didactic learning is that it tends to be boring.

Clinical learning explained

In clinical learning, nursing students learn about patient care using practical means. They use the facts and knowledge gained in didactic instruction in a clinical environment.

Although they may not have direct patient care responsibilities, they can observe more experienced nurses at work, help with chores, and learn the practical workings of a hospital or care environment.

As a clinical nursing student, you will work wherever you are assigned. This includes patient wards and rooms, team rooms, operating rooms, emergency rooms, and sometimes hospital offices (to learn IT skills such as how to input patient data and handle insurance claims).

Your soft skills will be tested during clinical learning. You’ll need to have empathy for patients, cooperation with colleagues, critical thinking, speed and accuracy, and patience.

Good nursing schools secure clinical practice for their students. They also assign them a supervisor or guide to help see them through this part of their studies. You will have a supervisor at the hospital or nursing facility to help you as you go through your daily assignments.

During clinical learning, the teacher prepares tasks based on what knowledge the learner has, and how much they are willing to learn. Using their professional judgment, they assess how much the student can learn in the given environment using available resources.

The student, on their part, should make the most of the learning opportunity, observing others at work and asking questions as they carry out their assignments.

Clinical learning should follow certain guidelines:

  • It should be conducted in an environment where the student feels safe to learn and ask questions.
  • There isn’t always a right answer – the student should learn how to use critical thinking skills to determine what action should be taken considering the uniqueness of the situation.
  • The learning should be focused on the most important concepts, but lesser concepts are incorporated for a deeper understanding.
  • It is important to summarize key points at the end of every learning opportunity.

Why combine didactic learning and clinical learning?

It is the most efficient method of learning for nursing students. Didactic instruction delivers the facts and theories, while clinical instruction teaches them the practical role of a nurse.

Students who are doing online learning for the first time sometimes worry about not learning in a classroom environment. It is understandable. We have all, since our childhood, been taught in classrooms by teachers, so we tend to trust this way of learning more than any other.

Online learning is didactic, but you don’t have to commute to a class to get it. The teacher prepares lecture videos and audio and provides lecture notes that you can access on your own time. One important thing to bear in mind is that you have to be disciplined to achieve your online learning goals.

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