Creating a Continuously Learning Health System Through Technology: A Call to Action

Feb 1, 2016

MGH Institute President Janis P. Bellack, PhD, RN, FAAN, ANEF and MGH Institute Board Chair George E. Thibault, MD

The following is an excerpt from an op-ed published in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of Nursing Education. In April 2015, the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, for which Dr. Thibault serves as president, sponsored an invitational conference focused on exploring the promise and impact of new technologies on the future of health professions education. President Bellack served as a member of the conference planning committee and a conference participant.

Although the op-ed highlights how the nursing education community can leverage the conference’s recommendations, the ideas offered are equally relevant for all health professions education.

Opportunities abound for the nursing education community to take advantage of the insights and recommendations offered by this latest Macy Foundation report. Nurse educators can work individually and collectively to consider the implications the report offers for transforming the lens through which we view and enact our teaching, research, and community service missions and roles. Consider the following opportunities and ways they may be adapted to individual learning experiences, courses, and curricula to better prepare our students to practice in the envisioned Continuously Learning Health System:

• Creating opportunities for competency-based learning or personalized learning pathways to competency for specific learning goals and documenting student acquisition of required competencies.

• Building students' capacity for self-assessment, teamwork, and self-regulated learning to achieve learning outcomes and instill a commitment to lifelong professional development.

• Expanding learning opportunities unbound by time and place to improve access and enable continuous, lifelong, just-in-time learning and professional development.

• Expanding interprofessional learning opportunities by overcoming barriers of disparate curriculum structures and schedules.

• Leveraging distance technologies and social networking tools to enhance interprofessional teamwork and partnerships with patients, families, and communities.

• Blending educational technologies with in-person learning engagement (faculty as coaches, mentors, and advisors) to support student success and achieve desired learning outcomes.

• Evaluating student learning and tracking student progress by using learning analytics to identify those in need of special academic support and guidance.

• Modifying promotion and tenure requirements to encourage and reward faculty for scholarly innovations in using technologies to support student learning.

Academic nurse leaders have the opportunity and a responsibility to work with their respective leadership teams and in partnership with colleagues in information technology, instructional design, institutional research, accreditation and regulation, and clinical partners and employers of graduates to implement the following:

• Secure and allocate resources to develop and support faculty in the best uses of educational technologies in designing curricula, organizing and delivering content, and coaching, advising, and mentoring students.

• Support an interprofessional, cross-institutional bank of best practices for using technology to support learning throughout professional life, including access to learning opportunities anytime, anywhere for students, faculty, and employers.

• Advocate for policies to support the use of open educational resources, which also offers promise for reducing educational costs.

• Provide faculty development and resources to incentivize and support nursing education research, including support for the scholarship of teaching.

• Collaborate more closely with clinical partners to ensure that students have opportunities to access and learn to use authentic clinical data (electronic health records and population health measures), as well as participate in continuous improvement and quality and safety activities, to ensure their readiness for practice and more seamless transition from school to professional practice.

• Work with partners in nursing education, clinical practice, and research to improve systems for sharing data, content, and innovations within and across institutional boundaries to achieve scalability of educational strategies; more effectively deploy limited resources; reduce duplication, inefficiency, and cost; and accelerate improvements and systems learning in both education and health care.

• Collaborate with accreditors and regulators to create improvements in using data-based technologies to simplify and streamline documentation of compliance with accreditation standards and regulatory requirements, including reciprocity and transferability across jurisdictional and organizational boundaries.

The Macy conference recommendations offer nurse educators a new way to think about the uses and benefits of technologies in creating a broader learning continuum from entry-level student to lifelong professional practitioner. Ultimately, these new recommendations are a call to more fully engage with clinical practice partners to build the Continuously Learning Health System envisioned by the Macy conference participants. Reconceptualizing the scope of work of nurse educators to encompass a lifelong learning partnership with students, graduates, and colleagues in clinical practice tightens the link between the education and care delivery systems and offers the promise of improving the learning and professional socialization experiences of students, the teaching and care delivery experiences of faculty and clinical partners, and, most importantly, the experiences and, ultimately, the health of the patients, families, and communities they will serve.


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