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Active blended learning for clinical skills acquisition: innovation to meet professional expectations

02 October 2017
Volume 25 · Issue 10


The standards for pre-registration midwifery education state that the practice-theory ratio of the programme should be no less than 50% practice and no less than 40% theory, adopting a variety of learning and teaching strategies, including simulation. Simulation for skills teaching has been found to bridge gaps between theory and practice, and to positively affect how prepared and confident the student midwife feels to apply knowledge and skills in the practice setting. With changes in regulation under consultation, and an ever more complex clinical environment, it is timely to revisit learning, teaching and assessment strategies in pre-registration education to ensure that they are fit for purpose.

The University of Northampton's approach to learning and teaching, termed active blended learning, is a student-centred approach to support the development of subject knowledge and understanding, independent learning, and digital fluency. This involved the modification of a traditional, four-stage, step-by-step approach to teaching clinical skills, by introducing video-assisted technology to prepare students for a summative assessment using simulation. It is anticipated that this innovative approach to the teaching of clinical skills will enhance the ‘toolkit’ of learning, teaching, and assessment strategies appropriate to contemporary midwifery preregistration education.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)'s draft framework for nursing and midwifery education states that a programme of study will only be approved if ‘students are empowered and provided with the learning opportunities they need in a range of settings, using a variety of methods to achieve the desired programme outcomes and NMC proficiencies’ (NMC, 2017: 4). This approach to learning and teaching is to ensure that student midwives are prepared to practise safely and effectively in line with the Code (NMC, 2015), and is supported by research suggesting that approved education institutions should adopt a wide range of strategies, such as keynote lectures, enquiry-based learning, simulation, and e-learning, to prepare students for the dynamic, unpredictable and complex environment of contemporary maternity services (Fraser et al, 2011).

There is ongoing debate in relation to how adults learn best, with the suggestion that the ‘learning styles’ pedagogical approach, which classifies students as visual, aural/auditory, read/write, or kinaesthetic learners (VAK or VARK) (Vark Learn Ltd, 2017), might limit rather than enhance the acquisition and retention of information (Power and Farmer, 2016). A topic-specific approach, adopting the most appropriate strategy for the topic or skill to be learned, rather than a learning-style-specific approach, which teaches according to the ‘preference’ of the learner as identified by a self-audit VAK/VARK test, may be an alternative.

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