How to Cultivate Student Engagement in Healthcare Simulation

Recently we covered the Latest Nursing Simulation Content from Pocket Nurse’s SimTalk Blog, with a highlight today from a special article shared by Dawn Mangine, Content Manager at Pocket Nurse on How to Cultivate Student Engagement in Healthcare Simulation. As we all know, student engagement in a tricky term! Instructors need to make sure students are involved, inquisitive, inspired, and interested. Today Dawn takes a closer look at how to successfully engage Generation Z learners in the field of clinical education.

Student engagement can be a tricky term. Generally speaking, it means that students are successfully learning because a class is engaging – that students are involved, inquisitive, inspired, and interested. The amount of interest and involvement a student experiences during clinical simulation learning, the more engaged they are.

Several types of engagement exist, and engagement looks different based on topic, class, and individual. Classroom engagement occurs on multiple levels, and addressing each level can help instructors sustain students’ interest. Here are three types of engagement involved in learning:


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  • Relational Engagement: The positive or negative reaction a student experiences when interacting with an educator, occupying a learning environment, or receiving course curricula.
  • Behavioral Engagement: The actions a student takes during learning that reflect participation and compliance.
  • Cognitive Engagement: The internal efforts by students to understand and retain curricula through engagement in academic tasks.

Behavioral engagement is usually the easiest for an instructor to identify and address. A student not looking at the instructor or not taking notes is disengaged and distracted. The teacher can try to refocus her by simply calling her attention back to the classroom.

However, if a student continues to lose focus, she may be emotionally disengaged. Emotional engagement is a type of relational engagement. Experts in the field of student engagement think this type of engagement is the most relevant to classroom management that promotes optimal engagement.

Cognitive engagement may be the cause behind a student’s inattention. In this case, a student is struggling to accomplish academic tasks. This student may need extra tutoring, or some attention during office hours.

Engaging Students Through Clinical Simulation


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Learning in the simulation setting relies on hands-on experience. Always functioning in the role of an observer isn’t enough to establish proficiency. As healthcare education focuses more on scenario-based training, students who fail to go all-in will fall further behind.

Experts in simulation encourage instructors to create an immersive simulation scenario that engages at least three of the five senses. It’s nearly impossible for students to pretend that certain stimuli are present in the simulation when they are not.

Smell, more than any other sense, can instantly invoke a long-forgotten memory. The NIH reports a close connection to the olfactory pathways responsible for our sense of smell and the sections of the brain responsible for emotion and memory. Synthetic smells can truly immerse students, and make it easier to remember what they learned in a simulation lab or during a simulation scenario in the field.

Engaging students with emotion can improve learning as well. Running death scenarios, while sometimes considered stressful, can help students gain empathy as well as improving patient outcomes.

Engaging Generation Z in Clinical Education

Post-millennials, also known as Generation Z, are a different breed of learners due to many factors – their own parents’ education, their diversity, and their relationship with technology. Since so many Gen Z’ers are pursuing higher education, including healthcare education, here are some tips for engaging this generation of learners.

  • Incorporate technology: Current high school and college students are technologically literate. Incorporating technology into the classroom can help drive a student’s self-learning.
  • Help students build social networks: Social networking over social media can reinforce learning by engaging students outside of class. In class, creating open forums or having students learn in small groups builds interaction.
  • Explain “why”: Explaining the learning goals of simulation can help students connect with the material and think critically.
  • Be brief: Gen Z was born into an environment filled with technology and screens clamoring for everyone’s attention. Their ability to focus is limited. They learn best when taught in brief installments.
  • Use visuals: Incorporating graphics into lessons can increase learning and retention.
  • Encourage participation: Call on disengaged students. Ask your students to share their experiences or discuss their challenges in class. Getting students talking to each other and to instructors will help enhance learning.

Healthcare educators are expected to be more than instructors. They are expected to maintain their credentials, learn new and emerging technology, continually refine curriculum, and coordinate clinical sites – as well as prepare students for their careers! Educators in smaller programs may even be responsible for resource acquisition, storage maintenance, new faculty training, and lobbying the administration for dollars to support simulation education. This makes for a challenging, dynamic, and demanding role.

The key to re-engaging students and keeping them focus is to track progress, solicit student and faculty feedback, and use resources, such as the Seattle University Simulation Evaluation Tool, for tracking metrics and evaluate student performance.

Student disengagement may seem like the students’ problem, but when faculty and students can partner to make effective, lasting learning a priority in their program, better professionals emerge – and with them, better future patient care outcomes.

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