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What is self-directed learning, and how can I incorporate it into my nurse residency program to engage new nurses?


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Self-directed learning is a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, to diagnose their learning needs, formulate learning goals, identify resources for learning, select and implement learning strategies, and evaluate learning outcomes (Knowles, 1975). Self-directed learning promotes independence, confidence, and awareness of available resources. This kind of learning can take place in a multitude of ways throughout a nurse residency program.

Coloring sheets: Have topical coloring sheets available for use on a table or desk that offer something interesting for new graduates during breaks.

Learning stations: Multiple learning stations throughout a room provide new graduates with choices regarding their learning. Covering multiple topics and skill levels facilitates different needs for nurses working in multiple departments. Have an instructor available at each station to clarify any questions or assist with skills.

Posters: Posters at the back of the classroom on continuous display allows nurses who want to learn more about the poster topic to review them during breaks. Displays can address specific skill sets, disease processes, or recent changes to facility policy, for instance. Provide additional resources for nurses to obtain more information.

Word search/crossword puzzles: Have crossword puzzles or word searches available on a table or desk. Choose a specific topic for each workshop (e.g., cardiac, neuro) to provide a system review or assessment or to clarify terminology.

In self-directed learning, it is the resident who is in charge. Residents decide what to learn, how to learn, which resources to follow up with, and to what degree they master new information and skills. The instructor also plays an important role and can best facilitate self-directed learning by:

  • Helping new nurses identify their learning needs
  • Making sure nurses are aware of the resources
  • Acting as advocates for education
  • Helping nurses develop positive attitudes and feelings toward independent learning
  • Developing high-quality learning guides

-Jim Hansen, MSN, RN-BC