Nurses Play to Win: Gamification in Nursing Education

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Blocks spelling out Learn and PlayAs an educator, you’ve probably heard about the trend to gamify instruction in corporate training. But how does this concept apply to teaching nurses?

Games can be a shot in the arm in nursing education, especially with undergraduate students. Millennials live and breathe technology and are comfortable in both the real and virtual worlds. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average age of video gamers is 30.

Video gaming has been linked to improved surgical skills, according to a study in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The study also found gaming is an effective method for learning clinical decision-making skills and interacting with patients. Additionally, playing video games releases dopamine, a chemical that’s necessary for retaining knowledge.

Benefits of gamification in nursing education

Gamification may sound like a juvenile term, but its concepts go hand-in-hand with adult learning principles. Adults respond better to instruction that’s relevant, purposeful and respects their life experience.

  • Relevant: A 2014 study by the New Media Consortium points out that adults enjoy solving problems more than learning new information. Playing games encourages critical thinking skills and provides realistic experiences that nursing students can relate to. As students work through the scenarios, they encounter many aspects of patient care and discover how to best resolve these situations.
  • Purposeful: Adult learners are goal-oriented, and games are designed around the completion of levels or tasks. The New Media Consortium study shows badges are increasingly being used as reward systems for learners. Many times, students display their badges publicly, which displays their progress and also fosters competition.
  • Respects their life experience: Scenarios in games allow students to build on their work and life experience and provide opportunities to practice new skills in a safe environment. The opportunity to practice in simulations helps minimize patient errors in reality.

Gamification examples in health care education

There are a number of places where gamification is being implemented to teach health care providers.

For example, Stanford University’s School of Medicine has a web-based simulation game called SICKO (Surgical Improvement of Clinical Knowledge Ops). Medical students manage three virtual patients simultaneously and make critical decisions in the operating room. The objective of the course is to develop triage and surgical decision-making skills.

And WakeMed Health and Hospitals in North Carolina uses a human patient simulator named Stan to teach patient care and also show the value of utilizing the hospital’s helicopter transport system in saving lives. Stan weighs 160 pounds and is capable of breathing, blinking and dying. Students can give Stan CPR, oxygen and medication and see the results. WakeMed’s training department was recognized by the Association for Talent Development as one of the best training centers in 2014.

Applying gamification to your instruction

Gamification can be a fully immersive virtual experience, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be, says Karl Kapp, gamification author and instructional technology professor at Bloomsberg University. He recommends educators think of gamification more as an instructional design method rather than adding technological bells and whistles.

Some of his tips for making instruction more game-like include adding stories, creating challenges or adding elements such as points or badges to recognize achievements. Kapp says the bottom line for gamification is it should be less about the technology and more about “driving learning and behavior change.”

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