Nurse Educator Role: A Guide For The New Nurse Educator

Starting out as a nurse educator can be a daunting and ‘thrown in at the deep end’ experience. Teaching to students, colleagues and other nurses in the workplace or higher education setting presents an array of challenges. But now you’re in the role, your expected to be able to deliver many types of education and understand adult education theory. We will provide some tips on starting out and helpful resources in these first critical elements of the role.

Education Philosophy: First resource to consider is reading Malcolm Knowles’ The Adult Learner (summary post). In nursing, the constructivist pathway for nursing proficiency is standard, so using Patricia Benner’s (1984) Novice to Expert framework is a good starting resource.

Intended Learning Outcomes: Start and finish with intended learning outcomes. This gives focus to your teaching, helps to keep on track and guides the students in what they should be getting out of attending the learning session/s (more information on intended learning outcomes).

Taxonomy: Anderson & Krathwohl (2001) revision and understanding of Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy provides consideration and assessment of different levels of knowledge, in particular for setting learning outcomes to guide the nurse educator. Think of the ‘novice to expert’ nursing pathway for learning focus.

Lesson Plan: Create a lesson plan to deliver focused education sessions. Make the most out of the valuable teaching time by being organised (lesson planning).

Social Learning Theory: Group work and collaboration are encouraged for adult learners, we are social learners. Can you replace the lecture with a case study or simulation for more hands on and real life learning scenarios? Make it team based or collaborative approach. Help facilitate communities of practice (CoP’s).

Facilitation Style: remove the traditional teacher approach and you quickly move your style to that of facilitator, encouraging adult learning and increasing engagement from the students. Adults engage in authentic learning tasks so link content to their professional environment (#Heutagogy).

Flip & Prepare: If you’re an organised educator then provide a link to the content or topics to be discussed for your students to access. Maybe provide a key reading so students attend ready to get straight into the topic. Remember, the flipped classroom approach requires a motivated group who will complete any pre-reading. When work and life is busy, you will find yourself finishing presentations at 02:00 on the day of the talk, so sometimes just getting through the day is an achievement.

Presentation Skills: Avoid death by powerpoint, go along the visualisation pathway (Slide-ology). Add quizzes into your talk to engage and test your audience. Break down session times to meet attention spans of your students, rather than fit into a set timetable. Be flexible, if the group look tired or need a break, give it to them and start again after a coffee fix. Here is one for the bored audience Presentation Bingo.

Timing: This is important to ensure the aims of the session are covered, trying to fit in too much content is common at the start. A mixture of preparation, practice and experience seems to help with timing. When you become comfortable with the content and environment, it all seems to fall into place. Sometimes it can all go wrong with room bookings, guest presenters are late and equipment malfunctions, this is when you get creative and ‘wing it’. Try to have a back up plan, imagine you have no electricity or devices, how could you deliver the session in the best alternative method.

Handouts: You can find education research arguing for and against handouts. Some state that providing handouts makes students switch off as you have provided them with the content so they don’t bother engaging, so instead hand them out at the end. When you don’t provide handouts, you will find students complain, as they like to make notes. You will find students have a mix of handwritten and electronic note taking methods. Consider providing some brief outlines, key readings and space for students to take notes (provide either a paper or an electronic format).

Feedback Delivery (Learner): Giving effective and honest feedback can be a challenging experience. It’s not always going to be positive, but just remember to go along the constructive feedback pathway rather than destructive. Here is some advice from Nursing Times (link here) and below in the references are 2 articles on feedback from Clynes & Raferty (2008) and Duffy (2013).

Peer Observation: Observe other educators and use some of their approaches that you see students respond to or you believe in. Remember what seems effortless may well have taken them many attempts (a few fails along the way as well), so resist comparing yourself to them, they have developed their expertise over time.

Feedback (Educator): Ask for constructive feedback from your educator colleagues on the program you have delivered (#developrhinoskin).

Evaluations: Evaluations can be very helpful, just remember to collect a representative sample to provide a true evaluation of your teaching (link here).

Workload: Spread your time to make it all count and prioritise tasks. You have to make sure you catch up with all your students and keep up with other work commitments, which can be tricky to make sure everyone feels adequately supported. If you promise to see a student but are too busy or just forget, just provide an apology the student will likely be understanding. Try the one minute preceptor approach (link here) when days are busy and remember the “what is ……?” and the “why this intervention?” questions.

Educators Education: You will find plenty of courses both formal and informal in developing your education and learning, so take a broad view depending on your time frame and budget. Don’t forget the opportunities social media brings to create a personal learning network and links to current topics and resources through a community of practice as part of #FOANed.


Anderson, L. W. and Krathwohl, D. R. (2001) A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Allyn & Bacon. Boston, MA (Pearson Education Group).

Benner, P. (1984). From novice to expert. Menlo Park.

Clynes, M. P., & Raftery, S. E. (2008). Feedback: an essential element of student learning in clinical practice. Nurse Education in Practice, 8(6), 405-411.

Duffy, K. (2013). Providing constructive feedback to students during mentoring. Nursing Standard, 27(31), 50.

Knowles, M. S., Holton III, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2014). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. Routledge.

Race, P., Higgs, B., & Potter, J. (2008). In at the deep end: starting to teach in higher education. NAIRTL.

Sayers, J., DiGiacomo, M., & Davidson, P. (2011). The nurse educator role in the acute care setting in Australia: important but poorly described. Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing, 28(4), 44-52.

Nursing Education Network. (2016). Adult Learning (Androgogy).

Nursing Education Network. (2016). Learning to Learn, Understanding Understanding.

Nursing Education Netowrk. (2016). One Minute Preceptor.