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.

  • 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).
  • Lesson Plan: Create a lesson plan to deliver focused education sessions. Make the most out of the valuable teaching time by being organised (lesson plan template).
  • Education Philosophy: First resource to consider is reading Malcolm Knowles’ The Adult Learner (link here). 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 (link here).
  • 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 (link here).
  • 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 (link here). 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).
  • 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: Ask for constructive feedback from your educator colleagues (#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 when days are busy and remember the “what is ……?” and the “why this intervention?” questions (link here).
  • Feedback Delivery: 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).
  • 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 (#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.

McNamara, P. (2016) A Nurse’s Guide To Twitter.

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.

Adult Learning (Andragogy)

The science of adult learning (andragogy) involves the understanding and supporting of lifelong learning in adult learners, and also developing the teaching of adult learners (Knowles, Holton & Swanson, 2011). We will refer regularly to the work of Malcolm Knowles, the godfather of adult learning theory. Now I am sure we will be interchanging between terminology and using teacher, facilitator, instructor and many others, but let’s not get too caught up in the pedantic’s. In the end we want to discover different learning theory, strategies and appropriate forms of assessment to meet our learners needs.  

Knowles’ 4 Principles Of Andragogy

  1.  Enagagement: Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  2.  Experiential: The opportunity and learning culture to test, succeed and also make mistakes.
  3.  Work relevant: Adults are most interested in learning that has relevance and impact to their job or personal life.
  4.  Problem-centered: Learner focused with a facilitator guiding the learning as opposed to a traditional teacher delivered content-oriented delivery.

We will provide much of our focus on adult learning (andragogy), as this is our population we are training in nursing. But we will also visit school level education (pedagogy) to see new ideas and concepts that could be incorporated into our education approach. It’s always worth remembering the enthusiasm that children have for learning new things (reflect back to your school days) and why as adults we don’t always feel this same eagerness to learn. We have to question what is different? Motivation may well be a key factor in this.

Now this ‘gogy’ is post-Knowles, which is heutagogy (Greek for ‘self‘) which is self-determined learning and places the emphasis of learning on the learner, moving away from the traditional teacher/lecturer role as the focal point. Defined by Hase and Kenyon (2000) as “the study of self-determined learning”, where in an ever-changing world of work, study and life where information is readily accessible and learning aligns with this accessibility. This fits in with the approach for adult learners, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience into the learning environment.

Looking at how knowledge is constructed (epistemology) and how we learn, can improve the learning experience and outcomes. Incorporating neurocognitive approaches to learning can aid the learning process. In the health setting we also have varied training and education requirements, including the non-negotiable work requirement training (hands up for those who get excited on completing the same yearly e-learning packages). How do we motivate our learners for this type of situation where training is mandatory and the motivation factors for participation are very different? As an educator we also need to be motivated and provide consistency in not only new teaching opportunities but the day to day core training (think repetitive basic life support or moving & handling). This emphasis on delivering quality reminds us of a story of a chef and the consistency of cooking the same dish for 30 years which is now considered the world’s best paella, and the effort in not only their dedication to the same dish but the replicability and standard setting. Health is constantly changing so we nurses are constantly evolving as part of lifelong learning, with that the education philosophy will also have to adapt. Technology will be major influencer on education and learning so nurse educators must understand and engage in these e-learning spaces.  

Spotlight on Malcolm Knowles

Adult Learning Theory - Knowles' Four Principles of Andragogy
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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.