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Educator Blog


Oct 1, 2021, 17:16 PM
<4-min. read> Students are often unprepared for high-risk client situations in clinicals. They haven’t yet developed the necessary confidence in their skills due to limited experience practicing therapeutic communication techniques.
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The danger of not having these skills is significant. One study, the 2015 CRICO Strategies National Comparative Benchmarking System (CBS) Report, for example, detailed 7,149 cases in which communication failures led to malpractice claims. That study described how facts, figures, and findings got lost between the individuals with the information and those who needed it. Specifically, in those researchers’ findings, 44% of claims with a communication issue resulted in a clinical outcome of serious harm or death.

Virtual simulation fills this gap, supporting student success in the clinical setting in 3 specific ways:

  1. Ability to view tutorials and simulations repeatedly during the curriculum
  2. Opportunities for application of knowledge and practice of skills using case studies and simulations
  3. Independent remediation of identified deficiencies.

The benefits of repetition via virtual simulations

Lisa BlakelyStudents gain deeper learning when they can explore the impact of various therapeutic communication techniques in a safe environment. “The virtual environment is no-risk — no risk to real-life patients or to the students themselves,” says Lisa Blakely, ATI Director of Product Management.

Specifically, students gain from the safe environment because they are less likely to experience negative “transference reactions,” Blakely explains. “Live role-play, when students are in the presence of peers, can lead to them feeling embarrassed or judged when they make a mistake,” she adds. “Those types of negative emotions have been shown to impair cognitive performance, plus they negatively impact learning and retention.”

Similarly, in practicing with virtual humans, students gain from consistent, accurate interactions. “Virtual humans don’t get tired, are always neutral, and can be relied on for always giving appropriate feedback,” Blakely says.

Why students need opportunities to apply their knowledge and practice skills

Group of students in college classroomMark Williams-AbramsMark Williams-Abrams, ATI Vice President of Product Strategy, says extensive research has proven that skills are best learned when knowledge is “actively constructed.” “The traditional model of a teacher lecturing and students learning passively simply can’t compare to situations in which students are actively involved in the learning,” he explains. With virtual-human interactions, students “are actively constructing their knowledge based on their personal decisions,” he says. 

Research has proven the effectiveness of these types of active-learning strategies. In the article, “Harnessing the Power of Conversations With Virtual Humans to Change Health Behaviors,” the authors write: “Situated learning … allows the brain to make meaningful connections through physical, embodied experiences that are as authentic as possible related to the context where the learning will be applied.” ATI’s simulated-learning experiences employ this theory in the virtual space, allowing students to learn and practice in a safe environment that mimics authentic, real-world contexts.

The benefits of the virtual world also support the concept of cognitive-load theory, which describes how the processing capabilities of the brain’s working memory are limited. “To allow for as much processing power as possible, information must be presented in a way that reduces extraneous cognitive load,” the previously referenced paper states.

The ATI simulations employ several instructional-design strategies to reduce extraneous cognitive load. The result is that students experience increased encoding capabilities in working memory. And the result of that increase is deeper, more meaningful learning. 

The big gain from independent remediation of deficiencies

Students benefit from virtual simulation in being able to practice areas of weakness as long as necessary, on their own time, until they master that communication technique. But that benefit is even more enhanced when combined with the double-whammy of active learning and reduced extraneous cognitive load.

The independent learning opportunity also offers another benefit: fun, interesting education. “In studies, we’ve seen students spend far more than the required time in the virtual simulations,” Blakely says. “When we asked them why, they said they enjoyed trying different paths — even making wrong decisions just to see how the client would respond. Then, they would ‘undo’ those responses and make a different selection.

“Obviously, those students are getting an enhanced learning experience when they interact longer and in more depth.”

Students aren’t the only ones that gain from the independent nature of virtual simulations. For educators, virtual simulation frees up time, minimizing the need for them to provide support and facilitate lessons. Because scenarios are predeveloped, faculty don’t need to create cases or simulations, nor do they require colleagues to facilitate simulation activities. 

“The advantages can’t be overstated,” Blakely adds. “Virtual simulation simply provides a multitude of benefits to students in helping them learn these critical communication techniques. When they walk into clinicals, they are much more prepared and confident to face high-risk patient situations.

Photo credit: Peoplecreations and Freepik