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Addressing the Needs of Multidimensional Learners
by Nadine Donahue, M.S.N., R.N.-B.C., C.N.E., and Susan L. Glodstein, M.S.N., P.M.H.N.P.-B.C. Minority Nurse Writer
What makes these learners "multidimensional?" They are nontraditional students coming from unique, multifaceted backgrounds and domestic situations. The term nontraditional refers to any student who meets one or more of the following criteria: aged 25 or older, commutes to school, enrolled part-time, is male, is a member of a racial or ethnic group, speaks English as a second or additional language, has dependent children, and/or holds a general equivalency diploma (GED) or has required remedial classes.1
Many nursing students today fit this definition of a nontraditional student.
Nurse educators now need to tap into this modern, complex student's ability to multitask—balancing his or her home life with nursing studies—while focusing on his or her unique educational needs. It is important that nurse educators are equipped with strategies to assist this diverse group of learners to achieve their goals. Some successful strategies include student-faculty mentoring, advisor relationships, student associations, campus counseling, and childcare services. Students are encouraged to bring their diverse life experiences as they relate to health care in order to facilitate discussion and encourage others to improve their practice. Faculty can then implement these strategies through a college-wide supportive environment. Additionally, faculty should use their own mentors to better focus on teaching, research, and scholarship.
Many nursing students today would benefit from such resources, and preparing students to be culturally congruent should be a priority. Our students teach us about diversity by interpersonal communication within the classroom setting. Teachable moments are vast and rich if we take the time to know our students and where they come from.
At City University of New York's York College School of Health and Behavioral Sciences, transcultural nursing theories are explored at length and incorporated into every class. Cultural competence includes the attributes of caring, respect, adaptation, honesty, and interest in the ability to develop working relationships across lines of difference.2 Embracing diversity is a must in order to become culturally competent. It is a process that requires the desire to expand one's thinking.
Getting to know students' profile characteristics can help educators recognize any actual or perceived barriers to retention. "Student profile characteristics may strongly identify the need to further explore individual strengths and weaknesses," says Marianne R. Jeffreys in her book Nursing Student Retention: Understanding the Process and Making a Difference.1 This is important because this student-faculty relationship may influence how well a student adapts to your program. Jeffreys also reports "thorough assessment of the interaction of multiple profile variables will help promote better understanding of the retention process. Each student profile characteristic can have a direct and/or indirect impact on retention." Assessing student learning styles provides information as how to best approach our teaching.
This can help nurse educators make decisions about how to structure a class. The types of assignments should maximize student potential. "It is always useful to have students take one of the many free learning style inventories available online; such inventories yields a personalized assessment of the preferred way to process information (e.g., visual, auditory, kinesthetic)," according to Bednarz, Schim, and Doorenbos, whose research was published in 2010 in the Journal of Nursing Education.3 Learning performance increases when individual student differences and characteristics are taken into account.4
Keep it real
Nurse educators want their students to succeed, and they can demonstrate this in a number of ways, such as getting to know students, mentoring individuals, and fostering a positive and supportive attitude. "Faculty do not need to know (nor is it possible to know) everything about every specific type of student, but basic assessment of what groups compose each student cohort allows for learning some of the things that can guide our thinking."3
According to research published by Albert Bandura in 1989, a specialist in social cognitive theory, combining an encouragement of self confidence in students to overcome failures with a balanced amount of academic challenges will enhance the performance of students by elevating their study preparation. Educators can share a philosophy of self-efficacy with students to create experiences that will help them achieve their goals and enjoy the process along the way. "As student needs are assessed and addressed earlier and more effectively, less time will be needed to clear up confusion and anger, less time will be spent in remediation, and less energy will be spent on frustration."3
Embracing diversity is key to understanding the needs of multidimensional students in today's world. Educators must continue to serve as role model, mentor, influence, and create positive learning environments so students will be prepared to work in various practice settings and play a crucial role as culturally competent nurses.
Incorporating our transcultural theories and experiences into our classes will promote professional interpersonal communication. With the current tumultuous economic environment in the United States, we must equip our future nurses to meet the standards of an evolving health care system. The benefit to nursing practice will be enormous as our world continues to become global—and multidimensional.
Jeffreys, M.R., (2004) Nursing Student Retention: Understanding the Process and Making a Difference. Springer Publishing Company, New York.
Galanti, G.A. (2004) Caring for Patients from Different Cultures. University of Pennsylvania press. 3rd edition. Philadelphia.
Bednarz, H., Schim, S., & Doorenboos, A., (2010) "Cultural Diversity in Nursing Education: Perils, Pitfalls, and Pearls." Journal of Nursing Education 49(5).
Riding, R. (2005) "Individual Differences and Educational Performance." Educational Psychology. 25 (6), pp 659-672.