VR can’t replace traditional nurse training

3 minute read

Murdoch University study finds these tools should complement existing strategies to help students learn complex clinical skills.

Virtual reality simulations can boost nursing students’ learning satisfaction and confidence but underperform against traditional teaching methods when it comes to helping students practice psychomotor skills, an Australian study has found.

Researchers from Murdoch University’s School of Nursing collaborated with colleagues from two German universities to trial two VR simulations, one with basic features and another that was more experimental, against traditional training videos for teaching endotracheal suctioning skills to a class of 130 nursing students.

Their results, published in BMC Nursing, showed that those students taught via video showed greater skill competency when demonstrating endotracheal suctioning than students learning with the VR simulations, achieving a mean score on the objective structured clinical examination of 11.9 out of 14 compared to 10.3 and 9.4 for the VR groups. 

According to Barbara Loessl, biosciences lecture at Murdoch University’s School of Nursing and one of the authors of the study, the findings showed that virtual reality can play a beneficial role in nursing training in specific applications, but it is still very far from being a universal solution.  

“When groups of nursing students learned complex skills, such as suctioning, via VR, an instructional video, or a combination of both, all performed equally well in the knowledge test, but there were limitations that became apparent,” Ms Loessl said.

“VR can increase knowledge, satisfaction, motivation and confidence, all things we want to see in our nursing students, but the tools need to be combined with other complementary training methods.

“We recommend using VR as a complementary resource to skills labs, rather than replacing existing strategies, but this of course might change as the technology progresses or with augmented reality.”

The researchers also found no significant difference in knowledge acquisition and retention between the three cohorts, with mean test scores for post-training knowledge increasing between 43% to 50% compared to their scores prior to receiving the training.

However, students taught using the VR simulations reported much higher learning satisfaction scores than those taught with video, with those who experienced the VR simulation with basic features scoring close to 20/24 on cognitive satisfaction compared to 16/24 for the video group.

According to the authors, the lower skill performance amongst students trained with VR simulations could be attributed to a lack of previous experience with VR, with some students reporting feeling “thrown into the deep end” without being sufficiently briefed on what to expect.

Limitations regarding the accuracy of the simulations presented in both the basic and experimental VR groups were another possible factor.

“Unlike those who viewed a video of the exact real-world behaviour of the catheter and sterile gloves, those exposed to the VR environment were unable to gain an effective understanding of the real-world behaviour of these tools from the virtual abstraction of them,” the authors wrote.

Based on their results, the authors concluded that a blended training approach combining traditional video methods with VR simulations for procedural knowledge would be of the greatest benefit for students.

“Perhaps VR is not ideal for practising practical and psychomotor skills at the moment, but it has the potential to increase learner satisfaction, motivation and confidence, as well as to prepare for practical training in a skills lab,” they wrote.

“For the development of VR trainings, we recommend keeping them simple and targeting a specific educational outcome since trying to optimise for multiple outcomes is resource intensive and hard to achieve.”

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