Are you considering immersive virtual reality (VR) simulation for nursing education? If you answered “yes,” you are not alone! As technology advances, nurse educators are reimagining how they deliver simulation-based education. VR is a solution that gives educators the flexibility to provide simulations that are scalable, innovative, and engaging. As a result, many educators are partnering with VR vendors to provide robust, high-quality simulation experiences.
Selecting a VR simulation vendor is a big job and it is important to choose a platform that will best fit your program’s needs. Obviously, we are proud of our own platform, but we recognize that every program deserves a solution that meets their specific needs. Nursing educators are very busy, so let us help you navigate the evolving world of VR education with the 5 most important questions to ask a nursing VR simulation vendor.
1. Is Your Platform Highly Immersive?
“VR simulation” is often used as an umbrella term for a wide spectrum of modalities, ranging from screen-based activities to truly immersive VR. A major distinction among these platforms is the level of immersion, or the degree to which the learner feels present within the virtual clinical environment. There are many benefits in choosing a highly immersive platform, as it provides a more interactive experience and is associated with improved learning outcomes.
In screen-based virtual simulations, students care for the virtual patient from a 2D computer screen, using the keyboard or mouse to select their actions. Students may select these actions from a pre-populated menu, limiting what they can and cannot do inside of the simulation.
Immersive VR platforms provide a multisensory, hands-on experience inside a 3D virtual world with students donning headsets. Students experience proprioception, where they can feel their position and movement within the virtual space. They also perceive themselves as physically present inside the virtual clinical environment as they move around the space, operate the virtual equipment, assess the patient, and implement nursing interventions. The most immersive platforms allow the student to act freely within the simulated environment, offering a hands-on experience that closely mirrors real-world nursing practice.
It is also important to ask if the VR simulation platform uses standalone headsets. A standalone solution eliminates the need to tether the headsets to a powerful gaming laptop. This saves your program on hardware costs and ultimately leads to a better user experience. Participating in VR with just a standalone headset is a highly immersive activity that limits the signal of an external device in the physical world. This helps learners to suspend disbelief and ultimately attain the scenario objectives. The literature shows that immersion matters. Simulations with higher levels of immersion can translate to improved learning outcomes when compared with those of lower immersion. A recent systematic review of immersive virtual reality in education found a tangible benefit on learning outcomes when compared with less immersive methods. In addition, the realism of highly immersive virtual reality may translate to increased levels of self-efficacy, self-confidence, and stress resilience.
2. Can Educators Customize Scenarios?
Most virtual simulation platforms include a catalog of pre-made scenarios created by the vendor. Although pre-made scenarios provide a convenient learning experience, they are not curated for your students’ specific needs and objectives.
Customization is key when choosing a vendor because there is no “one size fits all” solution in nursing education. Pre-made scenarios can be constraining and may not reflect the educational needs of your specific institution and region.
Educators need flexibility when implementing simulations, as nursing programs are diverse with specific learning objectives and program outcomes. Students should ideally be prepared to care for patients they will realistically see within their communities, and customization allows educators to ensure the simulation content is relevant and meaningful.
Before purchasing a simulation solution, it is important to understand the level of customizability that the vendor provides. Ideally, a platform would give educators the flexibility to choose a pre-made scenario or customize a scenario to fit their learners’ specific needs. If the platform does allow customizations, it is important to determine that the authoring tool is intuitive, efficient, and accessible.
Example of a simulation authoring tool with various care environments and diverse patients across the lifespan
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3. How Often Will My Students Be Able to Practice in VR?
Some vendors may limit the number of times that students can attempt a specific scenario. To ensure that your students will benefit from multiple attempts, it is important to determine the vendor’s ability to let students repeat the scenario.
Research shows that repeated exposure to a scenario improves student knowledge scores, clinical performance, and self-confidence in learning. Scenario repeatability also allows educators to implement simulation in a deliberate practice model, where students complete the scenario multiple times as they improve care of the virtual patient. Debriefing between each attempt of the scenario fosters student reflection and the development of clinical judgment as they discuss the thought processes behind their actions and decisions during the simulation. Also, repeated attempts allow the educator to re-enter the scenario with students in order to focus on specific performance gaps or learning objectives within the overall simulation.
A limit on the number of times that students can repeat a scenario may prevent learners from gaining the full benefit of the simulation. Make sure that your VR vendor can support unlimited scenario attempts.
Nursing students work through a clinical scenario in a deliberate practice model.
4. How Will My Students Communicate with the Virtual Patient?
Therapeutic communication is the cornerstone of nursing practice. During VR simulation, it is important for nursing students to practice communicating with patients in their own words, as they would in a real-life clinical setting. Some VR vendors limit the ways that students can communicate with the virtual patient, so educators should determine their capabilities before purchase.
Certain VR platforms have menu-based communication, where students select words and phrases from a pre-populated list of responses. Menu-based systems detract from the realism of the simulation as students point-and-click to populate verbal responses. This limits the ability for students to express their knowledge and therapeutic communication in their own words.
The ideal platform will provide students with the opportunity to communicate with the patient in a manner that closely mirrors real life. Scenarios in which students speak freely lead to increased authenticity, as they communicate naturally and realistically with the virtual patient. This also allows faculty to observe students’ communication and provide meaningful feedback based on actual dialog with the virtual patient. Patients sometimes ask difficult questions, and challenging students to communicate in their own words will best prepare them to handle real-life clinical situations.
Watch a nursing student communicate with the patient in her own words during a VR simulation
5. Is Your Platform Designed for Nurses?
Nursing students have unique educational requirements and need a simulation platform that puts them first. Some VR vendors are not exclusively focused on nursing education and may not have the features to meet your simulation needs. It is important to determine if your vendor’s platform was designed specifically for nurses to best understand the capabilities and limitations.
Some VR simulation platforms largely focus on medical education. These platforms may not provide your students with relevant simulations that incorporate the nursing process, nursing theory, and the holistic care of patients. Nursing is both an art and a science that deserves a platform dedicated to educating current and future nurses.
VR platforms designed for nursing education must provide the necessary structure for a robust and relevant learning experience. This includes scenarios that challenge students within the nursing scope of practice as they make autonomous decisions and develop clinical judgment. Platforms focused on nursing are also dedicated to staying on top of best practice guidelines and key trends in nursing education.
A nursing student participates in an immersive VR scenario. © Laboure College
Be sure to ask these 5 important questions the next time you speak with a vendor. VR simulation is an exciting modality that can positively impact nursing education. There is much to consider when choosing a vendor, but understanding the platform’s capabilities and limitations will help you to decide on the best choice for your students. Ready to start using VR simulation with your nursing students? Let’s see if UbiSim is right for your program! Contact us today for a free consultation.