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How The Open University is transforming nursing education with introduction of Enquiry-based learning

The Open University (OU) is releasing a new report in partnership with National Health Executive into the use of Enquiry-based learning (EBL) within nurse education. The innovative teaching style closes the theory-practice gap, especially crucial within the nursing profession. 

The report, Enquiry-based learning: Transforming nurse education explores the feedback from recent OU nursing cohorts who have recently completed new EBL modules as part of their nursing degree programme. Delivered in partnership with employers, the OU provides a unique combination of supported distance learning and practice-based learning within the workplace. 

The survey of the OU nursing students has revealed that over two-thirds (68%) of respondents said it was helping their nursing practice, with two out of three saying it had helped develop their skills in caring for patients. The students see EBL as a fuller and more realistic approach to practice. 

Pioneered in the UK by the OU, EBL emphasises a nurse’s role in the learning process and asks them to engage with an idea or topic in an active way, compared to traditional learning models. It involves peer collaboration and builds a community of learning. Working interactively in groups benefited students as it included widening of perspectives and retention of knowledge, with three quarters (75%) saying that EBL has helped their team-working skills and enhanced their critical thinking.  

Download the report

“As I had already worked in healthcare for 20 years, the importance of learning from other students nursing backgrounds was imperative to my learning.” – Victoria, Clinical Research Coordinator

“Having multiple perspectives helps people to appreciate the wider picture, rather than just considering your own clinical experience.” – Amy, nursing apprentice

EBL encourages students to take the lead in directing their learning, which can make it more impactful. That’s why the OU will be using the students’ suggestions for improvements to make EBL work even better in the future. 

We wanted to create a new nursing curriculum in 2018 as at the OU, we always strive for innovation. This offered us the opportunity to rethink our qualification and develop learning modules in our nursing degree programmes which reduced the important gap between nursing theory and nursing practice. “We have embraced the concept of Enquiry-based learning (EBL) as the theory of learning of our nursing programme. Our EBL modules educate nurses differently and this report highlights how this concept is transforming the way we develop nurses.

Dr Rebecca Garcia
Associate Head of School, Nursing and Health Professions, The Open University

EBL helps nurses to develop as professionals. They can apply their skills to unique situations, and it also prepares them to expect they’ll encounter things they can’t do alone. It develops social intelligence – working with others. We’ve embraced the concept of enquiry-based learning (EBL) into the curriculum and our EBL modules educate nurses in a richer, more collaborative way.

Nicky Goodall
Lecturer in Adult Nursing (specialising in the integration of EBL into the nursing curriculum), The Open University

Download the report


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