Introduction: Virtual environments offer a variety of benefits and may be a powerful medium with which to provide nursing education. The objective of this study was to compare the achievement of learning outcomes of undergraduate nursing students when a virtual patient trainer or a traditional lecture was used to teach pediatric respiratory content.
Methods: This was a randomized, controlled, posttest design. A virtual pediatric hospital unit was populated with four virtual pediatric patients having different respiratory diseases that were designed to meet the same learning objectives as a traditional lecture. The study began in Spring 2010 with 93 Senior I, baccalaureate nursing students. Students were randomized to receive either a traditional lecture or an experience with a virtual patient trainer. Students’ knowledge acquisition was evaluated using multiple-choice questions, and knowledge application was measured as timeliness of care in two simulated clinical scenarios using high-fidelity mannequins and standardized patients.
Results: Ninety-three students participated in the study, of which 46 were in the experimental group that received content using the virtual patient trainer. After the intervention, students in the experimental group had significantly higher knowledge acquisition (P = 0.004) and better knowledge application (P = 0.001) for each of the two scenarios than students in the control group.
Conclusions: The purpose of this project was to compare a virtual patient trainer to a traditional lecture for the achievement of learning outcomes for pediatric respiratory content. Although the virtual patient trainer experience produced statistically better outcomes, the differences may not be clinically significant. The results suggest that a virtual patient trainer may be an effective substitute for the achievement of learning outcomes that are typically met using a traditional lecture format. Further research is needed to understand how best to integrate a virtual patient trainer into undergraduate nursing education.