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Getting Organized: Nursing Staff Development Course

Updated: May 25, 2021

After assessing a need for staff development for a priority area of learning within your department or organization, you may find yourself wondering where to get started and how to progress with facilitating a staff development course. In order to maximize the effectiveness of the learning experience, nurse educators are cognizant of the changing healthcare environment, the nursing profession, and the culture of their community of learners. Effective planning in course development encompasses the significant principles and the anticipated goals to be developed, so that learners are supported to meet the intended outcomes and competencies by the end of the experience. The course development process should continuously be tailored to the target learner population for optimal success. Adult Learning Theory can be reviewed here.

Educators are accountable to the evolving nursing profession by promoting development of the knowledge and skills necessary to competently practice. Quality education for staff development aligns with current best practices and considers national priorities for enhanced care. Such as, for example, the Healthy People initiative of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (U.S.), which establishes nationally set objectives that are recognized priorities for healthcare advancements for each decade, aimed towards dramatically improving overall patient care. Understanding nationally aimed goals for care supports the creation of staff development content that is timely and relevant to today’s climate. Staff development greatly influences nursing practice, as nurses contribute knowledge gained through education to recognize deficits and deliver improved care to patients.

Course design involves mapping out the critical components to plan the course with foresight. Nurse educators support learner development through the integration of key content material into practice and emphasize the relationships between nursing theory and practical application of knowledge and skill. Nurse educators need to build a curriculum that embraces educational transformation and evaluates learning by use of reliable and valid systems. The content of the course relates to specific practice settings and content areas as set forth by the course goals. Successful teaching and learning involves effective communication via clear course objectives and the use of detailed scoring rubrics provided to the learners in advance. However, given all the potential positives of using rubrics, detriments most certainly exist as well, often arising from the same aspects that make rubrics useful. For example, rubrics may limit creativity and personalized expression to navigating experiences, and may even, at times, stifle learners. Both the pros and the cons should be considered when establishing plans for assessment and evaluation, so that the most useful and productive method is applied to each experience.

While organizing your staff development course, consider the following components:

1. Learner and setting. EXAMPLE: The learner population for this course will be psychiatric nurses working on the behavioral health unit at a large teaching hospital. The information will be delivered via a classroom lecture, along with hands-on patient simulation experiences at the hospital. The staff development course will be a week-long program.

2. Framework. EXAMPLE: An outcomes approach will be used as an organizing framework, as this entails initially identifying the outcomes the learners will be required to demonstrate, then arranging the concepts accordingly to promote success. The course will subsequently involve learning experiences, teaching methods, and assessment and evaluative strategies that promote development of the expected course outcomes.

3. Expected course outcomes and competencies. Below is an EXAMPLE of an outcome statement with the corresponding competency:

Outcome 1- Student will describe two ways that patient education can be emphasized in practice by the end of the course.

Competency- Role development.

4. Evaluation method.

5. Rubric type/reliability and validity.

The focus of the course should be current and meet the needs of the present and projected future healthcare climates, as encouraged by current evidence-based best practices, along with national and global priorities for healthcare. Nursing educational programs can utilize nursing frameworks that involve outcomes and competencies that meet the needs of the future nurse and are consistent with the science of nursing. Designing the curriculum for a staff development course involves a review of appropriate framework and theories to be used within the education delivery.


We provided a beginning sample as an EXAMPLE of an analytic scoring rubric.

As the educator, you are to review the criteria column and choose the appropriate coinciding proficiency level for each criterion, then tally up the points and grade post evaluation. The timeline for development of each of the course outcomes is by the end of the course.

EXAMPLE of scoring mechanism and grade conversion:

Grade A= Score of 105-120 Points

Grade B = Score of 90-104 Points

Grade C= Score of 75-89 Points

The educational scoring parameters set forth by the community hospital necessitate a score of 75 points, or grade C, or above to demonstrate competency. A lower score necessitates repeat course attendance and evaluation participation.

Several professional organizations have established guidelines for ethical testing and evaluation methods for educators. The National League for Nursing (NLN) sets forth that evaluative measures must be integrated into education to support student learning and promote competency. Many evaluation methods used within the nursing classroom can be effective when applied to clinical staff development as well. In order for nurse educators to avoid grade inflation, the methods used for scoring performance must be clearly delineated and the learners must be notified of the expectations and consequences. As scoring rubrics act as guides for evaluating open-ended performance, it is important that they produce reliable and valid results. Rubrics explain not only what will be reviewed, but also how it will be examined and weighed. They provide consistency across nurse educators, as scoring rubrics typically promote systemized grading, which encourages valid and reliable results. Evaluation of the quality of scoring rubrics also takes place to ensure that characteristics to be assessed are significant, the criteria for scoring is appropriate to the course or situation, quality distinctions between scoring levels are integrated, and the rubric is user-friendly with structured descriptions that support consistency in evaluation. The learner should be provided the scoring rubric before the evaluation for review. When the performance to be evaluated is greatly focused and structured, grading via the scoring rubric is typically objective and reliable.

Both qualitative and quantitative labels, along with the scoring mechanism and grade conversion, provide explanation on grading. The use of these structured and inclusive descriptions support consistency in grading and promote reliability in the results. In the example provided above, you will note that the scoring rubric includes criterions that capture the essential course elements and three levels of proficiency with descriptors in support of the expected course outcomes and competencies. Clear descriptions of these criterions are provided within the rubric. You may choose to create your rubric to total 100 points that correlate with 100% to streamline use and remove percentage conversations. However you go about it, try to remember to focus on the process and the outcomes for the communities of learners you are supporting to guide your decisions.

Takeaway: Design of a course takes planning, organization, and thought on the goals for the teaching and learning experience with expected outcomes. Integration of appropriate educational framework and philosophy should support the foundation for successful teaching-learning experiences unique to the situation and must be thoroughly considered. For learning and understanding to be evaluated, the use of an analytic scoring rubric that yields reliable and valid results is key. Member Downloads contains lesson planning and educational philosophy resources we designed with nurse educators in mind.

Note: There are many approaches to navigating course development. Those shared here are aimed at providing a beginning foundation in which to work off of as your practice is refined and you tune into the unique needs of the communities of learners you are working with.

This post is part of the "Getting Organized" series, which centers on establishing groundwork. Check out more posts from this series here:


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