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Getting Organized: Nursing Staff Development Course

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

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 must be cognizant of the changing healthcare environment, the nursing profession, and the culture of their community of learners. Effective planning in course development should encompass 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 course. The course development process must continuously be tailored to the target learner population for optimal success. Adult Learning Theory can be reviewed here.

Educators should be accountable to the evolving nursing profession by promoting development of the knowledge and skills necessary to competently practice. Education for staff development must align with current best practices and national priorities for enhanced care must be considered. For example, the Healthy People initiative of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion establishes nationally set objectives that are recognized priorities for healthcare advancements for each decade, aimed towards dramatically improving overall patient care. Understanding these nationally set goals for care supports the creation of staff development content that is timely and relevant to today’s nursing 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 relationship 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 a reliable and valid scoring system. 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 a detailed scoring rubric provided to the learners.

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

1. Type of 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 must 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 must 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 methods used within the nursing classroom can be effective when used for evaluation in 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 systematized grading, which encourages valid and reliable results. Educators must evaluate the quality of their scoring rubrics to ensure 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 that 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 more 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.

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.

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