ABSTRACT This article discusses the explosion of technology and its impact on nursing education in the face of a nurse educator shortage. An attempt is made to answer the following questions: What incremental changes in technology do we have now? How do we envision technology being used in the future? Four scenarios of nontraditional approaches to nursing education are presented. They touch on the delivery of education with increased technology and universal access; the teacher as educator/mentor/coach; the product, including testing, outcomes, competencies, and process; and attracting and keeping human attention. The final section focuses on issues to consider as nurse leaders and educators bring nursing education into the future.
Key Words Future--Learning Environment--Nursing Education--Electronic Nursing--Innovation--Nurse Educator Shortage
A LONG WITH THE CURRENT SHORTAGE OF REGISTERED NURSES, the United States is experiencing a significant shortage of nurse faculty. Research data reveal a severe imbalance between the large number of retirements and the small number of replacement nurses preparing for the faculty role (1,2). Without sufficient numbers of faculty, nursing programs are turning away qualified applicants. To add to the problem, master's education graduation patterns have shown a steady decline (3). This is noteworthy as master's graduates are the source of a significant percentage of current and future faculty. * The nurse workforce shortage, coupled with a growing need for faculty, calls for redesign, restructuring, and recognition that the flexibility and availability of technology offer nursing education enormous opportunities for innovation. Key questions must be considered in applying technology to the delivery of education: What incremental technological changes do we have now? How do we envision technology being used? What can we imagine for the future?
A Rationale for Redesign The United States has experienced nursing shortages in the past. However, because of the limited number of nurses in the pipeline positioned to replace retirees, the current shortage is expected to last longer and be more severe than any in recent memory. By 2011, the number of retired nurses will surpass new graduates (1). Nationwide projections indicate that by the end of the decade, there will be 12 percent fewer nurses than needed. By 2015, that figure will increase to 29 percent. During this time, the demand for nurses will grow by 40 percent.
Despite demands, many programs cannot admit more students because of the shortage of faculty. In 1993, 9.5 percent of the graduates of master's programs in nursing specialized in nursing education. By 1999, this figure had dropped to 2.5 percent (2).
A concurrent trend has been the development of new technologies and the growing interest in technology by the public at large. Many individuals who at one time approached technology with skepticism are now telecommunicating from their homes (4). In education, technology has allowed long distance delivery to geographically remote regions and expanded access to important databases (5).
What Innovations Are We Using Now? Nurse educators are breaking away from established patterns and charting new pathways. Consider the following innovative approaches to education:
* Nursing education bolstered its infrastructure and incorporated new approaches to education (6) through the use of such devices as hand-held computers and wireless telephones. Innovations include long distance delivery, web-based education, electronic drills and practice, online testing to prepare graduates to work with telemedicine and telehealth, digital hospitals, humanoid robots, and wireless health-monitoring systems.
* Indiana State University developed the nation's first and only baccalaureate degree program for licensed practical nurses (LPNs) delivered entirely through distance learning (7). …