Nursing Professional Development: Immune from the Modern Learner?

Mary E. Holtschneider, RN-BC, BSN, MEd, MPA, NREMT-P, CPLP, is Simulation Education Coordinator and Co-Director of the Interprofessional Advanced Fellowship in Clinical Simulation at the Durham Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Durham, North Carolina. She also holds a position of Adjunct Faculty for the UNC School of Nursing. She has nineteen years of nursing professional development experience, including serving nine years at Duke University Health System.

If I asked you to estimate the amount of time your average learner has to focus each week on training and development, what would you say? Perhaps 10%? Maybe even as little as 5%?

According to Bersin by Deloitte, the percentage is actually 1%, which equates to less than a half hour each week of a forty hour work week ( The Modern Learner is everywhere and has become a reality in our world of Nursing Professional Development (NPD).

One of the positive aspects that an infographic can offer is the vibrant visual representation of facts and related data. By looking at this particular infographic, I see several points that we as NPD practitioners can use to inform our practice. First and foremost, the Modern Learner lives in an overwhelmed state, bombarded with information, easily distracted, and impatient to get answers in real time. Nurses are not unlike any other Modern Learner in any other industry. Wolters Kluwer Health (2014) reports that 95% of nurses own a smart phone and 88% of them use smartphone apps. These smartphone apps include clinical apps that can help with patient care questions in the practice setting.

Second, given that nurses are using smartphones like so many others in our society, they too are unlocking them often, perhaps 9 times per hour as suggested in the infographic. Plus, many staff nurses now carry hospital-issued phones and get routinely interrupted. Whether we like it or not, multitasking has become the norm in our day to day lives.

Third, over 80% of learners report learning from each other on the job and through their personal and professional networks, which is often referred to as informal learning. No longer are they finding great value in the more formal learning methods that are offered by their employers, and they are seeking other means to professionally develop.

Lastly, we are all the Modern Learner and are not immune to all of the external influences and demands on our time. As NPD practitioners, we too seek out information from sources other than our employers and use our smartphones, tablets, and other devices. We too are impatient, overwhelmed, and distracted, and therefore in the same situation as the staff we are trying to educate, even though we often try to teach using the old paradigm of classroom lectures and skills fairs, and perhaps disregard other modes of content delivery. 

I consulted with some other NPD practitioners to gauge their reaction to this infographic. All agreed that it shows an accurate description of what is going on today. Several were overwhelmed looking at the graphic and felt that even though many people are multitasking, they themselves have realized that they cannot multitask and do not even attempt to do that. Others focused on the statistic that employees are only able to devote 1% of their work week to training and development, and suggested that NPD practitioners need to determine how to make the most impact during that 1% of the learners’ time.

So what are some practical approaches to confronting the challenges of the Modern Learners? I would suggest that being aware of these challenges and embracing them, rather than criticizing them, can be a positive first step in reaching our current audiences. How do we actually make an impact when our learners have so little time to devote to learning? How do we encourage social learning where nurses learn with and from each other, and then how do we measure it? Moreover, how do we even know it exists?

I invite you to ponder these points and share your thoughts on the Modern Learner. 


Bersin by Deloitte. (2014). Meet the modern learner. Retrieved from

Wolters Kluwer Health (2014). Wolters Kluwer health survey finds nurses and healthcare institutions accepting professional use of online reference & mobile technology. Retrieved from

1 Comment

Good article

February 24, 2017 01:52 PM by Elizabeth Fritz

"I would suggest that being aware of these challenges and embracing them, rather than criticizing them, can be a positive first step in reaching our current audiences."

This is so important in building bridges between generations and across cultures!  If we are to facilitate collaboration among our staff, we must role model this kind of positive approach.

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