Blended Nursing Learning Community: A Creative Way to Schedule

Beth Anne Batturs Martin
Learning Abstracts

Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) admitted its first nursing class in 1966. The program grew in small increments over the years, and in fall 2005, the curriculum was revised, allowing for admission in both fall and spring semesters. At that time, there was a 40 percent increase in admissions to 64 students each semester. In an effort to help alleviate the nursing shortage, the program continued to look for ways to increase its numbers. In spring 2011, the program implemented a hybrid learner program and admitted an additional 16 students. At AACC, in order for a course to be designated as hybrid, a minimum of 25 percent of the course instruction needs to be offered face-to-face and at least 50 percent of instruction offered online. For the nursing program, the hybrid section facilitated the didactic portion of the program online using learning activities and readings as directed by the faculty, while the laboratory and clinical experiences were face-to-face.

The nursing faculty monitored the hybrid cohort’s success over two years, reviewing course evaluations, test scores, and faculty evaluations and, as a result, identified several challenges. First, of the 16 students accepted into this cohort each semester, the attrition rate was 40 to 50 percent. Second, feedback received from participating students indicated an overwhelming belief that they were not getting the same information as the face-to-face cohort was receiving in the classroom. The third challenge was that the hybrid cohort was harder to fill than the face-to-face cohort, and students who preferred the face-to-face program found themselves on the waiting list. When presented with the option to enroll in the hybrid cohort immediately rather than wait another semester to start the face-to-face cohort, many of these students chose the hybrid option. This, however, yielded the fourth and biggest challenge: Not everyone excels in an online learning environment and some of our hybrid students struggled to succeed in the online nursing sequence.

To address these challenges, the faculty developed a Blended Nursing Learning Community in which all students are admitted into the same section but have the option to either come to class or do the online learning activities for each lecture, based on their personal needs. They must do one or the other: Failure to attend the face-to-face lecture or complete the online learning activity results in a Plan for Success (PFS). The PFS documents unprofessional behavior and is tracked throughout the student’s academic career. The Blended Nursing Learning Community allows all students to receive the same lecture handouts, PowerPoint slides, and learning activities. Students can do all face-to-face, all online, or switch between the two options. The result is that students have greater flexibility for learning while the program ensures that they receive equitable instruction for every lecture, regardless of the learning format.

The Nursing Program has found that this model provides the following advantages:

  • Eliminates disparities in content presentation between hybrid and face-to-face students.
  • Encourages students to be involved in and responsible for their learning.
  • Provides a greater opportunity for students who wish to do all online learning to interact with face-to-face students and faculty.
  • Allows students who want online learning to choose that method while traditional learning style students can continue with face-to-face lectures.
  • Affords students flexibility, which helps in the event of an illness, emergency, etc.

Where We Are Now

The Nursing Program faculty piloted the Blended Nursing Learning Community in the spring 2017 term with our first-semester nursing students. The feedback from students and faculty was overwhelmingly positive and included comments such as the following:

Feedback from students:

  • “I love the flexibility of being able to attend class or do the online activities!”
  • “We are treated like adult learners, able to make the choice of class or online.”
  • “My child was ill; I was able to do the online learning and still be a mom!”

Feedback from faculty:

  • “We work hard to ensure that the online activities provide students with enough direction to facilitate their success.”
  • “I like that students are given a choice, but have to do one or the other, so I know they are preparing for the test.”

In fall 2017, we began offering the learning community to all of the nursing cohorts. Each semester, approximately 13 to 15 students consistently complete all learning activities online, while an additional three to four students complete the online activities ad-hoc. It is difficult to give specific completion data related to the Blended Nursing Learning Community, as the number and identity of the students who complete the online activities changes with each lecture. However, the first class graduated in fall 2018 and the completion percentage was 65 percent.

Where We Are Going

Based on positive feedback and results, the AACC Registered Nursing Program plans to continue the Blended Nursing Learning Community. To meet community demand for more nurses, AACC has increased the number of students admitted each semester from 80 to 104. In addition, in the fall of 2021 AACC will open its new 175,000-square-foot Health and Life Sciences Building. Upon moving into this state-of-the-art facility, the Nursing Program will be able to admit 160 students per semester. Continuing to be creative in how we offer our lecture content will allow us to accommodate the large number of nursing students in the program.

The nursing faculty will continue to review the online learning activities to ensure that they guide the learner to focus on the major points of content and that students are provided a rigorous learning experience. In addition, faculty will continue to ensure that the same learning activities provided in the classroom are provided online so students receive consistency throughout the curriculum.

Contact the author at to learn more about AACC’s Blended Nursing Learning Community.

Beth Anne Batturs Martin is Assistant Dean, Nursing and Healthcare Initiatives, at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland.

Opinions expressed in Learning Abstracts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.