Clinical Virtual Simulation in Nursing Education: Randomized Controlled Trial

J Med Internet Res. 2019 Mar 18;21(3):e11529. doi: 10.2196/11529.


Background: In the field of health care, knowledge and clinical reasoning are key with regard to quality and confidence in decision making. The development of knowledge and clinical reasoning is influenced not only by students' intrinsic factors but also by extrinsic factors such as satisfaction with taught content, pedagogic resources and pedagogic methods, and the nature of the objectives and challenges proposed. Nowadays, professors play the role of learning facilitators rather than simple "lecturers" and face students as active learners who are capable of attributing individual meanings to their personal goals, challenges, and experiences to build their own knowledge over time. Innovations in health simulation technologies have led to clinical virtual simulation. Clinical virtual simulation is the recreation of reality depicted on a computer screen and involves real people operating simulated systems. It is a type of simulation that places people in a central role through their exercising of motor control skills, decision skills, and communication skills using virtual patients in a variety of clinical settings. Clinical virtual simulation can provide a pedagogical strategy and can act as a facilitator of knowledge retention, clinical reasoning, improved satisfaction with learning, and finally, improved self-efficacy. However, little is known about its effectiveness with regard to satisfaction, self-efficacy, knowledge retention, and clinical reasoning.

Objective: This study aimed to evaluate the effect of clinical virtual simulation with regard to knowledge retention, clinical reasoning, self-efficacy, and satisfaction with the learning experience among nursing students.

Methods: A randomized controlled trial with a pretest and 2 posttests was carried out with Portuguese nursing students (N=42). The participants, split into 2 groups, had a lesson with the same objectives and timing. The experimental group (n=21) used a case-based learning approach, with clinical virtual simulator as a resource, whereas the control group (n=21) used the same case-based learning approach, with recourse to a low-fidelity simulator and a realistic environment. The classes were conducted by the usual course lecturers. We assessed knowledge and clinical reasoning before the intervention, after the intervention, and 2 months later, with a true or false and multiple-choice knowledge test. The students' levels of learning satisfaction and self-efficacy were assessed with a Likert scale after the intervention.

Results: The experimental group made more significant improvements in knowledge after the intervention (P=.001; d=1.13) and 2 months later (P=.02; d=0.75), and it also showed higher levels of learning satisfaction (P<.001; d=1.33). We did not find statistical differences in self-efficacy perceptions (P=.9; d=0.054).

Conclusions: The introduction of clinical virtual simulation in nursing education has the potential to improve knowledge retention and clinical reasoning in an initial stage and over time, and it increases the satisfaction with the learning experience among nursing students.

Keywords: clinical virtual simulation; nursing education; user-computer interface; virtual patient.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence / standards*
  • Education, Nursing / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male