Nurses learn communication skills best through practice, say researchers at the School of Nursing at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). The VCU study, published in the Journal of Nursing Education, outlined an innovative practical approach to teaching communication skills to nursing students. While there is no accepted "best" method of teaching and learning communication skills in nursing, scholarly literature supports a practical hands-on approach over the traditional lecture-lab method.

Traditional Teaching and Learning

Critics of nursing education fault the communication skills component of nursing programs. The lecture-lab model is the traditional method to deliver nursing education, including communication skills. While variances exist between instructors, the lecture-lab model is premised on the teachers giving, and the students passively receiving, knowledge.

Studies of Teaching and Learning

The VCU study and a review of the nursing education literature conducted by Patient Education and Counseling (PEC) suggest that previous studies of teaching and learning communication skills in nursing education are lacking in sound research design and are therefore of limited comparative use. The studies do, however, provide some early indicators of the potential value of simulations and role playing as instructional methods for teaching and learning communication skills in nursing education. The PEC literature review concludes the outcomes of teaching and learning communication skills in nursing education are better where skills practice has taken place.

Innovative Approaches

Two groups formed the basis of the VCU Nursing Students study. Both the control group and the intervention group received the usual instruction in communication.The intervention group also received additional training on communicating with family members and participated in a role-playing exercise. At the conclusion of the study, students from the intervention group rated higher in the standardized assessment of all four domains of communication than those in the control group.

Another innovative approach to teaching and learning communication skills in nursing education comes from the Nursing Division at the University of Bradford, UK. Researchers conducted a study of adding a Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) module to communication skills training for nurses. SFBT focuses on communicating about solutions rather than problems. The study concluded the addition of the SFBT training module was a useful approach to training nurses in communication skills.


The available research lends credence to the idea that "practice makes perfect." Hearing about a skill in a classroom, with no opportunity to demonstrate or be evaluated on the skill, is arguably not effective. Using role playing and simulation as instructional methods seems to be a more effective direction for the future of teaching and learning communication skills in nursing education.

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About the Author

Carol Strider is a writer and a post-secondary educator in law and criminal justice, teaching in person and online since 2002. Prior to teaching, Strider was a lawyer at a community law office. Strider holds a Juris Doctor, a Bachelor of Arts, a diploma in adult education and a diploma in animal sciences.