Experiential Learning Program

Nurses with little background and clinical knowledge about a topic, will not be able to learn fully from the experiences provided by just taking care of a patient (Brenner, 1984). The environment in which the experience occurs plays a part in the nurse’s ability to see diseases as problematic, resulting in the ability to provide empathy to their patients (Schultze et al. 2019). Empathy is essential to therapeutic communication and plays an important role in quality patient care; but a deficit in empathy permeates many healthcare facilities (Levett-Jones & Cant, 2019).

For experiences to be educative, the introductions need to occur in a structured way where an educator can guide a new perspective of the experience for the learner (Dewey, 1938). Through education, competency and practice, nurses can learn empathy which they can apply to their practice (Bas-Sarmiento et al. 2017). The Experiential Learning program offers nurses this structured experience with guided reflection to maximize learning from the experience.

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Style Theory is the framework for this project. David Kolb (1984) provided a model which described experiential learning with a holistic viewpoint combining experience, perceptions, cognition and behavior; leaving us with the creation and recreation of new knowledge (Kolb, 1984). Kolb’s model expanded on Dewey, Lewin, and Piaget’s efforts by tying their experiential work into one model which focuses the effects of experience on the learning process (Kolb, 1984). The model highlights four main stages of the experiential learning cycle. The first stage, concrete experience, involves doing or having an experience followed by the second stage, reflective observation, which incorporates reflecting on those experiences. The third stage, abstract conceptualization, has the learner interpreting and learning from the experience and then in the fourth stage, active experimentation, the learner applies what they learned from experience to future experiences (McLeod, 2017).

The Need

There is a deficit in nurses’ knowledge around diabetes; nurses’ perceptions of what they know about diabetes is less from their actual knowledge (Alotaibi et al., 2017).

To ensure the provision of quality care to patients with diabetes, a needs assessment of self- management knowledge and behaviors should occur with every hospital admission (American Diabetes Association, 2020). Based on the initial patient with diabetes needs assessment, the delivery of patient specific self-management education occurs, to include medication dosing and administration, glucose monitoring, and recognition and treatment of hypoglycemia. (American Diabetes Association, 2020).

A chart review of 188 patients admitted to medicine units at VCUHS in 2021, 73 patients had the diagnosis of diabetes. Of those 73 patients, only 18 patients (25%) received education of a self-management behavior.

Nursing shortages, high workload resulting in low job morale and lack of training and education results in nursing knowledge deficit in the management of diabetes (Alotaibi et al., 2016). Frustration from frequent readmissions result in compassion fatigue towards patients with diabetes by those providers who deliver them care. (Cotugno el al., 2015). Subsequently, lack of empathy from their healthcare providers threatens the quality diabetes care provided (DelPrete et al., 2016).

Program Parts


Online education modules containing:

      • Overview of experiential learning
      • Patient role play scenarios
      • Self-Management behaviors


Three day person with diabetes experience

      • Healthy Eating – Keep a food diary and calculate carbs for foods consume
      • Monitoring – Obtain blood sugars
      • Taking Medications – Administer “medication”
      • Being Active- 150 minutes physical activity
      • Reducing Risk – Keep a personal care record
      • Problem Solving – Calculate medications based on carbs
      • Healthy Coping – Identify coping strategy

Additional experience options: Grocery shopping on a budget, obtaining blood pressure, perform foot exam, calculating BMI


Structured debrief of experience offering an opportunity to provide additional education and answer questions

Project Team

  Susan BodinInterim Director, Education and Professional Development at VCU Health

Alison Montpetit – Nursing Director, Clinical Excellence at VCU Health

Shelly Smith – Program Director, DNP Program at VCU



*References Upon Request