Design and writing for active learning

I wrote the learning materials for the key introductory module ‘Principles of Palliative Care’ in Marie Curie Cancer Care’s BSc programme in Palliative Care / Cancer Care, and I was part of the team which planned the learning design of the entire programme: a blend of printed materials, existing publications and face-to-face sessions with Marie Curie lecturers.

All the student nurses had access to textbooks and journals at the Marie Curie libraries, so it was agreed at the outset that the learning materials would NOT present subject content. Instead, the materials would guide students in reading from existing publications and provide them with learning activities to consolidate and rehearse their knowledge and relate it to their practice.

As author of the materials for the first module most students would take, I had the daunting task of setting the tone for the entire programme, made more difficult by the fact that the first item in the syllabus was the definition of palliative care. What were students supposed to do with it? Memorise it? Learn to repeat it back, word for word? How could I build a learning activity around this definition, which would actively engage students in thinking about it?

In this extract from the first unit’s materials (see download below), you’ll see how I solved this problem by asking students to think about what the definition was NOT saying, what it was implicitly contradicting.

From the introduction to Activity 1.1

The principles of palliative care are not obvious or self-evident, as you will see in this activity, by thinking about how palliative care has developed and why it was necessary to articulate them. Palliative nursing is distinct and different from mainstream nursing (even if mainstream nursing is now adopting ideas first developed in the palliative setting), and it requires a mental adjustment. To articulate the principles is, figuratively speaking, to plant a flag in the ground: to say this is the approach, the values, the practice, to which we are committed. Studying the principles of palliative care is, therefore, part of joining the palliative care community.