Fighting Nurse Attrition with Science-Backed Audio-Visual Mnemonics
It’s no secret that nursing students have to absorb, retain, and recall a staggering amount of medical and scientific knowledge every day. This deluge of information, combined with the pressures of looming exams, causes many to become understandably overwhelmed, burn out, and potentially fail – pushing nursing student attrition and dropout rates to over 20% in recent years.
What if there was a better way for students to handle and remember this unending stream of factual information? We unpack the science behind cognitive memory, explore how audio-visual mnemonics complement this science, and share everything you need to get started, below.
The science behind effective memorization
While the deeper mysteries of cognitive science are still being uncovered, we have a decent understanding of how memories are created and enforced. Leveraging what we know about learning science is key to helping students memorize facts and accurately recall them during high-pressure situations, from the NCLEX and beyond.
The three-part process of creating strong memories are:
External visual, audio, tactile, and semantic stimuli are converted into electrical signals and sent to the brain, where they are encoded as a memory. A variety of memory phenomena or theories describe how this happens:
- Dual Coding Theory
Audio and visual cues are simultaneously combined into a single memory. For instance, hearing the word ‘defibrillator’ instantly conjures up images of the machine.
- Picture Superiority Effect
Images create a stronger impression and are better remembered than text alone. A picture is worth a thousand words!
- Von Restorff Effect
The weird, odd, and unique things stand out more clearly to your brain – and make for a greater, more lasting impression.
- Humor Effect
Laughter often evokes positive emotions that improve memory. That makes facts with funny associations much easier to remember.
The brain then finds ways to store all newly encoded memories. One effective way is by using acronyms as a mnemonic device, which more effectively commits concepts to memory, compared to using individual words.
But students can take it further by associating an acronym with a phonetic representation and a visual character, leveraging the Baker/baker Paradox to full effect. For instance, a visual character of a “pie” with an “addition” symbol on it strengthens recall of the five-step nursing process (ADPIE).
The next and most important part is memory recall, particularly during high-stakes situations like exams. Pushing the brain to pull up stored information stimulates the memory process, strengthens storage, and creates neural pathways that make future retrieval much smoother and easier.
This entire process makes ‘active recall’ devices like flashcards, quiz platforms, or having a study partner that reads questions out loud to you, an invaluable addition at every step of a nursing student’s learning journey.
Bringing it together with picture mnemonics
Nursing students have historically depended on rote memorization for their studies, but this “brute force” approach doesn’t quite align with how good memories are created, stored, and retrieved. As indicated earlier, the combination of audio cues and visual characters is a more effective approach – even better if done in a storytelling format, with visual character interactions that stand out and tickle the funny bone!
Enter Picmonic – an interactive, online studying system containing thousands of nursing school topics. Important attributes or keywords of medical concepts are converted into sound-alike equivalents and an accompanying visual character, bringing some wackiness to otherwise dry, factual information. This taps into the earlier memory processes above, equipping nursing students with a powerful and proven means to retain huge amounts of information for the long term.
Picmonic takes things a step further by also providing students with sets of quizzes and questions to practice low-stakes recall of the facts they need to know. Students can take multiple shots at the questions, review their mistakes, and improve.
Combined with TrueLearn’s NCLEX SmartBank – a learning and assessment platform that couples high-quality, board-style practice questions with proven elements of cognition science and data analytics – nursing students are able to further improve long-term memory of information learned, optimize exam performance, and better apply what they’ve learned into clinical practice.
Impact for Nursing Programs
The utilization of both Picmonic and TrueLearn in nursing education not only benefits the student, but also supports program leadership. These two learning systems, when integrated across the curriculum, equip faculty with a teaching tool to engage students and help them learn more effectively in the classroom. This allows faculty to focus more on the development of critical thinking and clinical judgment skills among students.
Through integration across the curriculum, Program Directors, Deans, and Curriculum Committees gain access to real-time, comprehensive performance data and longitudinal reporting for individual students and the collective program. The data surfaced helps identify and remediate “at-risk” students, uncover gaps in the curriculum, identify and track key education initiatives, and more.
The results of utilizing the Picmonic-TrueLearn synergy? More confident students, reduced attrition for institutions, and a greater influx of confident nurses into our healthcare system. It’s a win for everyone and the future of nursing in general.