Background: In nursing education, knowledge and competence in conducting physical assessments are crucial. Therefore, physical assessment knowledge has become a fundamental and essential education program for nursing students. However, most of the current nursing courses are taught via a didactic teaching approach, making it difficult for students to think deeply about relevant issues due to the lack of interaction and context. This may, in turn, have an impact on learning effectiveness and clinical judgment. Objective: A virtual patient (VP)-based social learning approach is proposed to enhance nursing students' performance and clinical judgment in education programs. Design: A quasi-experiment method was adopted to evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed approach. Participants: A total of 40 senior nursing students participated in the study (VP-based social learning approach group = 20, control group = 20). Methods: The study involved a pre- and post-test to examine students' learning achievements, self-efficacy, and communication skills. The experimental group adopted the VP-based learning approach, while the control group adopted the conventional didactic learning approach. ANCOVA was employed to compare the performances of the two groups. Results: The experimental results indicate that using a VP for learning can enhance students' learning achievements, self-efficacy, and communication skills. In addition, based on the analysis of the results, students generally believed that learning with a VP makes learning more enjoyable. Conclusion: The VP-based social learning approach would be an effective strategy to train nursing students who have limited opportunities to experience real clinical situations, in particular during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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