Preceptor Preparation Online Course - Advanced

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Essential Competencies of Preceptors: A Focus on Working with APRN Students

Module 2: Assessing Learner Needs and Learning Styles

Assessing Learner Needs

Preceptor training APRN student

What is a learning need?

A learning need is the gap in knowledge, skill, attitude and/or practice between desired level of performance and the actual level of performance.

Right facing arrow, Actual PerfomanceSquare, Learning need = GAP Left facing arrow, Desired Performance

Hover over graphic for additional information

What is a learning needs assessment?

A needs assessment then is the methods or tool that we use to identify and measure that gap.


Although there are common learning issues identified among all advanced practice nursing students, all individuals are different and may have diverse learning needs. Indentifying these learning needs are important. Two primary methods of identifying learning needs available to preceptors are informal conversations and structured interviews (Bastable, 2008).

  • Informal conversations can occur anywhere, in both teaching and casual environments.
  • Structured interviews are formal discussions or assessments with a new student about their goals and objectives for the experience.

Informal assessment:

  • Asking open ended well thought out questions to get a sense of the student’s current knowledge level and reveal learning deficits
  • Questions should progress in complexity as the student masters more basic knowledge or skills

Structured assessment:

The method most recommended is for the preceptor and student to develop objectives for the experience together (Flynn & Stack, 2006).

  • Preceptor should be aware of the academic program’s goals for the student
  • The student should be given the opportunity to expand upon these goals
  • The preceptor and student should have clear understanding of goals
  • The goals need to be evaluated on a pre-determined regular basis, i.e., do not wait until the end of the semester


Quick tips: Methods of learning needs assessments sheet from the University of Toronto for medical students is a good overview of techniques for all professional healthcare disciplines.

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