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Tempo Learning® Academic Coaching: The Walden Differentiator

Working nurses find flexibility in a competency-based learning format.

Pam Glenn says her experience as a certified nurse midwife offers a parallel to her current role as an Academic Coach for students earning nursing degrees in Walden University’s competency-based Tempo Learning® format.

“As a midwife, I always valued the concept of continuity of care. For example, being the same midwife for my patient’s prenatal visits helped me to know that patient well. I could walk into an exam room and know very quickly whether she was having a good or bad day. It’s the development of those relationships that is so vital in providing excellent care. Likewise, as Academic Coaches, we provide that same continuity [for our students], which I think is really valuable in knowing the student, meeting them where they are, and helping them through their program.”

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Tempo Learning® is a completion option available to nurses earning online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees in the Nurse Executive, Nursing Education, and Nursing Informatics specializations. Walden also offers the Tempo Learning® format in its Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) online degree program as well as the BSN Accelerate Into Master’s (AIM) option.

Glenn, who has been with Walden for over five years, said she’s absolutely “sold on Tempo Learning®,” a self-paced format in which students move ahead by completing competencies—the skills, knowledge, and abilities used to demonstrate progress. We caught up with the busy coach recently to learn more about her work with nursing school students, and about Walden’s innovative Tempo Learning® format.

Walden: It’s exciting to hear your enthusiasm for Tempo Learning®. Why do you feel it’s such a good choice?

Glenn: Since I’ve been immersed in Tempo Learning®, I’ve become sold on it for busy nursing students wanting to further their education and needing flexibility to accomplish this goal. Nurses frequently work a wide range of hours, working eight- to 12-hour shifts and often weekends and nights. With all the different, crazy nursing schedules—and I’ve been there, done that—along with other life commitments, the flexibility that Tempo Learning® offers is absolutely awesome.

Walden: How do students benefit from that flexibility?

Glenn: Here’s an example: I might say to a student, “I know how it feels to come off a 12-hour shift, and maybe you’ve had to stay an extra hour or two to finish documentation and catch up, and you go home exhausted. You may not have any energy left to study on that day. And with Tempo Learning®, that’s fine. That is the beauty of Tempo Learning®. But if you have a little energy at the end of a workday, consider reading an article or two, as this can help with your progress.” I then encourage students to schedule a longer block of Tempo Learning® study time on their days off. I advise them to add this scheduled study time to their calendars. That way, they are setting the time aside and really focusing in on making significant progress with their Tempo Learning® competencies.

Additionally, Tempo Learning® is set up to acknowledge that life happens. A student may have a significant life event such as a loss, a change in jobs, or whatever the case may be, to which the student needs to give their time and attention. This life event shouldn’t hold them back from achieving their educational goals. Tempo Learning® provides the flexibility needed during such times.

Walden: Having a personal Academic Coach is a singular benefit for students earning a nursing degree in the Tempo Learning® format. Can you tell us more about coaching?

Glenn: An Academic Coach wears a lot of hats. We provide students with initial instructions on the step-by-step process of completing a competency. We give them tools and detailed handouts along with these instructions to help them learn the process well. Coaches provide tips on becoming efficient with Tempo Learning®, respecting the pace that works for the student yet making sure they are meeting minimum requirements. We provide guidance and support throughout the program. We give them a heads-up on any unique aspects of a competency or course.

Walden: This kind of coaching is probably a new experience for most of your students. What sort of feedback have you received?

Glenn: One thing that strikes me is that for some students, the flexibility of Tempo Learning® makes it easier to succeed. I recently had a student who came from a course-based program say, “Pam, I am learning so much more with Tempo Learning® because with the course-based program, I had to send in an assignment, maybe every Friday. If I was working a lot that week, I didn’t have the time and ended up rushing the assignment. Also, in the course-based program I wanted to go back and read articles that interested me, but I didn’t have time to do that either. I really didn’t learn as much.” So now this student is taking her time with the assignments, and she is also reading the articles that interest her. She really is learning so much more with Tempo Learning®.

Walden: Tempo Learning® also offers faculty support to students when they need it. How does that work?

Glenn: There is a faculty SME, or subject matter expert, assigned to each competency. My frequent guidance to students is if you have a question about the assessment, which is the final assignment for each competency, please reach out to your faculty. They are there to help you. They welcome your questions. You can even set up a phone call, which can provide clarification and save you time. This is a great strategy for moving through the program. I’ve had students sometimes spend days wondering if they’re doing the assessment correctly instead of simply reaching out to the faculty who are available to them, getting their questions answered, and moving on. I’m there to provide these types of tips and strategies, too. Likewise, Academic Coaches provide strategies tailored to the student’s individual situations, needs, and learning styles.

Walden: It sounds like you develop a close working relationship with your students. How do you build that rapport?

Glenn: Initially I build rapport with the students by sharing a bit about myself, explaining the Academic Coach role, and most importantly, asking what their goals are and how they came to choose Tempo Learning®. I explain from day one, “I’m your go-to person. You can come to me with any questions, concerns, or any feedback you may have.” We have regularly scheduled phone calls to review their progress and answer any questions or concerns they may have. Sometimes a recent work or life event may have led to a lack of progress with their competencies. I often tell students they don’t need to share anything personal they don’t want to; however, do inform me if something comes up that disrupts their studies. I will often discuss the word “reset” with them to acknowledge again that life happens. Then we strategize on moving forward with Tempo Learning® in a way that works best for them. The student “resets,” so to speak. At the end of each call, we set up our next meeting for a date and time that works for the student. I also ask at the end of each call, “How many competencies do you want to complete by the next call?” This routine goal setting helps many students stay on track with their goals.

Walden: I understand you began working as an Academic Coach at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. What impact did the virus outbreak have on the students you coached?

Glenn: There are no words to fully capture this year of COVID that we’ve all experienced. I think we’re all still processing it. It has been a unique year for me to take on this Academic Coach role, but I’ve felt very honored talking to all of our nursing school students throughout this year. They have been so brave and simply inspirational. The nurses I’ve talked to this year have been through the COVID-19 surges. For example, many worked in the ICU day in and day out, working under tremendously difficult conditions. Many of their fellow staff members were often out, either exposed to or sick with COVID, so they didn’t get a day off for weeks at a time. Plus, there is the emotional impact of COVID-19 patients dying, and the students being the only ones supporting them through their deaths. Additionally, many students had children home participating in school virtually, while our Walden students were working on their Tempo Learning® program. I’ve also had students who have been sick themselves with COVID-19, including some with longer-term recoveries. The bottom line is I believe I was meant to be in this role at this really pivotal time in our history, to help give students that extra support.

Walden: It’s easy to see why you’re “sold on Tempo Learning®” and so committed to your job. Is there one aspect of your work that you find particularly gratifying?

Glenn: My favorite part of my job is connecting with students. It’s great to have “aha moments” together, as they learn not only the competency content, but the life lessons that will serve them well into the future. I love watching students build on their strengths and grow in ways they may not have even imagined. It’s wonderful to be alongside them through this educational journey that they’ve chosen for themselves.

Walden: Is there something about Walden that you’d like to share with current or prospective students?

Glenn: Sometimes students think that because they attend an online university they are on their own. And that is definitely not the case at Walden. Students have me as their Academic Coach, and faculty who encourage them to reach out when assistance is needed. Students can even set up a phone call with their faculty to have one-on-one conversations with them whenever necessary. Students have an abundance of resources at their fingertips. For example, our Writing Center is awesome. So is the Academic Skills Center and the Walden Library, where students have access to a librarian. I emphasize to students that we may not be a brick-and-mortar school, but they have access to all sorts of resources just as they would in a brick-and-mortar setting. My message to students is: The support is there. You are never alone in this educational journey with Walden’s Tempo Learning® format.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) online degree program. Expand your career options and earn a degree online in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

The baccalaureate degree program in nursing (BSN), master’s degree program in nursing (MSN), and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program at Walden University are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (www.ccneaccreditation.org).

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