Novel Use of Experiential Learning in an Online Doctor of Philosophy Theory Course

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Background: Due to their abstract nature and lack of real-world application, theory development and testing are often difficult concepts for PhD students to embrace, especially within a virtual learning environment. Although experiential learning is a preferred method, there is a lack of evidence regarding its use in online PhD programs. Method: Four PhD nursing students enrolled in a Foundations of Theory course participated in an innovative experiential learning project designed to introduce the process of theory development and testing. Participants, led by a faculty-researcher, tested the applicability of a conceptual model using the Framework Method with the diary of a Holocaust survivor. Results: This experience increased the learners’ understanding and appreciation of theory development and testing processes as they relate to the nurse scientist’s role. Conclusion: Experiential learning in an online theory course is a viable option to promote learning, student engagement, and professional socialization.