Nursing and nursing education are relatively new development in the world’s society. This profession has grown tremendously since its introduction. The responsibility of the nurses ranges from basic care to specialized clinical treatment. Due to the increasing demand, the nursing industry has developed in order to keep pace with this demand. Traditionally, nursing education was passed from generation to generation through informal means. Nowadays, nurses hold higher education certificates; learning nursing has changed from being teacher-centered to being learner-centered. This change has come with new concepts of education that will be discussed here. These concepts include adult learning theory, special needs learning strategies, learning styles, discovery learning concept, and the sensory stimulation theory of learning (Dunn, 2000).
In nursing, it is important to identify the type of learning style a particular student prefers in order for the nurse educator to be effective in educating that student. Firstly, there is the adult learning theory. It was first proposed by Malcolm Knowles in 1978, where he argued that adulthood arrives when a person behaves in adult ways and has self conviction of being an adult. Once such traits are recognized in a student, the student should be treated as an adult. Adult learning (or andragogy) is special in that the adult learners have a lot of experience which can be used as a resource by the nurse educator.
In an adult learning environment, the adults assume a high level of influence on what they want to be educated on and the way they it should be done. This self-directing attitude in an adult learning environment should be enhanced by use of student-centered teaching programs. This concept provides a framework for learner’s participation in the formulation and implementation of educational programs. Such programs should have relevant application of the education acquired as well as allowing the adult learners some influence on how learning should be conducted and evaluated. In a nursing environment this theory would be applicable when teaching parents and other adult patients on key health issues or self-medication procedures (Elliot, Kratochwill, Cook, & Travers, 2000).
Nurse educators who use this method in their interaction with adult patients and clients will have a higher chance of educating them. The concept of adult learning enables the educator to develop a collaborative approach to the issues being taught hence allowing the learners to learn from experience as well as introducing them to realistic problem solving strategies. Since adults expect to have a higher level of influence in the learning environment, the educator experiences difficulties in introducing concepts that are hard to the learners. Due to wealth of experience that adults bring with them, the educator can use to teach them on the topics and issues outlined in the educational program (Elliot et al, 2000).
In dealing with learners with special needs, the educator should put into consideration the different limitation of each student. The diversity in a learning environment may be met by considering two classroom guidelines that have been generally accepted. First, the educator should consider that a learner’s performance is as a result of interactions between the learner and the instructional surroundings and secondly that educators can conveniently accommodate different needs if they analyze the student’s learning needs in relation to the demands of the learning environment. This will help the educator to adopt good instructional techniques that will be beneficial to the learner. This concept of teaching is best applied in a classroom where students or patients have diverse special needs (Dnn, 2000).
By making the relevant adaptations to accommodate students with special needs, the students will be able to learn more efficiently. In such classrooms where the classroom experiences are similar to real life experiences, the student is able to put in to practice what he/she learns. From a patient’s point of view, what he learns should be relevant to the condition or state of the patient and should be able to help him do his daily routines easily or take care of himself more efficiently. The use of concise oral and written directions helps the student to assimilate and understand.
The use of content that is learner-related helps the educator to tackle the daunting challenge of diversity in learning needs. This concept is effective in teaching, since it ensures personal tutoring of the student and the educator is able to understand the challenges the learner is experiencing. To tackle these challenges the educator makes the necessary changes to the classroom in order to accommodate students with special needs. The learner is the able to acquire the knowledge that would have been otherwise impossible. For maximum benefit to be realized, the educator should use different learning styles with each student (Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2006).
Thirdly is the learning styles concept. It emphasizes the difference in the ability of different individuals to process and perceive information differently. This theory posits that the ability of an individual to acquire knowledge is highly dependent on the educational experiences that are geared towards ones learning style other than whether they are smart or not. It emphasizes that educators should not be interested in how smart the students are but rather on how they are smart. It is based on the psychological type classification and research showing the impact of heredity, environmental demands, and upbringing of different individuals to perceive and process knowledge (Mayer, 2004).
The learners acquire information through concrete or abstract perceptions. Concrete perception of information is through acting, doing, and sensing. Such direct experiences help concrete learners to understand better and faster. For abstract learners, the information acquired is observed and the critically analyzed. The other types of learners identified by this theory are active and reflective learners/processors. Active learners immediately use the acquired information to understand an experience while the reflective learners will understand an experience through reflection and thought (Sullivan & Glanz, 2000).
Nursing educators should incorporate a curriculum that emphasizes on the feeling, sensing, and intuition of the learner in addition to the problem solving, reasoning, and analytical skills. This would allow the educator to impact the culture of caring as well as giving the required clinical education skills to the students. The knowledge of the psychological type of a student helps the educator to develop the required program for learning for students with special needs.
Discovery learning method is constructivist approach to learning. The theory of this method posits that by practicing to discover, one teaches oneself to gain information in a way that makes the information viable when solving problems. In this method, the learners take problem solving situations. In those situations the learner solves the problem using his experience and knowledge. This method helps the students to interact with the environment, through exploration and manipulation of the objects and carrying out experiments. This method helps the student to use and gain hands on experience which is important in the nursing industry.
On the other hand, the educator is able to evaluate the leearner on a daily basis on the level of competence with which he handles the problems put to him. The educator is also able to evaluate how well a student puts theory to practice. Since the nursing industry is a dynamic industry, with new information emerging on how to deal with different cases, this method helps the educator to evaluate how well the students are merging the new information with the information they already had (Sullivan & Glanz, 2000).
The sensory stimulation method is based on the fact that learning occurs effectively due to the stimulation of senses. Research has shown that about 75% of the adult’s knowledge was acquired through sight, 13% through hearing and 12% through smell and taste. Therefore, for a nurse educator to be effective in educating a student, the educational program should be in such a way that it allows experiments and experiences that will stimulate senses such as sight. Through this method the students are able to experience real life problems that will help them relate and remember procedures during their service as nurses. The educator will be able to experiment the new ways of solving a problem or educating the students as he observes the students tackle classroom problems provided to them (Sullivan & Glanz, 2000).
In my role as a nurse educator, these educational concepts have helped me to achieve a high level of communication with the learners. By using the appropriate learning style, I have been able to effectively teach and evaluate learners under different circumstances and different state of their health (Dunn, 2000).
Some critiques of discovery model of learning argue that the model is supported by very little empirical data. They claim that the empirical data available does not support this model. Some groups have found that the use of discovery learning purely on its own is less effective than other methods of instructional learning (Kirschner, et al, 2006; Mayer 2004). The other methods that researchers have named have also ended up being discredited, urging the need for guidance in the discovery method of learning. Learning styles theory has also been greatly criticized by psychologists, they have questioned the efficacy of the theory pointing to the little evidence gathered. They have claimed that the theory is based on doubtful theoretical grounds. Such sentiments have made me to explore a combination of methods to help me achieve my goal in teaching nursing. A combination of two or more concepts has yielded encouraging results (Kirschner, et al, 2006; Mayer, 2004).
In nursing, these educational concepts have affected the curricular context of the discipline. The curriculum has evolved from rigid entities laced with scientific and biomedical models to one that with reflexive and integrated structures that revolve around the nursing philosophy. Due to the diversity of the student the nursing curriculum has evolved to one that is eclectic to carter for the needs of these students. The other aspect of the current nursing structure affected by these theories is the faculty related material. Faculty content has changed to cater for the student-centered model adopted.
The concerns pointed by the critiques of discovery method and the learning style method can be tackled by the use of a combination of concepts. Having used such methods as a nursing educator, it is possible to attain high level of efficiency if one uses a all the necessary method for a particular case. In addition, an educator should use effective evaluation and analytical methods to ascertain the right method to teach his learners. However, combining visual instructions with other methods of learning is most effective for sighted learners. Oral instructions have also been effective for the blind.