Learning Theories Behaviorism versus Cognitivism

When I first started researching the concept of learning theories for this discussion board post I imagined myself in each stage of my nursing career. It became evident very quickly that as my brain took in more knowledge, my way of learning evolved. At that point I realized that the way I learned evolved as my knowledge grew.

Behaviorism versus Cognitivism

There are two main learning theories through which many others have developed. They are behaviorism and cognitivism. According to Mastrian, McGonigle, and Mahan, behaviorism strongly suggest that the only factor we should consider in a learning situation is external. On the other hand cognitivism suggests that learning has both internal and external components. Over the last twenty years we have learned that learning theories go way beyond these two components. It would be hard for me to say that I parallel my nursing education with just one learning theory. I would like to think that I have evolved as a student just like I have evolved as a nurse.

When I first graduated from nursing school I worked on a med-surg unit. I was very naïve, fresh out of nursing school and ready to make a difference. I was intent on getting it right. I knew that repetition was the key to my success, I learned by doing. We nurses have a saying "see one. do one, teach one". What I quickly learned was that if you watched three different nurses complete a task you could see three different ways to get it done. This didn't mean that one was better than the other, it meant that we all have different ways of getting it done. This is very similar to understanding learning theories. There is no "one" way that is right. You have to adapt to the learner.

As I became more comfortable with my skills as a nurse I was ready to move on, to learn something new. My brain was ready. I started working in the cath lab. This meant learning more information and building on my previous knowledge. Again I found myself as a student. Learning from other members of the team and sometimes incorporating a new way of learning cognitivism. I had to learn how to problem solve quickly. If I was holding pressure on a femoral artery I knew that one slip of the hand could potentially end someone's life. I quickly learned how to adapt. I loved my experience there but there came a time when I was ready to move on. To expand my knowledge once again. It was then I found a new passion.

I have always been fascinated with the "why". Why do we take Tylenol for a headache? Why do we put ice on a sprain? It was at this point in my career that I found myself in research. Pediatric Oncology Research to be exact. I help perform clinical trials to find new ways to treat the hardest of cancers. Cancer that does not respond to traditional treatment. If you have a child or know a child that has a cancer that has not responded to treatment chances are I know of a clinical trial that they can participate in. As a result of this career choice I again have found myself facing new learning experiences. Not only in my job but as a student in school. Part of my agreement in taking this job was a promise to complete my bachelors degree. So once again I find myself in school learning.

Learning has never come easy to me. I have had to work hard. I build on the knowledge from previous experiences. This is similar to the constructivism theory of learning. I will succeed. I am confident and determined. Those are two qualities that are inside me. They drive me and will help me succeed.

Mastrian, K., McGonigle, D. and Mahan, W..Integrating Technology in Nursing Education: Tools for the Knowledge Era. Sudbury, MA, USA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2010

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of instructional Technology & Distance Learning. 2(1).

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