LEARNING THEORIES in Nursing Education Cognitivism in practice

Learning theories guide educational planning in both the classroom and clinical training for nursing education. There are two main learning theories upon which most other learning theories are based. Behaviorism is “learning … that produce[s] a tangible outcome” (Mastrian, 2010, p. 76). Additionally, this theory takes only the environment into account, not the learner’s mind. The behavioral instructional model “focuses on what the learner should be able to do when the instruction is concluded” (Mastrian et al., 2010, p. 77). According to Aliakbari, Parvin, Heidari, & Haghani (2015), “Behaviorists believe that learning is a change in an observable behavior and it happens when the communication occurs between the two events, a stimulus and a response”(Abstract).

Behaviorism believes learning happens when there is a response as a result of a stimulus.

Cognitivism is the other main learning theory and the one that most aligns with my nursing education. It explains mental processes as they are influenced by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, which eventually bring about learning in an individual (Aliakbari,Parvin,Heidari,&Haghani, 2015, Abstract). In contrast to behaviorists, cognitivists believe learning is an internal process objective and they focus on thinking, understanding, organizing, and consciousness. The theory also posits that learners should be equipped with the skills of inquiry and problem solving in order to learn by the discovery and process of information (Aliakbari et. al., 2015, Abstract). By way of example, I learned to take blood pressure measurements prior to understanding its importance and significance. Once I understood the source of pressure within the heart and the elasticity of blood vessels, I progressed in my understanding of the circulatory system. Building upon that knowledge, I gradually came to gain knowledge of cardiac output and how it affects the patient.

Cognitivism focuses on thinking, understanding and organizing.

According to Siemens (2005), “over the last twenty years, technology has reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn” (Introduction). The theory of connectivism posits that “We derive our competence from forming connections”(Siemens, 2005, website). The ability to do a computer search for evidence-based practice educates us on life-changing innovations. Educators can use videos, files, and websites to provide information. Additionally, students can collaborate with one another in Discussion Boards where group learning takes place often via diversity of opinion. Many of the processes previously handled by learning theories (especially in cognitive information processing) can now be off-loaded to, or supported by, technology(Siemens, 2005, Introduction).


Aliakbari, F., Parvin, N., Heidari, M., & Haghani, F. (2015). Learning theories application in nursing education. Journal of Education and Health Promotion, 4, 2. http://doi.org/10.4103/2277-9531.151867

Mastrian, Kathleen, McGonigle, Dee, and Mahan, Wendy L.. 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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