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This essay will discuss why I think an understanding of learning styles is useful to the student nurse by focusing on reflection using the Honeys learning cycle and how it helps to demonstrate the importance of recognising one’s learning styles. It will provide an understanding of learning and theories of learning. It will also discuss my dominant learning style and how I will develop an aspect of my weaker style to support my learning process on the programme.
For the student nurse to understand and identify their learning style, he or she has to understand the theories of learning. Gould, J. (2009) stated that different theorists will have different ideas as to what constitutes learning and different arguments and evidence to support their position. Learning has so many definitions. Learning can be defined in various ways depending on whether one is focusing on learning as an internal process or one is thinking of learning as a series of external inputs and output. Since there is no simple way to define learning, I would describe learning as the process of acquiring, interpreting and understanding information through various ways at any place and given time such as life experiences, formal and informal education. Therefore, learning can be described as an input, process and product. Peter honey (2006) described learning as a skill that needs to be consciously reviewed and developed.
Pavlov (1927) and Skinner (1953) used the behaviourist approach to establish that “learning is a change in behaviour brought about by some action or experience.” (Cited by Gould Jim, 2009). From a cognitive perspective, learning can be defined as a change in cognitive structures; the way in which we perceive events and organise experiences to arrive at an understanding. (Gould Jim p 46).
Eysenck and keane (2005) states that learning is concerned with the internal process of the environment, and deciding what action might be appropriate.
Many researchers have adopted Kolb’s (1976) experiential learning theory and applied it to different educational areas because it explains more about the learning theory. It is useful for the student nurse to familiarise one’s self with the learning cycle, as it helps to understand the process of learning. Peter Honey’s learning cycle suggests that we learn through an experience, but only if we process or interpret the experience and make sense of it. These can be done by following the stages of the learning cycle which includes having an experience, reviewing the experience and planning the next step. For instance when the student nurse goes on placement, one is expected to adhere to the necessary nursing midwifery code of conduct by delivering effective and quality care. To do this, one has to reflect on ways to develop new skills and ways do things differently. For example, Mr Y made a complaint that your level of communication is poor. To reflect on the situation, review the experience you had with Mr Y by asking yourself what you did wrong and observe the way your colleagues, mentor and other healthcare workers communicate with other patients. Then focus on the differences you observed between the way you and your mentor approached the patient. And conclude by learning what your mentor did differently e.g body language, tone, speech, good eye level.
One has to have critical thinking skill in order to be able reflect on experiences (p.25). Moons (2008) states that critical thinking for us is a process, where different information is gathered, sifted, synthesised and evaluated, in order to understand a subject. He went on to suggest that the ability of a nurse to think critically will enable the nurse to function as a knowledgeable doer i.e. someone who selects, combines, judges and uses information in order to proceed in a professional manner. (Cited by bob p.8.)
Bob argued that reflection is a process whereby experience is examined in ways that give meaning to interactions. Therefore, the student nurse has to evaluate and understand the subject or experience before he or she interprets it.
The learning cycle can begin at any one of the four points and it should be approached as a continuous process since the four stages of the learning cycle are mutually dependent on another (Honey 2006 p.6.)
People have preferences for everything. Since individuals learn at different rates and in different ways, there is a very high possibility that they would have a preferred style or way of learning. Learning styles are the preferred ways we perceive and interact to the various elements and in any learning situation. Different things affect the way we learn e.g. background, culture, religion etc. For example some students enjoy listening to a lecture and making their own notes, while others who also enjoy listening to the lecture prefer to have handouts to read at a later time.
Peter honey identified four main learning style preferences. These learning styles include activist, reflector, pragmatist and theorist. Since most people develop strategies to help cope with studies and work, it is important for the student nurse to recognise one’s learning styles or methods in order to maximise the way one will learn. Learning style preferences influence the way a student responds to the learning opportunities within any educational experience and affects their ability to direct their own learning. (Oshea, 2003). Our preferred style of learning influences the way one will tend to organise and present information.
Student nurses will find understanding learning styles useful because it will help improve their skills in placement or in their future nursing career by broadening their repertoire. Recently, it has been established that nurses who want to specialise in areas require a broad skill base involving advanced technical expertise, critical thinking, communication, leadership and motivation, computer literacy and cultural sensitivity (Bechtel et al 1999). Recognising one’s learning style encourages the student nurse to reflect and learn from any experience one might face during practice placement and also, enable the student nurse to create ways of doing things differently and better if the experience were to happen again. Frankel, A. (2009) stated that a skilled and competent workforce ensures patient safety, and will be able to recognise and respond to clinical need more appropriately.
Awareness of one’s learning style allows one to learn at best whether learning is taking place in the classroom or at placement. Terry (2001) stated that “learning styles and the promotion of effective learning environments have been a focus of research for many decades” (cited by Wetzig 2004 p.2). According to (Frankel 2009) study, the ability to learn, understand, interpret and then apply learning to practice has a significant impact on delivering effective clinical care. The student nurse is always faced with different challenges or experiences in placement; it is therefore the responsibility of the student nurse to reflect on his or her role during placement. This process is called reflection on action (evaluation) and reflection in action (decision making). Evidence suggests that through improving students’ awareness of their own learning style, they are better able to take responsibility for their own learning, which leads to improved learning outcomes (Fritz 2002).
It is also the responsibility of the student nurse to work alongside the mentor and other health care workers to maximise one’s potential. The literature review according to (Frankel 2009) supports the view that consideration for individual learning styles is fundamental in designing effective training programmes and that learning is a key concept and value which underpins nursing and its development.
Kolb (1984) identified four distinct learning styles based on a four-stage learning cycle. Building on Kolb’s work, Honey (2006) developed the Learning Styles Questionnaire to help identify one’s learning style. Using the learning style questionnaire (Honey, 2006), I have been able to identify my learning styles as a theorist and reflector because these are the best ways am able to learn new things or skills. My dominant learning styles emerged after completing the questionnaire, my highest overall score (10) was for the ‘Theorist’ category, these indicates my dominant learning style, while, the reflector category represents my predominant learning style.
I believe these findings to be true as I am able to remember or visualise ideas in my head from diagrams, tables and mind maps. I take thorough notes in lectures and when studying textbooks and I usually study better by myself.
As a reflector, I like to think and look at a situation from different perspectives before taking any action. I am always quiet and always try to listen attentively in order to grasp what the teacher is saying. Researching and reviewing information carefully has always been my way of study before coming to any conclusions or decisions.
I was also able to identify my weaker styles as an activist and pragmatist. Knowing my underutilised learning style can help me as a student nurse to get the necessary help I require and to undertake activities to develop the weaker learning style. Honey (2006) argued the best learners are equally comfortable with all the stages in the learning cycle. Therefore, it is important to strengthen one’s weaker styles to be able to learn as whole because having preferences can lead to distortions. Cottrell (2003) advises that whether you discover that you have a learning style preference or not, it may change because we are adaptable creatures (cited by davis Nicholas p.8). Effective learners make full use of their dominant preferences, while also developing and acquiring useful features from their underutilised styles.
In nursing, learning occurs best in practice by preparing oneself to undertake other learning styles such as reflecting on the experience you had in placement. This will enable the student nurse to make the most out of the experience. (Nicola p.80). As a student nurse, my learning occurs both in the university and within practice, so I need to be prepared to learn in more than one way.
I will consider investing more time and energy in the parts of the learning cycle that I am least comfortable with. I will ensure that I am aware of the activities that both an activist and a pragmatist will learn best and least from. The ways to strengthen my activist style is by taking calculated risk, increasing my tolerance for spontaneity and trying out different ways of doing things, while the ways to strengthen my pragmatist style is by being realistic, exploring new ideas and judging the usefulness of ideas based on practicality. I will also seek for help and support from the university and course tutor.
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