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Learning Theories and Principles for Advanced Practice Nurses

Learning Theories and Principles for Advanced Practice Nurses


Which learning theories and principles do you think are most useful to the advanced practice nurse (APN) in providing high quality health care to clients, and why?

Submission Instructions:

  • Your initial post should be at least 500 words, formatted and cited in current APA style with support from at least 2 academic sources.  Your initial post is worth 8 points.



  1. Introduction

The aim of this book is to trace the history of and examine the effectiveness of specific theories and principles for learning. As the first step in our research, a review of the literature on teaching and learning was conducted to understand the full scope of APN’s role as an educator. Much of the research on teaching and learning in advanced practice has been conducted on medical residents and physicians, so we have included literature from the medical field when the education context is pertinent. A small portion of the literature reviewed was found to be specific to advanced practice nursing education, and even less specifically related to nurse practitioner education. Therefore, some literature pertaining to undergraduate nursing and APN relevant clinical teaching was included as principles of learning are often transferable to different educational audiences. Kahn and Nauta state that often times health care providers must act as educators to bring about changes in patient behavior and clinical outcomes. As such, it is important for APNs to not only understand how adults learn but to have a thorough understanding of the teaching-learning process and be competent in specific educational strategies if they are to bring about changes in patient outcomes. This increasing focus on nurse practitioner-led patient education and sustained behavior change led us to include educational literature of learning theories and teaching strategies. Finally, we wanted to learn from the medical education community and other health professions about what has been effective in teaching and learning to apply similar strategies for educators in advanced practice nursing. This information was then used to narrow the scope of our study to select theories and principles that have the most impact and are most applicable to nurse practitioner education. Steps in theory development and testing have been integrated in the examination of specific theories.

1.1 Importance of Learning Theories and Principles for APNs

Learning theories can provide strategies to manage information and critically appraise which resources will be beneficial to their own learning and ultimately improve patient care. Finally, in understanding learning theory, the APN can enhance their own educational role. With the growth of nursing graduate programs, an increasing number of APNs are now in the position to educate future nurses. Knowledge of learning theories, curriculum design, and teaching strategies are critical to this role and fundamental if the educator is to develop competent practitioners who will improve patient care.

Knowledge of learning theory will provide scaffolding to assess individual patients’ learning needs, create an environment that is conducive to learning, build patient motivation, and implement effective teaching strategies. In addition to patient education, learning theory can guide the APN in their own learning. With the rapid expansion of new medical knowledge and virtual explosion of information resources, it is becoming increasingly important for APNs to be lifelong learners.

Knowledge and understanding of learning theories are critical for the APN as it provides the foundation for the strategies and techniques that can be employed to facilitate learning. With diagnoses being more complex, care delivery more diverse, and patient education a common practice, it is imperative that APNs have the skills to enable patients to learn and change behaviors in the healthcare setting.

Descriptive theories describe learning, teaching, and development and are the most concrete of the three. Therefore, they are easier to test through assessment. Prescriptive theories provide strategies or interventions to bring about change in a prescribed direction and have a good chance of being tested. Explanatory theories are so complex that it is uncertain as to whether or not they can be tested (B. Young, 1998).

Learning is an experience of obtaining new knowledge or developing existing knowledge, skills, and abilities and is vital to advanced practice nursing (APN) educational paradigms. Various learning theories attempt to explain this complex phenomenon. There are numerous classifications of learning theories. However, for the purpose of this discussion, the focus will be on three main types: descriptive, prescriptive, and explanatory.

1.2 Purpose of the Study

This research was designed to provide a framework for applying educational theory to an educational program for advanced practice nurses (APNs). Administration of health care is changing dramatically as a result of shifts in demography and policy. This climate requires development of innovative educational programs designed to prepare APNs for new roles in delivering health care to the public. In the last several decades, education has moved from the idea that teaching is simply content delivery to an understanding that learners need to be active participants in the learning process (Knowles, 1980; Eraut, 2000). This change has led to the development of a number of theories to guide the design of learning environments and activities. However, many educators are not familiar with these theories and have difficulty translating them into practice. At the same time, there has been an explosion in research and theory development in the field of nursing education, much of which parallels educational theory outside the discipline. Yet, much of this knowledge has not been consolidated or organized into a framework that is useful for curriculum development. Learning theories and principles are the building blocks for models of effective instruction. We propose that a better understanding of learning theories and principles can help educators develop an innovative curriculum to prepare APNs for complex health care roles in today’s society.

  1. Behaviorism

2.1 Classical Conditioning

2.2 Operant Conditioning

2.3 Observational Learning

  1. Cognitive Theory

3.1 Information Processing

3.2 Schema Theory

3.3 Problem-Based Learning

  1. Social Learning Theory

4.1 Vicarious Learning

4.2 Self-Efficacy

4.3 Modeling

  1. Constructivism

5.1 Experiential Learning

5.2 Inquiry-Based Learning

5.3 Collaborative Learning

  1. Humanistic Theory

6.1 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

6.2 Person-Centered Care

6.3 Motivation and Self-Determination

  1. Adult Learning Theory

7.1 Andragogy

7.2 Self-Directed Learning

7.3 Transformative Learning

  1. Application of Learning Theories in APN Practice

8.1 Enhancing Patient Education

8.2 Improving Clinical Decision-Making

8.3 Promoting Evidence-Based Practice

Learning Theories and Principles for Advanced Practice Nurses

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