Constructivism Theory Analysis and Application to Curricula

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT Today's nursing programs are struggling to accommodate the changing needs of the health care environment and need to make changes in how students are taught. Using constructivism theory, whereby learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current or past knowledge, leaders in nursing education can make a paradigm shift toward concept-based curricula. This article presents a summary and analysis of constructivism and an innovative application of its active-learning principles to curriculum development, specifically for the education of nursing students.

Key Words Active Learning--Constructivism--Case Studies--Critical Thinking--Nursing Education

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RATHER THAN HEEDING CALLS FOR REFORM IN NURSING EDUCATION, MANY NURSE EDUCATORS CONTINUE TO TEACH AS THEY WERE TAUGHT, SIMPLY REARRANGING THE SAME CONTENT-LADEN MATERIAL THEY HAVE TRADITIONALLY PRESENTED TO STUDENTS (Candela, Dalley, & Benzel-Lindley, 2006). But change in the nursing curricula, based upon pedagogical research, is needed (Candela et al.). Faculty must be willing to shift their emphasis away from traditional nursing courses, such as pediatrics, maternity, mental health, and community health, to concept-based courses in which concepts are presented across the life span and across clinical settings (Giddens, & Brady, 2007). Such changes are needed in both didactic and clinical courses. Instituting a nonlinear approach to education can improve nursing students' critical thinking abilities. * For faculty to accomplish such change, it is important to have an understanding of curricula and the nurse's role in a rapidly advancing profession (Hamner & Wilder, 200I). Nurses are far more than beings of memorization. They must be lifelong, adult learners who engage in reflective practice, self-critique, and self-direction, and they must be able to synthesize information, link concepts, and think critically. Therefore, it is imperative to evaluate the use of constructivism in nursing education curricula. THIS ARTICLE OFFERS PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS, BASED ON CONSTRUCTIVISM, FOR CLINICAL NURSING EDUCATION.

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Theoretical Concepts of Constructivism Basically, constructivism is a theory founded on observation and scientific study about how people learn. The major theme is that learning should be an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current or past knowledge. With roots in philosophy, psychology, sociology, and education (Hoover, 1996), constructivism is founded on subsets of research within cognitive psychology and social psychology (Huitt, 2003). Depite the existence of various forms of constructivism, such as cognitive constructivism and social constructivism, advocates agree that it is the individual's processing of stimuli from the environment and the resulting cognitive structures that produces adaptive behavior (Huitt, 2003).

Cognitive theories and adult learning principles are closely linked to constructivism. While cognitive constructivism is derived from the work of Piaget (1972), which describes learning as an act of accommodation, assimilation, and equilibration, Knowles's (1979) adult learning principles build upon the learner's previous experiences and promote active learning. In Knowles's andragogical model, the learner is defined as a self-directing organism and is put in the role of diagnosing his or her own needs for learning, translating these needs into learning objectives, identifying and using appropriate resources for accomplishing these objectives, and evaluating the extent to which they have been accomplished. A facilitator is involved as needed (Knowles).

The conceptual definition of constructivism is that human learning is constructed and built upon previous knowledge (Hoover, 1996). According to the Educational Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) (2004), the constructive theory encourages learners to be active creators of their own knowledge. …