Learning Theories and Diversity
Learning theories form the foundation of the design of courses and specific topics in a manner that would be suitable for delivery to specific student populations. For a clinical nurse educator, the student population generally comprises adult learners who have obtained degrees or other nursing qualifications from recognized institutions and are transitioning into the clinical practice setting, or nurses who have been practicing but need to enhance their knowledge and skills in specific nursing practices. Consequently, in the design of courses to offer to this student population, the educator needs to select an appropriate learning theory to inform the design. In the present scenario, the educator selects the adult learning theory to impart knowledge on work-life balance to newly hired nurses at a clinical facility. This paper discusses the course environment, the educational theory used and its justifications, the diversity of the learners with whom the educator will interact, and the strategies for managing conflict within the learning environment.
Course and Course Environment
As a clinical nurse educator, one of the roles to play is the provision of staff development education, oriented to motivating nurses in clinical settings, coaching and mentoring them, and teaching them the best ways to meet their career goals. A critical need for nurses who are transitioning from the higher education environment into clinical practice is the understanding of a work-life balance. As Matsuo et al. (2021) noted, a strong work-life balance is a necessity for the successful hiring and retention of a large nursing workforce. Without the balance, many nurses show a high intention to leave their clinical practice setting, which is a problem that many organizations face as nurse turnover diminishes their capacity to deliver care to patients (Matsuo et al., 2021). Thus, as new nurses venture into the clinical practice setting, they need training and mentorship on the approaches that would promote their work-life balance and prevent them from getting overwhelmed to the point of quitting their jobs.
Therefore, the work-life balance topic will be delivered at the clinic during the orientation of newly hired nurses to the facility. The objectives of the course will be (a) to provide support for the newly hired nurses as they get accustomed to life as clinicians, (b) to increase the rates of retention among the new nurses by supporting their work-life balance, and (c) to promote a supportive atmosphere for the new nurses. The work-life balance lessons will be delivered as part of the coaching and orientation program through well-designed training programs and on-the-job training. The target audience for the lessons is the new nurses that the organization hires to work in various units, including the intensive care unit (ICU), high-dependency unit (HDU), the emergency department (ED), and the general ward.
The adult learning theory is selected as the basis for developing the course. The theory has five major orientations, namely the cognitivist, behaviorist, humanistic, social cognitive, and constructivist orientations (Allen et al., 2021). The cognitivist orientation is useful in delivering structured content to students in classroom settings with the purpose of developing their knowledge and skills to learn better. The behaviorist orientation, on the other hand, promotes change in behavior through coaching and deliberate practice in competency-building settings. The humanist orientation imparts lessons to meet affective and developmental needs and inspires students to be more self-actualized and self-aware. Social cognitive orientations are based on the role-model approach to learning through interactions and observations. The constructivist orientation, on the other hand, is aimed at making meaning through action learning and developmental assignments (Allen et al., 2021). Each of these orientations is useful in training adult learners in clinical settings, but for different areas of knowledge.
The most applicable orientation of the theory for the proposed lessons on work-life balance is the social-cognitive orientation. The social cognitive orientation of adult learning theory posits that learning occurs best when an individual interacts with others in a social context (Allen et al., 2021). The objective of learning based on this theory is to acquire and master new behaviors and roles, especially by interacting with individuals who are more experienced and knowledgeable on the topics of interest and receiving lessons from them through formal or informal programs. The process of acquiring knowledge, based on the approach, is based on the interactions of the learner with an authentic environment, with experience being an integral part of the learning process (Mukhalalati & Taylor, 2019). The approach is based on David Kolb’s cycle of learning.
Justification of Theory
The adult learning theory will be applicable to the delivery of content on the work-life balance in the clinical setting. The lessons will be delivered as part of the coaching and orientation program targeting new nurses, meaning that the nurse educator will act as both a trainer and a role model for the newly recruited clinicians. According to Allen et al. (2021), the model of delivering information through coaching and mentorship conforms to the social-cognitive orientation of the adult learning theory. In the application of the orientation within an organizational environment, the role model is a formal mentor, a supervisor, or a more experienced member of the organizational team within which the learner operates. The supervisors or teammates become supportive of the learner by offering a network that would help them to learn and grow (Allen et al., 2021). This perspective would work in the proposed delivery of the work-life balance topic by ensuring that the clinical nurse educator is the mentor and the more experienced nurses in the various units where the new recruits will work are the network of support they need to learn and grow.
Existing evidence points to the successful application of the adult learning theory in training adult learners in clinical settings. Curran (2014) reviewed existing literature on learner-centered teaching styles and found out that the application of adult learning theory promotes the engagement of learners, their learning outcomes, and the transferability of the lessons to diverse practice settings. Allen et al. (2021), from their review of leader development programs, argued that the professional training curricula adopted in medical education – as well as in the military – successfully apply the elements of the adult learning theory to impart knowledge and skills to the students. The evidence from their research supports the use of specific orientations of the theory in educating learners on specific topics. Mukhalalati and Taylor (2019) further provided support for the adoption of Kolb’s experiential learning cycle in providing health education.
Diversity of Learners
The major diversity issue in the clinical practice setting is the differences in age among the new nurses targeted by the intervention. A recent trend observed at the facility is that many of the newly recruited nurses from Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree programs are also advanced in age. Smiley et al. (2021), reporting on a nursing workforce survey, presented the findings that the median age of Registered Nurses (RNs) is 52 years. The report also projected that the aging of the nursing workforce will be a continual trend beyond the year 2020 (Smiley et al., 2021). The implication is that the majority of established practicing RNs are older than 50 years, and even though new hires are entering the profession, their age does not greatly reduce the median value. At the facility, the nurses joining the workforce are generally of a wide age range, including individuals between 22 and 46 years old.
The age of the learners is an important diversity factor because the cognitive abilities of individuals usually decline with age. According to Clark et al. (2015), older adults have slower reaction times and lower accuracy when performing new skills, which can play a role in the acquisition of activity-oriented skills. Janacsek et al. (2012), on the other hand, found that the implicit learning abilities, which are responsible for the acquisition of motor, cognitive, and social skills, are more pronounced in younger individuals, with the ability to acquire the implicit skills peaking during adolescence and declining as the years progress. Consequently, age becomes an important factor when teaching work-life balance, which is a social skill. It is also worth noting that the older students have more experience in striking a balance between various demands of life and could benefit more from experiential training than their younger colleagues. Therefore, the delivery of the lesson has to be age-appropriate, with the clinical nurse educator identifying individuals’ personal learning abilities before delivering the lessons.
Strategies for Conflict Management
In the learning environment, it is inevitable that conflicts might occur among students or between students and the nurse educator. Valente and Lourenço (2020) argued that the conflicts arise due to differences in culture among the students in the classroom, or because of other factors such as the individuals’ personalities, value systems, interests, and learning needs. Conflict might also arise if some students feel excluded from the delivery of content because of diversity factors such as culture, age, or language (Valente & Lourenço, 2020). Thus, conflict management strategies that can work in the learning environment will be useful in creating a conducive learning environment for the diverse classroom.
Valente and Lourenço (2020) exemplified five conflict management strategies that can be adapted to the learning environment. They include (a) integrating, an approach for solving conflicts directly and in collaboration or cooperation among the parties involved; (b) dominating, in which the educator suppresses the students’ needs and expectations to achieve his/her goals; (c) obliging, in which the educator prioritizes the interests of the students rather than his/her own; (d) avoiding, in which the educator stays out of the situation that causes the conflict or chooses a neutral stance; and (e) compromising, in which the educator attempts to satisfy the interests of all parties by choosing a middle ground. Based on their survey of teachers in a typical classroom setting, the authors proposed that the educator should have high emotional intelligence (EI) quotient to be able to select the best conflict management approach to use in a particular situation (Valente & Lourenço, 2020). However, there was a better correlation between high EI and the conflict management strategy of integrating, which enables the educator to find solutions that satisfy their own and the student’s needs.
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