Learning Environment Theories

The learning environment theories focus on different constructs within the educational system that include the student, society, and the content being taught. These theories flow from the psychological theories of learning, which include cognitive theories, social cognitive theories, and instructional system design theories (Bertrand, 2003). The first of these is purely cognitive, but can be thought of as “internal processes of the mind. . . [or] a development of learning abilities and strategies” (p. 13). Cognitive theories are difficult to examine separately from other issues going on for the student, especially in nursing education. The overall nursing curriculum is intended to build internal processes for thinking through increasingly complex clinical situations, as the student moves from course to course. Cognitive theories seem too encompassing to be thought of as a teaching theory; rather, they seem to be a way of thinking about curriculum.

The second subcategory of learning environment theories is called social cognitive theory. This asks students to be conscious of the social and cultural interactions that occur during their educational experience. Social cognitive theory focuses on teaching and learning through various forms of social interaction, which has the potential for being highly affective even in the most traditional teaching environments—it must be experiential and affective or learning would not occur. Social cognitive approaches imply social interaction–connection–awareness of social and cultural similarities and differences. Nursing students who travel to other countries or have certain community health experiences can have their affective development impacted significantly. The third subcategory of the learning environment theories is called instructional systems design theories; these again are focused on the larger picture of the curriculum. An example would be a system that states when to start the clinical experience and when to have prerequisite course requirements, and it would ask questions such as, “Is it effective to have specialty nursing training, for example, pediatrics, prior to completing all the medical-surgical courses?” The large domain of instructional systems design theories encompasses when and how to use technology, simulation, clinical placement, lab practice, video, DVD, television, and webinar. It becomes developmental when it is used to capture the learning styles of various students and helps determine how they would be most successful. For affective literacy, it is a critical domain for all persons involved in creating curricula so as to include how teaching would be taught using various forms of affective pedagogy. One simple strategy for integrating affective teaching into media is to show a film (e.g., The Doctor imdb. com/title/tt0101746/?ref_=sr_3) and then have nurses or student nurses provide critical reflection regarding how they interpreted the message from various perspectives.

Social Theories

The third domain of Bertrand's (2003) educational theories is the social theories. These theories hold to a belief that education can and “ought to allow us to resolve social, cultural, and environment problems” (p. 15). These theories have laid the groundwork for social justice in nursing, ecological awareness, and social intelligence content in many academic programs. The first subcategory for social theories is critical pedagogy theories, which looks at the use of power and power differentials in various cultures or in a social structure. This domain is often addressed within nursing related to nurse– physician dynamics by including games and role play. Current nursing academic environments give very little didactic time to the subject even if it is a major issue for nurses in practice today. It takes some very special personal learning and awareness for a faculty member to address the social theories because they are a relatively new level of consciousness for American society, especially in nursing. It is still uncommon for most faculty members to understand the depth of critical pedagogy theory as provided by Freire (1970, 2009), because historically it has been the nurse–physician dynamic that has been discussed. But the theory could be applied in any delegation role (e.g., a nurse working with a certified nursing assistant or a licensed practical nurse). It can be seen between management and staff and in the entire language used in the growing institutional nursing practice model called shared governance. In terms of teaching assessment, we will examine critical reflection as a key method that assesses how much power we use in the classroom. Vignette 1.3 is an example of how we might use critical reflection in connection with a Gestalt technique. Vignette 1.3

Well, how did I deal with “power” in class today? I showed authoritative power in discussion of an experimental research design. I was specific, maybe dictatorial, in my knowing of the three elements needed in such a design. I then gave examples of such designs. I also dispersed power as the student groups went out to critique their section of the experimental study. When they came back to discuss their group critique of their specific section, I added my perceptions as a member of each group. Our combined critique of the content areas seemed to bring up several discussions regarding such designs. I hoped to share the power of our findings as we all contributed to the collective critique.

So my assumptions were that no one would read the content on experimental designs until we discussed it in class first. I assumed the content seemed too abstract unless grounded in examples, and only then would reading the content from the text add value to what was heard in this course—which I believe is unique to teaching research. I assumed I could contribute and reduce my power base as the instructor. Actually, I don't believe this method made my life easier as an instructor, because I had to be constantly aware of how I interacted with each group as we created the collective critique in class. I believe I was not too authoritative with each group and provided balanced input for each group to prevent the perception that some students had more of my input than others.

I do wonder about expressing my opinions when they differ from the text. I want to keep tabs on that inner discussion.

One Step Back (a Gestalt technique, emphasizing self-regulation for deeper awareness)

So if I step back one step from my reflective note above, I should be even more aware of what was going on for me in that class today. I would say that I wrote my critical reflection note about a teaching experience into which I put significant effort. I felt good about it when it was over. I avoided reflecting on the parts of the class that were not received as favorably. WOW! I like to talk about my positive experiences, but maybe I'm avoiding my growth area? Next time, I will reflect on a class that seemed to go badly for me.

Two Steps Back (going deeper)

Okay, for all of you who are ready to integrate the “hidden” or “shadow” side of self, I have a powerful reflection tool for you. Take one more step back from your refl ction note and refl ct on what you said in the “one-step-back” section. The first step is “Why I wrote what I wrote versus what I did not write” to give me more selfawareness. This next step can move me to my unconscious self. It is asking, “What is it about me that made me choose what I chose,” and then look at the meaning at a core level. So here goes. . . .

I think I chose a positive example because I want to feel good about myself and my teaching. I can't stand the thought of writing a textbook on effective teaching and then show my readers I can be a power-hungry person in the classroom—which I could actually do, I have done it. Am I really ready to become this self-aware?
In Vignette 1.3 one can see the use of critical pedagogy theory in practice and how the foundations of affective teaching apply to bring enhanced and deeper awareness to the teacher.

The second subcategory of social theories called learning community theories asks the student to have personal growth in combination with his or her social awareness and involvement. There are many constructs in this domain that are perfectly aligned with affective teaching and learning. It involves the use of teams, groups, and cooperative instruction that looks for outcomes in social skills. This theory is a perfect fit for SEL models, discussed earlier.

The third subcategory is ecosocial theories, where there is a focus on a need to address the interaction between humans and their environment. The concern is an ecological one, one that is global, serious, and being integrated more frequently into nursing curricula. It most often comes to a school of nursing by a younger, socially aware population of students that have already placed this factor into their lives in a permanent way. Now, as nurses, they bring this forward as a way of being, rather than an educational process. Faculty continue to expand this form of care for more than just the people we care for, rather for the world we live in. Again, it is worth stating that each of the social theories requires self-aware nurses who bring most of this information along with them from their prenursing past to change the environments in which they are learning. It may also involve an enlightened faculty member who has intentionally made these new and necessary changes in his or her teaching, so that even his or her language is different. Such teachers often live this way as a natural way of being in the world and bring it into the classroom as if it were a given and known to everyone in the room. In other cases, it is not in the consciousness of the faculty member and is rarely discussed. Certainly in the past 10 years we see more of the social theories come to life in nursing, and we will probably have seen more as the next generation of faculty brings to the classroom topics of power differentials, personal awareness, social change, and ecology.

Humanistic Theories

The final group of theories presented by Bertrand (2003) are the humanistic theories, which include self-awareness theories, dynamic interaction theories, and spiritual theories. Each of these domains is easily taught using affective pedagogy and each also runs directly into the challenges addressed earlier regarding the interface between education and psychotherapy. In fact, these theories come from the world of humanistic psychology, dynamic psychology, psychoanalysis, group interaction, and spiritual self-understanding. The first subcategory is called self-actualization theories and is fully integrated into the affective and subjective domains of the student. It is focused on the internal dynamics of needs, desires, impulses, and energy of the person. It would be impossible to tell a student to feel a certain way, but faculty would be able to facilitate this process if trained to do so. One method might be to ask students
certain self-awareness questions at the start of the first class and then ask the same questions at the end of the course to look at what might be occurring for them related to knowing the self.

The second subcategory for this group of theories is called dynamic interaction theories, which is “. . .mainly affective consequences of these interactions on the individual. . . . The principle is quite simple: learning is deeply 'affected' by feelings, emotions, actions, and values generated by interactions within a small group, classroom, family, . . . etc.” (Bertrand, 2003, pp. 16–17). The essence of this approach is affective pedagogy and learning. The self-awareness developed in this form of teaching is important and obvious, as presented in this text.

The last subcategory for Bertrand's humanistic theories is called spiritual theories, a very interesting concept for nursing education. In faith-based institutions, the spiritual domain is addressed in various ways either as an outcome of how one lives his or her life in service to God or how one lives the spiritual values of social caring and justice. Some institutions may be based on metaphysics or may make their spiritual beliefs more integral to the curriculum, with courses in energy work or quantum physics. They may have an eclectic concept of a power greater than ourselves as a way to stay focused on the spiritual needs of others and society. Watson (1989) embodies this metaphysical awareness, and she states, “Because of the human nature of nursing, its moral, spiritual, and metaphysical components cannot be ignored. These components are inherent in the nursing process . . .” (p. 220). Watson (2008) continues this belief today in her work on integrating the 10 Caritas Processes, with number 10 stating that we should be “opening and attending to spiritual mysterious, unknown existential dimensions, of life–death–suffering; allowing for a miracle” (p. 31). Figure 1.2 is a representation of Bertrand's theories integrated into one model. To summarize the contemporary theory model, one can identify how large, diverse curriculum templates impact the actual teaching strategy within them. It is possible to identify how one can integrate a method of teaching such as affective methods into almost all the subcategories presented. This is something one might examine when ready to construct such teaching methods in one's current practice.

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