A Tale of Two Theories

I thought it was just me.

I loved school. I had taken numerous humanities classes over the years, just for fun. Music. Art history. English composition – even a few paralegal courses.

Those were the old pre-computer, pre-internet days and I loved it.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and I’m enrolled in my BSN program.

It was amazing. I could not absorb the information fast enough. Every class, every assignment was relevant and I could immediately transfer what I was learning to my clinical practice.

I thought I was just primed for the educational experience and, like a sponge, I was absorbing. Everything.

Well, I was, but there was much more to it than just “the time was right.”

Turns out  there’s an “app for that”.

Okay, not an “app,” but an educational theory that explains exactly what I was experiencing, and why online education is such an transformational  experience.

I did say “theory”, but stay with me, this isn’t monotonous.

It’s so obvious, so logical, it had me smacking my head!

Our basic nursing education consisted of us, the students, being  given requisite knowledge from faculty. Holly, Legg, Mueller, and Adelman (2008) describe it thus: “This objectivist, or behavioral, view assumes that knowledge can be conveyed from teachers to students through lecture, supervised practice, and tightly woven behavioral objectives, which all students must meet.”

In plain english, students learn exactly what the instructors say they must learn, and students pass or fail by how well they do or do not conform to the objectives set by the instructors. Conformity = good student.

Yep, sounds like nursing school.

But now we get to online education and it’s a whole new world, a whole new ballgame, a whole new theory….

Welcome to constructivism!

Education for grown ups! Pardon me. Adult learners.

Per Holly et al.(2008), “The constructivist discourse…stresses the importance of learner control, collegial learner-teacher relationships, flexibility, and openness in discussions as means of meeting the planned outcomes of the curriculum.”

They reference Knowles, who notes that adult learners bring their own life experiences to the classroom, and use this as a foundation for further learning.  Adult learners look for significance in what they are learning, including tools for problem solving. (Holly et al., 2008)

Constructivism is an active way of learning, with “an openness that allows collegiality between teachers and learners so that authentic discourse can take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation…and educators assume the role of a co-learner.” (Holly et al. 2008)

Authentic discourse — that’s a great way to describe online classes. My professors were facilitators, not dictators. They would lead a discussion and allow a class of professionals to learn from each other.

I was absorbing knowledge because (a) I wanted to be there, (b) it was an active experience, and   (c ) everything I was reading and learning and discussing was being filtered through my life experiences so it had meaning and was building on what I already knew.

Every single thing was relevant, somehow, someway.

I knew it there was something exceptional happening during that program.

Now, I know why.

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Holly, C., Legg, T. J., Mueller, D., & Adelman, D. S. (2008). Online teaching: Challenges for a new faculty role. Journal of Professional Nursing, 24(4), 254-258. doi:10.1016./jprofnurs.2007.07.003