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A Beginning Look into Educational Philosophy in Nursing Education

Updated: Apr 18, 2020

The philosophy of a nursing program is built on the values and beliefs of the program and the program’s framework. Multiple educational philosophies are typically used in conjunction with one another to yield a holistically focused comprehensive philosophy. The educational philosophies of perennialism and essentialism involve the professor as the major authority over the learning process; these philosophies are considered outdated in today’s educational environment due to cost and inflexibility. Societal influences and changes in healthcare in the 21st century have promoted growth in nursing curricula to support the healthcare transitions and role responsibilities of today’s practicing registered professional nurses. Educational philosophies of progressivism and constructivism are rooted in a team approach to learning, where the students and faculty work together to support a positive learning environment. These philosophies are often used by nursing faculty in conjunction with one another to build the basis of today’s curriculum, mission statement, and overall program philosophy. Constructivist teaching is very relevant to today’s nursing education system, and can be integrated into nursing philosophy to support diversity in learning.


Constructivism with interwoven progressive principles forms a well-balanced educational philosophy to incorporate into 21st century nursing programs, as this blend promotes problem-solving and critical thinking skills, along with scientific inquiry to meet current nursing climates. Teaching higher-level critical thinking and the ability to seek detailed rationales supports real-life student experiences within the program and after graduation while working as professional registered nurses. It is important for faculty to work with learning theories and philosophies that encourage a student-centered experience to develop relevant scopes of understanding pertaining both to nursing and to factors influencing changing healthcare demands. Utilization of progressivism and constructivism educational theories cultivates learner-centered problem solving skills, rather than focusing on specific subject matters, making it particularly useful in developing critical thinking approaches, while meeting the learning needs of diverse student populations.


With changing health care climates and considerations, it is important to remain not only current, but also forward facing in regards to the changes required within nursing education. The work of Peter Drucker on organizational behavior explains that we can't manage change, rather we must strive to stay ahead of it. When a profession such as nursing, or more specifically the field of nursing education, remains stagnant, it fails the nurses/student nurses and the patients. The theory of change further contributes to this idea, as it stresses how to seek change by finding the right option and understanding the internal and external effects of adopting the change. The notion of change is inevitable, and it does not suit nursing education to overlook the need for change or to attempt to practice in ways that do not embrace change.


It is crucial to remember that individual teaching styles vary and can be influenced by personality and life experience. Similarly, learning styles vary and may be influenced by these factors, along with their previous experiences with learning and profile of intelligences.


Pause, Reflect, and Plan: Which educational philosophies are alive in your nursing program? Do you embrace them? Are they relevant to 21st century learning needs?


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