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Critical Thinking in Nursing Education: Movement from Dualism to Relativism

Updated: May 25, 2021

In order to effectively promote cognitive, affective, and psychomotor learning domains, nurse educators must first consider the collective foundational goal—development of critical thinking. Educators cannot possibly teach learners the details of how to handle every situation that they could ever encounter; however, educators can encourage development of the means to do so through integrating interactive learning assignments. Nurses should promote team-oriented environments in which support is available and strengths are utilized. It is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, so to maximize the benefit of the collaborative goals and to support one another to grow. We should intentionally integrate teaching strategies that develop critical thinking skills to support each diverse learner in their journey to becoming a confident, competent nurse. Using a mix of active, authentic, applied, and experiential learning experiences, we can best prepare nursing students to develop autonomy, while successfully contributing to their interdisciplinary teams.

When teaching strategies that develop critical thinking skills are coupled with evaluative methods that assess for and evaluate the movement towards relativism, students can be supported to become proficient student nurses. It is important to introduce new material not otherwise reviewed to promote critical thinking and evaluate for deeper understanding. The novice nursing student may use little to no critical thinking. Thinking is considered dualistic, as students view and process information in black and white terms. The proficient student nurse can thoroughly apply critical thinking skills. A major goal of integrating cognitive learning is to support student movement from the cognitive level of dualism to the level of relativism.

Pause, Reflect, and Plan:

Does my teaching-learning approach contribute to the growth of critical thinking abilities? Am I scrambling to teach the students every situational detail and response, or am I promoting the development of the skills necessary to navigate new and challenging situations and arrive to appropriate outcomes? Now that you have reviewed where your approach sits, plan out how you can retain your strengths, make forward-moving improvements, and feel proud of the impact you are making.


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