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Learning styles and developmental levels of nursing students: A case study

Patricia Mary Ryan, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Chronic significant shortages of registered nurses and increasing numbers of older non-traditional students in nursing programs necessitate close examination by nurse educators of, among other issues, recruitment, program articulation, and the fit of curriculum and instruction to the new students. Crucial to this is knowledge of the life stages, learning styles and personal goals of these students, and that is the focus of this study, modeled on King's 1984 study using methodology adapted from Weathersby (1977). The subjects are the 130 students in Quincy's two-year college school of nursing, one group in a traditional RN program and one group, with LPN certificates, in an advanced placement program. The conceptual framework integrates Levinson's theory of life stages and Kolb's theory of learning style. Instruments used include Tarule's Educational Experience Inventory, Kolb's Learning Style Inventory and a demographic questionnaire. While both groups of students were of non-traditional age, the APN students averaged five years older than the RNs. The RNs were largely in Early Adult Transition and the APNs largely in the Mid-Life Transition phase. The learning styles for 83% of both groups were divided between Accommodators and Divergers, both of which strongly prefer concrete learning experience and also desire to have input to their curriculum and instruction. They perceived learning as a valued investment in themselves and were demanding of the learning process. These findings, characteristic of adult learners, could usefully produce changes in nursing curriculum and instruction such as assessment and adaptation to experiential learning, individualized clinical instruction with preceptors/mentors, flexible scheduling of classes and clinical work, and increased involvement by students in setting goals and objectives for class and clinical learning.

Subject Area

Higher education|Nursing|Community colleges|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Ryan, Patricia Mary, "Learning styles and developmental levels of nursing students: A case study" (1992). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9305890.