Do Learning Styles Weed Out Nurses?

Different people learn in different ways, as we all know. As nurses, we come across this all the time with our patient teaching.

What type of a learner are you? When you were in nursing school, were you more of an academic student or did you excel in your clinical work?

Different people learn in different ways, as we all know. As nurses, we come across this all the time with our patient teaching. Some patients want to read the material and figure it out alone, others need you to demonstrate, and yet others need to do it themselves before they can understand. No style is right or wrong, although in some settings, some types of learning can’t be accommodated as easily.

Do you want to know what style learner you are? This Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire is quite interesting and Wikipedia reviews the differences between auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning, as well as others.

I’m thinking about this issue these days because of a project I’m working on now; it involves coming up with exercises and questions to help nursing students and it’s very interesting being on this side of that work — instead of being the student having to learn all the stuff I’m laying out for them.

Nursing could be one of those settings that makes individual learning style a bit more difficult to take into consideration. Theory class is learning theory. Some things have to be memorized, although how you memorize it can be up to you. You may remember things better if you read them again and again; others learn them better if they write them out. That’s how I did it in nursing school. I took my text books and wrote out, word for word, what I was studying — that’s what helped make it stick in my mind. Even today, when I’m speaking on the phone with a new client, I jot down what they say. I rarely go back and read what I’ve written, but the action of writing down the comments helps me remember them. If I don’t write down points of our conversations, I usually forget – and that’s not good if I’m trying to win over a new client.

Clinically, we can only learn by doing. We could read the theory of how to catheterize a patient, but until we actually do it — we can’t even fathom what it’s like to do the procedure. It has to be hands on. And that’s the same for all the other clinical things we needed to learn.

I was a fairly good academic student. I studied, albeit not as hard as I should have, and got decent marks. I did ok in clinical, except for one rotation where the teacher failed me — one of her comments was that I wasn’t “empathetic enough.” That was interesting. I dropped out of college for a year and a half after that. I went back and finished, after realizing that I could do this and I wanted to do this.

I was ok. Not spectacular, not terrible. I did very well on my licensing exams — that was something I was proud of. But writing a theory exam isn’t the true test, it’s the actual performance that counts. And that’s when I think of my oldest and dearest friend, who I met in college.

She’s a fabulous nurse. She can assess situations and know what to do when it needs to be done. If I was sick enough to need a nurse, I’d rather her take care of me than anyone — including myself. And yet, she had a tough, tough time with the academics. It’s not that she didn’t know her stuff. Lord – she knew it. I would quiz her before exams sometimes and she knew it. But when it came to tests, that knowledge just couldn’t come through. I admired her then and admire her now for having stuck it out. She knew this is what she wanted to do and she did it – no matter how hard it was. Her patients and coworkers are very lucky she’s stubborn – in a wonderful way.

To me, when you look at people like my friend, there has to be something wrong with how we educate people in many settings. My friend could easily have given up and I’m sure that many in her situation have given up and will give up. If there are so many learning styles, it’s not surprising why so many people fail at certain careers despite an interest and a desire to do that type of work.

The learning style issue is coming up more often in the nursing world now because of the increasing popularity of online universities. That’s my topic for next week so if you have opinions and views about them, please come back and share them with us.