Nowadays, an up-to-date and comprehensive curriculum in healthcare education is more important than ever before because of advanced technologies and new methods of learning. Modern life is quite transient; thus, students who opted to continue their education expect to get relevant information in a timely manner and through the best ways possible. The educational program should be suited to particular individuals’ or groups’ interests, experience, knowledge, and expectations. For instance, it would be a failure to teach nursing fundamentals to adult learners. Such students require a specific and well-design curriculum based on the special student-educator relationship, evidence-based practice, and global standards. Changing healthcare needs could be met through evidence-based education, whereas evaluation of students’ work as well plays an important role. Hence program planning is an ongoing process that requires efforts from the faculty staff. Adult learners usually have high expectations, enjoy an immediate improvement in their practice, and are highly motivated as it is often their personal choice. Despite such great motivation and aspirations, mature learners require special student-centered programs based on active learning that provide the information needed to enrich their previous experience with theory.
To begin with, students who join postgraduate nursing programs are usually adult learners. These individuals are considered non-traditional students aged 24-64 who share four main attributes: studying part-time, financial independence, having dependents, and full-time employment (Spies et al., 2015). It means that these learners bring their own life and clinical experience to the class changing its learning environment. Adult learners deserve attention from the faculty because of their previous education, work, and accumulated life experience that profoundly determines the learning process.
Mature students have a set of specific characteristics that makes them unique learners who need unconventional approaches. Many different researchers who addressed adult learning provided their insight into the field. For instance, Malcolm Knowles, a famous stalwart of continuing education, presented an alternative framework to the pedagogical model of postsecondary education (Mukhalalati & Taylor, 2019). It is called andragogy and stresses that mature learners have comparatively rich experience but a weak theory. Thus the educational program for such students should simultaneously appreciate existing knowledge and set more engaging and flexible educational experiences tailored to meet their personal objectives. Knowles also used the concept of andragogy to define the list of mature students’ traits. It includes the internal rather than external motivation, the need for an initial explanation of why something is useful to comprehend, and they strive to improve their practice with the help of newly acquired information.
Moreover, adult learners’ needs are determined by their social roles; they often draw on their experience and have independent self-concepts. It is believed that adults are self-directed and autonomous in comparison to other less-experienced nursing students (Shi, 2017). It means that they take the initiative to shape their assessment methods and learning strategies. Such students are able to define what they want from further education, set learning goals, find suitable resources for learning, select learning strategies, and methods how to evaluate them (Shi, 2017). Hence, high educational institutions are expected to provide guidance and assistance instead of teacher-centered (pedagogical) direction of the learning process.
Educators should target self-directed learners with instructions that encourage continuous adjustments by teacher-student and student-peer interactions. Educational programs, in that case, should be designed in order to enhance collaboration and create an appropriate environment for mature students’ learning process. The excellent program is expected to motivate, help to set effective learning strategies and accustom to educational settings (Shi, 2017). Thus, the primary faculty’s objectives include: assistance in goals establishment, providing useful knowledge, access to all possible sources, and establishing adequate assessment methods to address the aspirations of mature students. However, Spies et al. (2015), in their research, found that sometimes there is a mismatch between educators’ expectations and real adult learners’ approach to learning, which often causes frustration (6). Some mature students have experience of being comfortable with traditional lecture-based teaching and do not have self-directed skills. Sometimes it is difficult for them to embrace new ways of doing and thinking because their already established thinking patterns, convictions, and attitudes act as an obstacle to learning. Regular reflection on learning activities must be held by professional educators to bring more meaning to the process.
Nurse educators also should apply diagnostic assessment tools such as the Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale. They are helpful in determining which teaching approach is more appropriate for this particular group of students, as some of them are not ready for self-directed learning. In general, there are four main frameworks of adult education: pedagogy, andragogy, transformation, and appreciative models. Transformative education is explained by the continuous and profound transformation students undergo due to life’s vicissitudes and blessings (Pawlak & Bergquist, 2015). In terms of the appreciative model, it uncovers the wisdom one already possesses and structures it with the help of a specific tutor-student relationship. In the modern world, it would be unwise to stick to only one of them. Thus, the faculty may design curriculum and learning activities following the mixed approach.
In terms of program planning for adult education, the content and way of teaching have an essential role. Jane Vella presented 12 principles of successful adult learning that insist on healthy relationships between learners and educators (Shi, 2017). Educators should design and revise the program according to students’ objectives and feedback. The content must be presented in a sequence and based on the concept of learning by doing. Educators also should engage learners, enhance group and teamwork, and respect adult students as decision-makers. All these aspects may be helpful for planners to design appropriate educational programs.
The active-learning activities should be designed with defined learning outcomes for a corresponding learning experience. The cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains of learning also should be addressed to achieve expected learning outcomes (Billings & Halstead, 2015). To develop competencies regarding clinical practice, nursing educators use the psychomotor domain. Formative evaluation should be conducted to assess the implementation and outcomes of learning experiences. It helps to update and revise the already designed instructions and curriculum. Today new IT and communication technologies are incorporated into the curriculum to assure learning outside the classroom. For instance, students can listen to podcasts, have a test, or be an avatar-student nurse, being everywhere they want, which is convenient for adult learners (Billings & Halstead, 2015). Active learning activities include simulations, computer-assisted instructions, discussions, and developing care plans that are needed to engage students. Such an approach would help adult students to understand the course material by aligning it with their previous clinical experience.
To conclude, adult learners are not common students that have specific characteristics. The program planners should consider such traits as already acquired medical experience and social roles. In general, educators’ purpose is to respect the knowledge of mature students and assist them to become lifelong and self-directed learners. Subjects, instructions, and learning activities should be active and based on practical knowledge and skills. There should be a shift from teacher-centered to student-centered learning environments. Problem-based, computer-facilitated, and contract learning strategies can be used to promote self-directed learning skills.
Billings, D. M., & Halstead, J. A. (2015). Teaching in nursing: A guide for faculty (5th ed.). Saunders.
Mukhalalati, B. A., & Taylor, A. (2019). Adult learning theories in context: A quick guide for healthcare professional educators. Journal of Medical Education and Curricular Development, 6, 1-10. Web.
Pawlak, K., & Bergquist, W. (2015). Engaging experience and wisdom in a postmodern age. PSP. Web.
Shi, H. (2017). Planning effective educational programs for adult learners. World Journal of Education, 7(3), 79-83. Web.
Spies, C., Seale, I. & Botma, Y. (2015). Adult learning: What nurse educators need to know about mature students. Curationis, 38(2), 1-7. Web.