The present essay critically analyses the behaviourism theory and discusses how it can be utilised for facilitating learning in the clinical environment. The paper describes the behaviourism learning theory and critically analyses the application of the theory within the clinical environment. It also suggests ways of how the theory can be used for facilitating the learning of nurses within the clinical environment for assisting the development of a learning culture.
Behaviourism is one learning theory that has the focus on an objectively observable behaviour. Theorists of this learning approach define learning to be an acquisition of behaviours that are newly acquired on the basis of environmental conditions. The basis of behaviourist learning theory is the perception of learning as the product of stimulus conditions (S) and responses (R). It is therefore also termed as S-R model of learning. The learning process in this regard becomes simple. Educators utilising this approach is supposed to observe the responses of learners and then consider doing manipulations in the environment so that intended changes can be brought about. Behaviorist theory is widely used in diverse domains, including healthcare (Klein and Mowrer 2014).
For modifying the responses and attitudes of the learners, the educators are to bring alteration in the stimulus conditions in the environment. The other process can be changing the results of the occurring response. Motivation is perceived as the willingness and eagerness to bring a reduction in some drive; therefore individuals who are satiated, complacent or satisfied have very less motivation to bring about changes in their learning process. Much practice is needed to bring about the transfer of initial learning situation to a different setting. This can be aided by a common feature between stimuli and responses in the present and future learning situations. Such form of learning is based mostly on respondent conditioning and operant conditioning procedures (Olson 2015).
Respondent conditioning uses a stimulus condition wherein a neutral stimulus (NS) is paired with a unconditioned stimulus (UNS). Learning can take place as desired when the newly conditioned stimulus (CS) is shows an association with the conditioned response (CR). Operant conditioning has the emphasis on alteration of a behaviour by reinforcing it. The reinforcer is any event or stimulus that is applied after observing the response for strengthening the chances of reoccurrence of the response. With the reinforcement of certain responses, behaviours can be made to decrease or increase. Reinforcement might be of two distinct types; positive and negative. A positive reinforcement is typically the application of a pleasant stimulus. It is a a reward that increases the chances of reoccurrence of the response to a great extent. Negative reinforcement is ideally the application of an unpleasant stimulus. It is a punishment that enures that an undesirable response does not exist in future (Montin and Koivisto 014). Keating (2014) pinpoint that the learning theory of behaviourism is easy to be understood by educators since it is dependent on observable behaviour and universal laws of behaviour are taken into account. Both the positive and negative reinforcement techniques are effective, relying on the nature of the learning setting.
From a rich pool of literature, it has been indicated that behaviourism theory can be employed in clinical settings for promoting behaviour of nurse learners. Behavioural contracts are beneficial when brining about a change in the behaviour of the student. For example, learners in the clinical settings might not be completing the assignments assigned to them. In such cases, the educator might design a contract that encourages the student to complete their assignments. Additional help from the educator might be one such contract. A second instance might be a student misbehaving in the classroom setting. A behavioural contract can be set up by mutual consent of both the learner and the educator for minimising the distractions (Schwarz 2017). McCormack, Manley and Titchen (2013) highlight the key aspects of applying the behaviourism learning theory into the clinical learning environment. Students in a clinical setting have different functions and roles to perform. The student-faculty relationship can be taken to the advanced level with the conditioning model of behaviorism theory is applied correctly. Foundational to a teacher’s understanding of the clinical experience of a student can be best understood by the experiences and feelings of students. If an instructor is pleasant and has a positive attitude towards teaching, the students become increasingly concerned about their performance. Students have often reported that their aims and objectives for clinical practice have been enhanced under such cases. Satisfaction of the learners is important to facilitate the learning process.
Masters (2015) has to say that the behavioural interventions require the clinicians to have a set of skills in order to respond to the stimuli. Since an assumption is to be made that the professionals are equipped with the qualities and skills fo undertaking a behavioural intervention, the issue of the success of the theory comes under doubt. Also, behaviorism leaning style does not prepare the students in a clinical setting to exhibit creative thinking or problem solving skills. When this learning style is applied, students are to only be instructed about what they are supposed to do. They are not encouraged to improve their actions or consider taking initiatives to bring about change. The student can only be prepared for performing automatic responses or recall basic duties and perform tasks accordingly. For example, a professional who is being taught the process of administering an injection to the patient would only learn the step of doing so. Thre would be no initiatives taken to understand the underlying principles and the consequences of not adhering to any certain step of the complete procedure.
Dorman and Banks (2016) argue that though the behaviourist theory or behaviourism is an easy and simple theory of learning that encourages objective and clear analysis of learner response, there are some cautions and criticisms that are to be considered. The prime issue related to the application of this learning theory is that it is predominantly a teacher-centred model and therefore the learners can be easily manipulated since they have a passive role to play. A critical ethical question therefore comes into light in this regard about how the decision about desirable behaviour would be taken, and by whom. Under many circumstances, the desired response of the learners is cooperation and conformity for making the task of teachers profitable or easier. The second issue that arises is that main focus of the theory is on external incentives, and such extrinsic rewards have chances of promoting and reinforcing materialism instead of any self-initiation or intrinsic satisfaction. The love and compassion for learning are often lacking in such cases. Glenn et al. (2016) further critics the theory by stating that research evidence that supports and promote behaviourist theory are not always applicable to normal human conditions. The theory can moreover efficiently condition learners towards carrying out tasks in particular ways. Lastly, the theory is a one-dimensional approach, and the necessity of a punishement is not justified.
Bradshaw and Hultquist (2016) highlight the application of the behaviourist learning theory in the field of nursing education. As per the authors, the educators can make the provision for access to desired skills through carrying out the procedure of trial and errors. With the help of this method that is harmless, the students can gain desired nursing skills. If the results are satisfying, then the skills are strengthened. In case the results are unpleasant, the students who a tendency to find other possible alternative answers through trial and error method. The aim is to finally find the correct answer. The learning theory assumes that the minds of humans are made of different forces, such as judgement, attention, argument and memory. Such forces can be effectively strengthened through practising. This theory has been found to be applied in the field of nursing. Nursing students in a clinical learning environment face diverse points, each needing specialised combined forces. Hence, it is all-inclusive without being overpowering to combine all such forces collectively. As per the theory, if the desired behaviour is reinforced, chances are high that recurrent onset would be achieved and the learning goals would be finally reached. This is the function of agent conditioning. Such conditioning looks into how behaviours can be changed appropriately, and application lies in changing the academic behaviour of students within the educational environment (Oermann and Gaberson 2016).
Wall (2016) in this regard that the method of agent conditioning can be suitably applied when the aim is to teach clinical skills to nurses. At the initial stage, the educator must encourage the initial behaviours of each procedure for implementing the procedures in a complete manner. Later, the educator must encourage them to completely comprehend and put into practice the accurate procedures. Establishment and maintenance of behavioural conduct are enhanced by such encouragement. Educators can consider teaching each procedure through the provision of information provided to the learner before the procedure is started. The results might be pleasing and desirable such as admiration of the peers. Every positive or negative behaviour has the basis on the understanding level of the learner from consequences of behaviour.
One instance of positive reinforcement practice can be attributed to a scenario when a student nurse is about to gain lessons about aseptic dressing techniques. The educator might provide praises at every step while the student is learning; preparation of the patient, handwashing and so on. The behaviour of the nurse student can be reformed in this manner until the complete procedure is learnt by the student. The praise is to be given for achieving the correct performance and becoming intermittent. Another instance can be teaching how to administer an injection to the patient. The educator can provide support and praises by exclaiming that the nurse had done a good job in pulling back the syringe or handling patient pain (Schilling 2016).
From the above discussion, it can be concluded that the behaviorist learning theory is predominantly valuable for learner when they need to build up competencies and demonstrate technical skills. The learning theory has been found to be more advantageous when the learner aims at bringing about a change in the behaviour as the result of any form of educational intervention. Behaviorist learning principle has gained prominence in nursing education. The strengths of behaviourism theory encompass the fact that the basis of the theory is on observable behaviours. Teachers can, therefore, collect and quantify the information in relation to the degree of learning demonstrated by the students. Maladaptive learning behaviours can be changed through the application of this learning process. Opponents have criticised the theory by stating that the approach is profoundly one-dimensional and there is no scope for its application if there is an absence of reinforcement. In addition, mind activity is disregarded when this learning approach is considered. It is to be finally stated that supporting learning-centred approaches is solely dependent on the clinical situation and the nursing cohort who are the learners under that particular situation
Bradshaw, M. and Hultquist, B.L., 2016. Innovative teaching strategies in nursing and related health professions. Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Dorman, T. and Banks, M.C., 2016. Continuing Education in Critical Care Medicine. In Surgical Intensive Care Medicine (pp. 873-882). Springer International Publishing.
Glenn, S.S., Malott, M.E., Andery, M.A.P.A., Benvenuti, M., Houmanfar, R.A., Sandaker, I., Todorov, J.C., Tourinho, E.Z. and AbreuVasconcelos, L., 2016. Toward consistent terminology in a behaviorist approach to cultural analysis. Behavior and Social issues, 25, p.11.
Keating, S.B., 2014. Learning theories, education taxonomies, and critical thinking. Evaluation in nursing, p.61.
Klein, S.B. and Mowrer, R.R. eds., 2014. Contemporary Learning Theories: Volume II: Instrumental Conditioning Theory and the Impact of Biological Constraints on Learning. Psychology Press.
Kolb, D.A., 2014. Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. FT press.
Masters, K., 2015. Role development in professional nursing practice. Jones & Bartlett Publishers.
McCormack, B., Manley, K. and Titchen, A. eds., 2013. Practice development in nursing and healthcare. John Wiley & Sons.
Montin, L. and Koivisto, J.M., 2014. Effectiveness of self?directed learning methods compared with other learning methods in nursing education related to nursing students’ or registered nurses’ learning outcomes: a systematic review protocol. JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports, 12(2), pp.1-8.
Oermann, M.H. and Gaberson, K.B., 2016. Evaluation and testing in nursing education. Springer Publishing Company.
Olson, M.H., 2015. An introduction to theories of learning. Psychology Press.
Pritchard, A., 2013. Ways of learning: Learning theories and learning styles in the classroom. Routledge.
Rich, K.L., 2013. Philosophies and theories for advanced nursing practice. Jones & Bartlett Publishers.
Schilling, J.F., 2016. Cognitive Load Theory of Learning: Underpinnings and Model. International Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training, 21(2), pp.12-16.
Schwarz, R., 2017. Facilitating with the Mutual Learning Approach. The Skilled Facilitator: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, Coaches, and Trainers Third Edition: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, Coaches, and Trainers Third Edition, pp.59-86.
Wall, C.L., 2016. Are nursing professional values or attitudes toward patient safety related to undergraduate nursing students' readiness for interprofessional learning? (Doctoral dissertation, Capella University)