Assessing Learning Styles: How Do Nursing Students in a Baccalaureate Nursing Program Learn?

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Anne White, PhD
Jane Brannan, EdD
Nursing, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA, USA

Purpose:  Nursing faculty throughout the world strive to provide quality education that can be effectively translated to positive learning outcomes. The learners in the university today are dramatically different from those of the past. Educators are being challenged to re-shape the curriculum to address the contemporary learner and understand their approaches to learning. Research has focused on various aspects of learning, yet gaps remain in our understanding and assessment of how students learn. The Felder-Solomon Index of Learning Styles (ILS) instrument has been used sparsely in nursing education, but is one that may serve the assessment need well. It has been identified as a more theoretically well rounded approach to determine learning styles. It can also be used by international colleagues as its psychometric properties have been explored and the instrument has been translated into several languages. Classes are typically composed of students from varied backgrounds and needs. Few studies have investigated the learning styles of baccalaureate degree student nurses to determine if there are differences in learning preferences by program type (accelerated versus traditional), gender, race, or age group. Given the changed nature of today’s learner, it is important that faculty have a greater understanding of the learning process to better facilitate the classroom and assure that there are options that best address the needs of today’s students. The purpose of the study was to examine the learning preferences of nursing students in a baccalaureate degree nursing program to determine if there are differences in learning preferences by program type (accelerated or traditional), gender, race, or age group.

Methods: A cross-sectional, descriptive design was used for this study to examine learning preferences of senior nursing students in a baccalaureate degree nursing program. The research questions were: 1) What are the learning preferences of senior nursing students in a baccalaureate degree nursing program that offers accelerated and traditional program options?, 2)What are the differences in nursing students' learning preferences by program type, gender, race and age group? The Felder-Soloman Index of Learning Styles (ILS) instrument was administered to 331 senior nursing students prior to the first class day during a four-year period. Demographic information was collected from each participant. The ILS is an instrument containing 44 forced choice questions that classifies learning styles into four domains: processing (active vs reflective), perceiving (sensing vs intuitive), receiving (visual vs verbal), and understanding (sequential vs global). Scores indicate students’ learning preferences within each of the domains. The ILS results were compared with program type, student gender, race, and age to determine relationships between student characteristics and learning styles.

Results:  Predominant learning styles included active, sensing, visual, and sequential preferences. There were no significant relationships by age, race, or gender and learning style domain. There was a significance difference found in program type between traditional and accelerated programs. The traditional program nursing students were 2.4 times more likely to be visual learners than accelerated degree students.

Conclusion:  It is beneficial for all students to determine their own learning style in order for them to begin to grow and strengthen their repertoire of learning capabilities. The National League for Nursing (NLN) has noted in the list of core competencies for nurse educators that awareness of student learning styles is important for designing effective nursing education. Assessment of learning styles of each cohort may guide teaching strategies appropriate for the needs of those students. Simulation has been identified as an effective strategy for incorporating different learning style preferences which may be useful for a cohort of students that have a wide variety of learning styles. The instrument has been used with students of multiple nationalities and has been found to be valid and reliable. The study also is clinically relevant in that a nurse’s understanding of learning styles may affect the selection of effective patient teaching techniques and potentially improve patient outcomes.