growing recognition of the changing educational needs of college students, particularly those attending community colleges. In response to this awareness, reform efforts have been implemented in order to meet the needs of students. As reform efforts have been considered, increasing attention has been directed toward assessing the influence of learning styles on academic performance. The term 'learning styles' has been used to refer to the ways in which individuals display preferences in receiving, processing and presenting information and ideas when engaged in learning activities. In ongoing efforts to further establish the knowledge base on learning styles, evidence suggests that a number of factors have been identified as influencing learning styles. Some have suggested that the individual's personality, life experiences and the purposes associated with specific learning situations strongly determines one's learning style (e.g., Briggs-Myers, 1989; Kolb, 1984). Others have indicated that learning styles are primarily associated with the learning environment, including expectations of teachers (Ballard & Clanchy, 1997). Further documentation has suggested that regardless of the factors that influence learning style, mismatches that exist between the learning environment and the student's learning style operate to impact academic performance, student achievement and ultimately, attrition (UWA, 1996; Felder, 1996).
Overall, evidence has suggested that one of the more promising means for determining effective teaching is research that which pays attention to the importance of learning styles (McCarthy, 1996). There has been a growing interest in examining the influence of and factors associated with learning styles of students enrolled in college programs in the health sciences, medicine and nursing (e.g., Blagg, 1985; Rahr, Schmalz, Blessing & Allen, 1991; Vittetoe, 1983; Sutcliffe, 1993; Cross & Tillson, 1997; Highfield, 1988; West, 1982; Fox, 1984; Piane, Rydman, & Rubens, 1996; Haislett, Hughes, Atkinson, & Williams, 1993; Lynch, Woelfl, Steele, & Hanssen, 1998; Joyce-Nagata, 1996; Rakoczy, & Money, 1995; Cavanagh, Hogan, & Ramgopal, 1995; Jambunathan, 1995). As the field of nursing represents a sector in which there is a critical shortage and imbalance between the needs of society for professionals to fill nursing roles and educated persons available to fill that role, it appears important for nursing educators to continue with efforts to more fully understand the learning needs of nursing students in order to attract and retain students to the field. During the last two decades, there has been a continuing decline in the choice of nursing as a career. Without efforts to reverse this trend, the Registered Nurse (RN) workforce will continue to age, decrease and eventually, will not meet the projected long-term workforce requirements (Buerhaus, Staiger & Auerbach, 2000). In order to further help meet the nursing supply problem, it remains critical to further understand and implement teaching and learning strategies that will aid in further building the RN workforce.
The proposed study will use the Kolb LSI to further examine the learning styles of nursing students in a baccalaureate and associate degree program. A comparison will be conducted of LSI scores with age, gender and academic performance in order to more fully understand factors that may influence nursing students in their classroom experiences in nursing education.
Statement of the Problem
As documented in the results of the annual survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) (2000), RN to Baccalaureate enrollments reflects strong declines in every region of the nation. Such evidence has pointed to the need to implement strategies for retaining and encouraging nursing students from diverse backgrounds while implementing efforts to utilize teaching strategies appropriate for the requirements and needs of students. Prior research has also indicated that the highest percentage of nursing student course failures occur in the first year of the nursing major (Hudepohl & Reed, 1984). When examining the types of students who drop-out of nursing programs, some have argued that the more extroverted, adventurous individual tends to leave nursing for other fields while others have argued that it is the less emotionally mature student who exits (Skodol & Levy, 1978).
Even though a number of studies have examined some aspect of learning styles and profiles of nursing students, few have extensively examined learning styles in relation to academic performance in relation to nursing education programs. As recommended by the AACN (2000), in order to meet the demands of the current health care environment, further efforts need to insure that at least two-thirds of the nurses in the workforce need to hold a baccalaureate degree or higher. Consequently, undergraduate programs in nursing are faced with planning and implementing ways to further attract and retain students through the completion of their training (AACN, 2000). It appears critical to engage in research activities intended to strengthen the knowledge base on the learning styles and needs of nursing students.
Purpose of the Study
The overall intent of the study is to further exam the learning styles of nursing students at in undergraduate programs at the baccalaureate and associate level. Student age, gender and academic performance in nursing courses will also be investigated to further determine the way in which these factors may be associated with and influence student learning styles in order to assess the degree to which such factors represent important variables for nursing educators to consider in developing and implementing plans for retaining nursing students. As it has been suggested that a major factor responsible for student success or failure is the effectiveness of the teaching-learning process, it is hoped that the findings of the study will be useful in aiding nursing education programs in more fully responding to the learning needs of student nurses.
The research questions underlying the study are as follows:
To what degree, if any, does the learning style of student nurses influence academic performance as denoted by course grades?
To what degree, if any, does age and gender influence learning style?
To what degree, if any, does the relationship between learning style, age, and gender influence the academic performance of student nurses?
To what degree, if any, does academic performance vary on the basis of enrollment in nursing courses within in a four-year program as compared to enrollment in a two-year program?
To what degree, if any, does the learning style of student nurses in four-year educational programs as compared to student nurses in a two-year program vary?
The theoretical framework providing a foundation for the study is based on conceptualizations of experiential learning and the emergence of theory concerning the learning styles of individuals engaged in the learning process. Experiential learning theory originated on the basis of work conducted initially by Carl Jung from which a model of the learning process related to how individuals think, grow and develop emerged (Smith & Kolb, 1986). The pioneering work in experiential learning theory was conducted by Dewey, Lewin and Piaget (Kolb, 1984). According to Kolb, Dewey, Lewin and Piaget helped to develop a model of learning in which learning comes to be understood as the process whereby concepts are derived from and are continuously modified by experience. Kolb further explained that learning based on experience occurs in three primary ways: by assimilation of knowing what the experience is like, using the senses, and by dealing primarily with concepts and the symbolic representation of experience. As was delineated by Kolb, the use of the senses is a more concrete way of perceiving experience whereas symbolic representation deals more with abstract concepts.
On the basis experiential theory, some individuals display a preference for sensing and/or feeling their way through new situations, relying heavily on intuition (Smith & Kolb, 1986). Such individuals perceive new information on the basis of prior concrete experience while others prefer to think through aspects of the situation more analytically (Smith & Kolb, 1986). According to Smith and Kolb, these two preferences represent a continuum with individual preferences of perceiving information lying somewhere between the two, and at a different place for each individual. As well, during any one learning experience, both modes of processing information may be used; however, the degree to which either is used may differ (Smith & Kolb, 1986). Via preferences for understanding one's experiences, the individual works at understanding and processing the information being presented. As further explained by Smith and Kolb (1986), some individuals prefer to process information immediately by actively engaging in the learning situation while others prefer to watch and reflect on what happens. The manner in which information is processed also exists on a continuum, from active experimentation to reflective observation (Smith & Kolb, 1986). The combination of individual preferences of grasping and transforming experience leads to a pattern which is termed learning style (Kolb, 1984).
Kolb (1984) suggested that there are four basic learning styles. These styles are as follows:
Concrete Experience (CE): Needs time to digest information. Needs tangible, "hands on" approaches. Will probably not volunteer to ask or answer questions spontaneously. Works well in individual tutorials and one-on-one situations. Should do a lot of reading to build the background knowledge that can facilitate understanding.
Reflective Observation (RO): Takes learning personally. It is important for…
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