Original Research

Adult learning: What nurse educators need to know about mature students

Cynthia Spies, Ielse Seale, Yvonne Botma
Curationis | Vol 38, No 2 | a1494 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/curationis.v38i2.1494 | © 2015 Cynthia Spies, Ielse Seale, Yvonne Botma | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 12 March 2015 | Published: 20 November 2015

About the author(s)

Cynthia Spies, School of Nursing, University of the Free State, South Africa
Ielse Seale, School of Nursing, University of the Free State, South Africa
Yvonne Botma, School of Nursing, University of the Free State, South Africa


Background: Most nurse educators regard students who enter postgraduate studies as adult learners capable of self-direction and independent learner behaviour. Therefore, a mismatch between the nurse educator’s expectation of adult learners and actual adult learner conduct may result in disappointment and even frustration for both educator and learner.

Purpose: This article is a report of a secondary analysis of data that were collected to explore the high-fidelity simulation learning experiences of a group of postgraduate nursing students.The secondary analysis was done to determine whether adult learners who bring professional knowledge and experience to a postgraduate learning environment displayed adult learner conduct as proposed by educational theorist Malcolm Knowles.

Method: Using a qualitative descriptive research design, data were gathered from 18 postgraduate nursing students who participated in high-fidelity simulation in a nursing school at a higher education institution in South Africa. The nominal group technique was used to collect the students’ ideas about improving their simulation learning experiences. A secondary qualitative analysis of the primary nominal group data was done.

Findings: Data either confirmed or belied adult learner behaviour. Although the findings suggested self-directed and independent learner behaviour, they also revealed behaviour evident of dependence on the educator.

Conclusion: Mature students have well established ways of thinking and doing that may hinder learning. Educators have to support adult learners in developing effective learning techniques in order to maximise the benefits of their experience and knowledge by fostering independence and self-direction.


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