Nursing Curriculum Theories and Philosophy

Nursing Curriculum Theories and Philosophy

Curriculum development is the process by which course instructors are directed through what to teach in pursuit of ample student experiences. This process is guided by propositions that describe the process of learning and subsequent application of the acquired knowledge. In light of this, nursing education programs ought to be based on some philosophy and learning theories for the purpose of credibility. Particularly, learners are expected to be conversant with conventional health beliefs, understand the recipients of nursing care, and fathom the roles they have as nurses while embracing the entire learning process (McCoy and Anema, 2012, p. 28).

Behaviorism theory of learning is among the most widely used theories in curriculum development. It is based on the sequences of stimuli and response as opposed to the thinking process of a person.  Behaviorists purport that learning can only be attributed to a change in observable behavior, that is, adequate knowledge is only attainable by repeated practice (Iwasiw, 2014, p. 213). More so, they postulate that repetition and practice strengthen the emotional being and is essential injudiciousness. However, the outcome of the actions that happen through this conditioning of behavior determines to a great extent the perception of those watching. Negative results will make others refrain from the learning certain things without actually trying them out, while positive results would lure observers into doing certain things.

There are two predominant assumptions made in the behaviorist theory. First, it presumes that man has only a brain capable of responding to stimuli, and all other aspects of life are controlled by nature. Therefore, consciousness and mental process are deemed to have an insignificant effect on the ability to learn. Secondly, human behavior is predictable as well as controllable. This is based on the presupposition that behavior is perfectly conditioned and, therefore, can be objectively studied and analyzed.

In an educational set up, the instructor provides the stimuli and reinforcement while the learners respond by executing instructions as perceived. The instructor is thus expected to determine the objectives of teaching and translate them into attainable behavioral goals. The application of this theory is very useful in nursing as it helps students to be proficient in practice and offer them mastery of theoretical learning. Specific to nursing education, this theory is applicable in that students are expected to practice each procedure repeatedly to comprehend its implementation fully in a real case scenario. Additionally, instructors can issue clues prior to performing a procedure so students will respond to these stimuli. However, the shortcoming of behaviorism is that it fails to invoke motivation from students.

Another theory that served as a foundation for the development of the nursing curriculum is the cognitive theory. In contrast to behaviorism, the cognitive theory asserts that learning is an inherent ability subject to mental processes (Keating, 2014). In this regard, the learner ought to have the skills of critical thinking and solving problems, implying that they must be actively involved in the learning process to enhance their understanding of phenomena. This theory advocates for the presentation of concepts as they are without breaking them down into discrete facts. Breakdown of behavior or concepts, according to cognitive psychologists, would make learners lack focus on identifying problems and solving them based on the acquired knowledge.

In addition, the cognitive theory dictates that curricula should be designed in such a way to accommodate the students adequately. This would make the learners develop the urge research on their own and increase positive interactions among themselves. On the other hand, instructors are required to ensure maximum learning besides improvement of content retention by the students. This is made possible by assessment of attention to avoid overload of newly presented information.

The most important underlying philosophy is the essentialist approach. It postulates that learners should be taught the vital basic subjects so that they are well equipped with traditional knowledge of the course. This is usually in pursuit of intellectual development and promotion of common culture. Therefore, instructors are required to be exemplary to their students (Iwasiw, 2014, p. 212). Nevertheless, this approach seems to undermine the role of the students in a classroom setting thereby ingenuity of individuals is usually suppressed.

In line with Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, the Behaviorism theory matches the vision and mission in that it encourages students to attend all the practical sessions unless under consent by the instructors. Any missed clinical practical must be made up for at an expense. This would ensure that students are keen on procedures to avoid mistakes of negligence. Similarly, the Essentialism Philosophy introduces students to the fundamentals of the nursing profession by offering the relevant information about the practice. However, under the two approaches, the students may fail to be inspired to creativity rendering them as having an insufficient learning experience. Therefore, the curriculum is also based on the cognitive theory as a counter measure. The purpose of this approach is to spur the culture of research and critical thinking in finding solutions to problems. This is reflected by the strict rules against cheating in examinations and all forms of assessment.




Iwasiw, C. (2014). Establishing philosophical and educational approaches for an evidence-informed, context-relevant, unified curriculum. Curriculum Development in Nursing Education (3rd Ed.). Burlington. Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Keating, S. B. (2014). Learning theories applied to curriculum development. Curriculum Development and Evaluation in Nursing. New York. Springer Publishing Company.

McCoy, J. L. & Anema, M. (2012). Purposes and development of a program philosophy. Fast Facts for Curriculum Development in Nursing: How to Develop and Evaluate Educational Programs in a Nutshell. New York. Springer Publishing Company.