Learning Theory

Learning TheoryLearning Theory

Explain why Behaviorist and Cognitive Learning Theories provide the advanced practice nurse (APN) with the most useful learning principles in providing high-quality health care to clients.




Learning Theories

Learning is an essential part of an advanced nurse practice as it forms the foundation of understanding patients and promotes care skills, as well as caring competencies. Learning provides an ANP with experience which permanently changes their behavior, mental processes, and emotional functioning. In every health care setting, learning is vital as it equips the care providers with skills to manage the complex growing health needs among populations.

A learning theory is a logical structure of combined constructs and principles which predict and interpret how individuals learn (Lavoie et al., 2018). Learning theories are deemed essential for APNs as they influence their connection to patients, both in behavior and emotionally influencing the provision of high-quality healthcare. The paper will discuss the importance of behaviorist and cognitive learning theories to APNs.

Behaviorist Learning Theory

The main concern of this theory is the observable aspects of learning and associates learning as an end result of stimulus conditions and responses in the immediate environment (Reimann, 2018). Behaviorist learning theory views learning as dependent on an understanding dependent on stimulus and response.

Behaviorists take a close look at the responses and manipulate the environment to achieve the aimed change. The behaviorist learning theory promotes a clear and objective analysis of stimulus conditions observable in the environment, the responses of the learner, and the effects of reinforcements on an individual’s actions.

Behaviorist learning theory is essential for APNs as it impacts their perceptions and responses to different problems from different patients hence making informed decisions on the appropriate care to provide. In a health care setting, APNs use behaviorist learning theory to observe how different patients respond to the environment and modify external stimuli to gain their intended learning outcomes as well as patient outcomes (Reimann, 2018).

Through observation and the acknowledgment of different patients’ situations, Advanced Nursing Practice nurses are able to strategize ways that will ensure quality care is provided as well as meet patient satisfaction.

Cognitive Learning Theory

Cognitive learning theory uses one’s thinking and metacognition to recognize and acknowledge how the processes of thinking impact an individual’s learning. It describes how an individual’s internal and external factors influence their mental processes to supplement learning (McSparron, Vanka, & Smith, 2019). According to the theory, the main focus of learning is an individual’s perception which includes their thought, memory, and how they structure and process information.

Contrary to behaviorist learning theory, cognitive theorists maintain that the aim is not necessarily for learning to take place but for the achievement of the learner’s goals and expectations. Cognitive learning theory enhances learning in the long run through building on previous ideas and applying new concepts to already existing knowledge. Cognitive learning theory also boosts nurses’ confidence and approaches patient situations with more confidence and deeper understanding.

Additionally, cognitive learning enhances nurses’ comprehension of acquiring new information as well as improving their problem-solving skills (McSparron, Vanka, & Smith, 2019).

Advanced Nursing Practice nurses benefit from cognitive learning theory as it assists them to understand their internal thought processes. It forms the foundation of the APNs’ cognitive functions from their internal and external factors. An inner understanding of one’s thought processes is vital in the formation of learning paradigms (McSparron, Vanka, & Smith, 2019).

By applying this theory, Advanced Nursing Practice nurses establish self-thoughts and patient skills necessary for quality care delivery. Cognitive learning theory is further subdivided into sub-theories that cover certain learning and understanding elements. Cognitive learning theory is employed by APNs in their nursing practice in understanding their patients’ situations and establishing effective strategies required for high-quality health care.



Lavoie, P., Michaud, C., Belisle, M., Boyer, L., Gosselin, E., Grondin, M., … & Pepin, J. (2018). Learning theories and tools for the assessment of core nursing competencies in simulation: A theoretical review. Journal of Advanced Nursing74(2), 239-250.

McSparron, J. I., Vanka, A., & Smith, C. C. (2019). Cognitive learning theory for clinical teaching. The Clinical Teacher16(2), 96-100.

Reimann, A. (2018). Behaviorist learning theory. The TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching, 1-6.


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