• approaches to learning;
  • deep learning;
  • surface learning;
  • learning context;
  • theories of learning;
  • learning environment

The approaches to learning of student nurses in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland In recent years during a period of change in nurse education, there has been an increased interest in educational theory and nurse educators have examined and questioned the fundamental principles upon which the system of education is constructed. In nurse education it is likely that no single theory of learning can account for all aspects of learning and there are reflections of many learning theories in the nursing curriculum. The literature in the area of student learning is complex and wide ranging and is poorly represented in the nurse education literature. In recognition of a lack of understanding and clarity on learning approaches in nurse education during a period of unprecedented change in Irish and United Kingdom (UK) nurse education, this paper aims to highlight the importance of understanding student nurse learning. A study is described which investigated the approaches to learning of student nurses from the Republic of Ireland, who were receiving a traditional apprenticeship training, and student nurses from Northern Ireland in a Project 2000 programme. On comparative statistical analysis significant differences were identified between the two groups in their approaches to learning. It is concluded that students’ constructs of learning in nurse education are primarily dependent on their interpretation of the demands of the task, on assessment, teaching and the learning environment. The study provides nurse educationalists with important evaluative information from the students’ perspective. It suggests that the way forward is to identify the significant contextual factors influencing student learning and to incorporate them into the nursing curriculum. Such an approach will serve to focus the system on variability in the quality of learning rather than on stability in human attributes.