Learning theories and interprofessional education an overview
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Learning Theories and Interprofessional Education: An Overview. ESRC Seminar Series: 26 th June 2009. Background. Research evidence underpinning the drive for IPL is still growing (Payler et al., 2007; Thistlewaite, 2008)

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Learning Theories and Interprofessional Education: An Overview

ESRC Seminar Series: 26th June 2009


  • Research evidence underpinning the drive for IPL is still growing (Payler et al., 2007; Thistlewaite, 2008)

  • Descriptive, anecdotal & atheoretical? (Freeth et al., 2002; Barr et al., 2005; Clarke, 2006)

  • Few interventions identify the educational theory underpinning the development & delivery of IPE initiatives (Cooper et al., 2001; Freeth et al., 2002; Barr et al., 2005)

  • Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning cycle, adult learning theory & psychological theories of group behaviours and teamwork approaches (Cooper et al., 2001; Barr et al., 2005) and learning organisations (Freeth et al., 2002)

  • Theory needed to guide IPE curriculum development (Eraut, 2003; Clark, 2006)

Families of Learning Theory

  • Behaviourism

  • Constructivism


    - social

  • Use in IPE?

Behaviourists consider that:

  • Learning outcomes are important as opposed to the processes underpinning this learning;

  • All behaviour is learned and all learning involves an observable change in behaviour;

  • Adopt a positivist approach;

  • Students’ own activity in achieving outcomes is pivotal to learning.

    (Jarvis et al., 2003; Armitage et al., 2003)

Behaviourism in IPE

  • IPE curriculum developers create an outcome based curriculum;

  • Interprofessional competencies (Arredondo et al., 2004; Norris et al., 2005)

    -learning outcomes assessed and evaluated

  • No clear reference to IPE competencies in curriculum design

  • IPE evaluations- Kirkpatrick’s (1967) model

Modified Kirkpatrick's Model of Educational Outcomes for IPE

(Barr et al., 2000; Freeth et al, 2002; Hammick et al., 2007)

Cognitive Constructivism

  • Concerned with the process of how learners learn;

  • Adult learning- self directed learning

  • Learning is within the learner’s control (Spencer and Jordan, 1999; Kaufman, 2003; Wood, 2003)

  • Application and use of developmental theories (Paiget, 1973)

Clark (2006) applied Perry’s (1970) theory:

  • Accepting of the range of complementary professions required to provide holistic care;

  • Students recognise the presence and nature of other professions.

  • Via IPE students are offered an opportunity to expand beliefs beyond own profession

Ultimate Goal

IPE Curriculum Developer’s Role:

  • Consider ways to develop students’ knowledge by activating and building on existing knowledge bases- transformative learning

  • Consider key assumptions underlying the constructivist origins of adult learning theory (ALT) or androgogy (Knowles, 1990; Kaufman, 2003)

  • ALT- key mechanism for well received IPE (Hammick et al., 2007)

Teaching methods used to facilitate adult learning:

  • Self-directed learning (Kaufman, 2003)

  • Problem based learning (Newble, 2002; Wood, 2003);

  • Discovery learning (Spencer and Jordan, 1999; O’Halloran et al., 2006);

  • Case based learning;

  • Portfolio based learning;

  • Project based learning;

  • Peer evaluation;

  • Use of learning contracts (Kolb, 1984; Brown and Atkins, 1988; Spencer and Jordan, 1999).

  • Use reflective practitioner theory (Schon, 1984; Goosey and Barr, 2002) and experiential learning (Moon, 2004; Roberts et al., 2000).

Social Constructivism – Vygotsky (1978; 1986)

  • D’Eon (2005):

  • Use of IPE tasks could become progressively more complex from, for example simple paper case-based scenarios with two disciplines to very complex cases in real life settings with many disciplines

  • Learning- mediated via socio-cultural instruments e.g. language

  • Support systems

Social constructivism & macro level thinking:

  • Used to inform evaluations of IPE (see, for example Robinson and Cottrell, 2005; Payler et al., 2007);

  • Why has it not been used to inform IPE curriculum development?

    -HE curriculum developers- focus on micro level of learning (Hean, Craddock and O’Halloran, 2009)

    -Critics of activity theory (Fuller et al., 2005; Payler et al., 2007)

  • Communities of practice (Wenger, 1998)

  • Activity systems (Engestrom, 1999; 2004).

  • Expansive learning –to create new knowledge & practice


  • Insufficient rigorous research identifying the theoretical underpinning of IPE initiatives;

  • Implications of overlooking IPE theorising;

  • Benefits of IPE theorising

  • Catholic approach to a whole range of theoretical doctrines is needed (Meads et al, 2003).

Time for Reflection

  • How can learning theory be used to inform your own work?

  • How can you evaluate its use in practice?

  • How can we work together to advance knowledge in this field?

Our overview of contemporary learning theories used in IPE:



interprofessional competencies



Self directed, experiential,

problem based,


interprofessional, collaborative






Developmental/stage theory

Self directed, experiential,

problem based,




Social conflict theory

Socio-cultural learning

Situated learning

Collaborative learning

Interprofessional learning


Expansive learning


(Hean, Craddock and O’Halloran, 2009)

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