The learning needs of postgraduate nurses in Southwest China based on Hutchinson’s theory of learning needs: a qualitative study | BMC Medical Education

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The learning needs of postgraduate nurses in Southwest China based on Hutchinson’s theory of learning needs: a qualitative study | BMC Medical Education

Our interviewees included 4 men and 13 women with an average age of 26.5 years. All were postgraduate nursing students. Their research interests include nursing education, humanistic nursing, geriatric nursing, and psychological nursing (Table 2).

Table 2 Demographic characteristics of participants (N = 17)

Based on our analysis, professional course requirements among nursing graduate students were categorized into three themes, namely clear knowledge and learning goals, positive attitudes toward learning, and the gap between learning goals and actual needs (Fig. 1) .

Fig. 1

Three themes related to professional course demand among graduate nursing students

Theme 1: clear knowledge and learning objectives

The formation of the first theme came mainly from the subjective experiences of the participants of the training course in the postgraduate nursing curriculum. They can clearly express their self-learning needs during the interview process, including their hope to improve their research ability, enlighten their thinking and broaden their horizons through the study of the curriculum, and also hope to learn new knowledge and new technologies through the curriculum. From the above aspects, we can see that postgraduate nurses have their clear knowledge of learning and learning goals of a curriculum.

The first sub-theme identified in relation to this theme was ‘enhancing research opportunities’. Most interviewees said that the main purpose of the Master’s course in nursing is to improve research abilities through professional courses. Specific abilities include discovering and solving problems, using scientific research methods, and applying statistical methods. The relevant quotes were as follows:

“From a graduate student’s point of view, the results will not be used to measure the quality of the course learning, but the results of the research designed at the research stage…Whether it is to improve my special research ability or to improve of my ability through courses, the ultimate goal is still that I want to study through a certain course to improve my respective ability and academic level.” (S01).

The second sub-theme identified was “enlighten your thinking and broaden your horizons”. These achievements were expected through course learning. Although postgraduates are expected to have higher knowledge than undergraduates, the interviewees are still willing to learn about new knowledge, technologies and methods to stimulate their curiosity and promote new ideas. As some of them said:

“Our school’s resources are already very rich, but the school has created a platform for us to communicate with other schools. In the collaborative learning process, exposure to outstanding talent from other universities has a significant effect. This kind of perfection puts people under pressure. To be precise, tension is what brings motivation and my vision opens up immediately. (S07).

The third sub-theme identified was “learning new theories, methods and skills”. Some interviewees hoped to learn new theories, new methods and new technologies related to their profession through systematic training in courses. This is the first step towards good practice. As some of them note:

“The nursing theory course has state-of-the-art content. When the teacher talks about it, she gives several examples. Anyone who studies this theory will gain a deeper understanding of the theory and speak with greater knowledge. This class can provide this capability; if you are interested in new insights, you can explore further.” (S10).

Topic 2: the gap between learning objectives and actual needs

Our second topic is the difference between learning needs and actual needs. In the background, we mentioned that learning demand is future demand, while actual demand is process demand. The previous topic mentioned that students have a clear learning goal, mainly to improve their scientific research abilities. However, after studying the current stage of the course, students show a certain sense of lack in terms of learning convenience, which is mainly reflected in the fact that although the course has a certain depth and breadth, it cannot fully meet subsequent needs from scientific research. The other outstanding performance is that the course content is theoretical, teaching and practice are separated, and theory cannot be used in specific situations when applied.

The first sub-theme identified was “the course has some depth and breadth, but the course does not meet research needs”. Most interviewees said that there were great benefits to be gained from professional nursing courses. There are obvious differences in postgraduate courses where further study and extension are offered. Some respondents noted:

“When I studied nursing ethics during my undergraduate studies, I felt that the content was very empty because I had no intention of doing research in my undergraduate course. The aim of the postgraduate studies was very clear and the course was more in-depth and in-depth.” (S01).

“Compared to the previous undergraduate courses, I think the master’s courses are richer. Pure theoretical teaching in the undergraduate environment is more limited. Graduate courses require you not only to understand what is going on, but also to know how to apply the knowledge.” (S03).

The second subtheme identified was “course content is theoretical without providing guidance on how to use the research method in specific settings”. For postgraduate education, some interviewees felt that there was a major emphasis on three main components (ie core knowledge, technology and skills). Thus, coursework did not improve the research abilities required at the graduate level. In terms of acquiring advanced pioneering knowledge, the classroom setting provides much less information than lectures and academic conferences. Most students with a master’s degree in nursing come from the clinical setting. Some relevant quotes were as follows:

“There is still a gap between the course and my expectations. My direction is health promotion. I want to know more methods to promote health, but this class did not provide more methods; although the course provided useful background knowledge with some advantages, my ability for further research remains limited. (S12).

Theme 3: positive attitude towards learning

The third theme that emerged from our data analysis was positive attitudes toward learning. Graduate nurses are in the adult learning stage and have clear goals and autonomy. When actual learning cannot meet learning needs, they will find strategies to reduce the gap between learning needs and actual needs. Their positive attitude towards learning is mainly reflected in their ability to improve in the subsequent practice of the project. At the same time, against the backdrop of shared global educational resources, they will actively seek more diverse learning methods and teaching resources.

The first sub-theme identified was ‘enhancing capabilities in practice’. As graduate students are in the adult learning stage and have clear learning goals, most interviewees used self-help to resolve difficulties. They identified and addressed gaps during research projects and gradually improved various capabilities. This study also used a subjective evaluation method, where a 10 cm ruler was used to evaluate three factors that influenced the ability improvements during the graduation stage, namely the teachers, the person himself (getting information from himself, self-study , help seeking) and curriculum (Fig. 2). 17 participants took the ruler measurement and the results were as follows:

Fig. 2
figure 2

10 cm ruler for assessing three factors that influence the abilities to be improved during the graduate stage

Some student observations were as follows:

“It is certainly impossible to cover everything in terms of curriculum design and develop all of its capabilities. Later, some abilities are improved in the process of research in one’s own research direction. (S05).

The second subtheme identified was “actively seeking diversification of course content and format”. Although some interviewees said that the hours in the course were insufficient and the content difficult to process, they gained knowledge and information through other courses, both online and within different disciplines. Some have explained what this means as follows:

“Nursing and psychology actually overlap. I attended the psychological assessment and statistics stages of a course offered by the psychology department, as nursing and psychology are soft sciences and the methods are the same. Such courses may be set as electives or other options may be taken. This course is divided into two stages: measurement and statistics. My research involves the construction of a questionnaire, so I was particularly concerned about these aspects. (S02).

Student S12 expressed subjective feelings about participating in online and offline courses in the process of actively searching for curriculum resources. In the process of searching for a variety of teaching methods, innovative advice was offered for conducting nursing practice in schools and hospitals.

“Other schools’ shared courses take the form of online courses, but I still like offline courses, which have a stronger sense of benefit. Also, if I can go to other teaching hospitals for an internship, that would be great. Look at the nursing styles of other hospitals. Hospitals are definitely different. (S12).

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