Behaviorism and Cognitivism in Nursing Curriculum

The two learning theories that are of the most interest to me are behaviorism and cognitivism. These two theoretical frameworks for understanding the mind stand in opposition to each other in what value they attach to human thought process and cognitivism actually developed as a response to behaviorism.

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Behaviorism covers both human and animal behavior. This learning theory builds itself on the premise of the individual person’s or animal’s behavior being the result of their life history up till that point in time, instead of introspective causes. In particular, the theory focuses on the controlling stimuli and environmental factors, with much less attention given to the inherited features.

It emerged in the onset of the twentieth century, and differed from other learning theories in that it sought to experimentally test and validate its conclusions. Cognitivism brought the focus back to introspective factors, and hailed thinking as the primary interest of psychology. Instead of studying the observable behavior like behaviorism, it investigated how humans thought, remembered, learned, perceived the world around them, approached problems, etc. A big emphasis of cognitive learning is on attention, and the resultant acquisition of information and development of the subject’s mental structure.

The behaviorist approach to learning is to divide information into smaller sections, and provide the student with gratification and reward after each section learned. Learning is achieved through mechanical actions, such as repetition and association.

The cognitivist approach instead seeks to achieve meaningful learning, organization, and elaboration, in the effort to develop an conscious understanding of the subject. The job of the educator is to monitor and motivate progress, and provide the students with new questions for them to consider.

Despite their contradictory nature, both of these theories have their uses in the workplace and in creation of an effective nursing curriculum. Behaviorist learning theory is very good for learning routine everyday actions, which need to be done correctly, quickly, efficiently, and often have a repetitive nature, like daily routines, medical procedures, reports, etc. On the other hand, complex actions like patient condition evaluations require an understanding of the subject, which is best achieved through cognitive learning (Aliakbari, Parvin, Heidari & Haqhani, 2016).


Aliakbari F., Parvin N., Heidari M., & Haqhani F. (2016). Learning theories application in nursing education. Web.

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"Behaviorism and Cognitivism in Nursing Curriculum." StudyCorgi, 6 Apr. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Behaviorism and Cognitivism in Nursing Curriculum." April 6, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Behaviorism and Cognitivism in Nursing Curriculum." April 6, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Behaviorism and Cognitivism in Nursing Curriculum." April 6, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Behaviorism and Cognitivism in Nursing Curriculum'. 6 April.

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