Learning by doing

Is it Dewey who coined the phrase “Learning by doing”?

Dewey claims that there is a relationship between knowledge and active inquiry. He also advocated that action, reflection, emotion and theory is prerequisite for continues life-long learning. The teachers role is to facilitate learning by assisting creation of a cooperative learning exercise. The teachers leadership includes e.g. being aware of past experiences, needs and capacities. To be prepared and have the ability to suggest further learning activities based on the class experiences and by this achieve continued growth (Jarvis, 2010).

I found a quote about learning and doing on the internet, from the book “The Cardturner: A novel about a king, a queen and a joker” written by Louis Sachar. It goes like this:

“I hope I remember everything,” said Toni.
“You won’t,” said Trapp. “That’s how you learn. But after you make the same mistake one, or two, or five times, you’ll eventually get it. And then you’ll make new mistakes.”  

I would like to use these insights in my work as a teacher with nursing students. To know and “feel” their needs and to let them fail, and fail again and just encourage them to keep on trying until they get it right. The diversity of different students and their needs are just as big as they are numbered. I believe that diversity is so much more that cultural and ethnically differences. We are all different human beings with different experiences and my job as a teacher is to greet these differences and to facilitate their learning experiences. Some are introvert and maybe they need the courage to speak up, while the opposite to this is them who often say what they think and sometimes in the need of listening. As a teacher I have to pay attention to this diversities so that I can facilitate the learning experience in a correct way.

Chemo treatment by Jenny Mealing (CC BY-SA 2.0)

One concrete example of how I try to work with facilitation and diversity is when I see my nursing students at our clinical training center. In the introduction, I usually start out with asking them of their experiences of administer and handle central venous catheters. You could say that I use this as a baseline for the rest of the class. As often as I can, without being to excessive, I connect and refer back to what they told me. I try to ask questions like, -What if this…? and -What if that…? to students that I have identified in need for it. It has not always been a delightful and easy way to go cause some of them have had tough experiences of those damn catheters. Often relatives in connection with cancer treatment (some alive and some dead). Even themselves who sometimes have been through the cancer treatment – and yes, we have had tears and both physically and mentally reactions but in the end I am confident in my decision to use the students own experiences since I can see that it enhances their motivation to learn.

I strive to be student-centered and one key to that is to motivate. In 2013 The Swedish Federation of Student (not sure of the correct translation) released a report (SFS, 2013). When it came out it got lots of attention and still… we really need to work with these issues. The report argued for the lack of pedagogical and teaching skills of Swedish teacher in higher education. One thing to make it more student-centered is, as I mentioned, to motivate the students while facilitating a learning activity. The students are also eager, if motivated, and requesting activity. I take along this thought and will try to design some student-centered learning activities with hands-on training.


I am, obviously not a graphic designer but I have tried to do a simple sketch of how the workflow of the training cessions are supposed to look like. We have a common introduction and then I divide the students into two smaller groups. One group will work with wound dressing and the other one with injections. After a coffee break, fika as we say in Swedish, the groups are swapping subject to the other. You can´t have too many fika so we go for that one more time and after that we have a common discussion around cases. At the end of the session we summarize. When they are training wound dressing and injections the students are doing it hands-on. In our training center we have dolls for simulation. The students are prepared theoretical by flipped classroom pedagogy and they will also get a film of how the procedure can be done. The task they are supposed to achieve is to train the procedure. Meanwhile a peer is observing using a checklist on the correct procedure, ready to give feedback when finished. So the students are active both by doing and observing. The students will be like critical friends to one another. I cross my fingers that this will work out!

Jarvis P (2010) Adult education and lifelong learning. Theory and practice. 4th edition. New York, Routledge.

SFS (2013) Studenternas läranade i centrum. Stockholm (In Swedish)

Photo: Aniversário do Henrique by Tony Cavalcanti (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Embedded learning

I believe in lifelong learning and Jarvis (2010) has defined learning as:

the combination of processes throughout a lifetime whereby the whole person – body (genetic, physical and biological) and mind (knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, emotions, meaning, beliefs and senses) – experiences social situations, the content of which is then transformed cognitively, emotively or practically (or through any combination) and integrated into the individual person´s biography resulting in a continually changing (or more experienced) person.

The definition is hopelessly complicated and if you want a catchy slogan to promote learning, this is not the one. Yet, I can´t help myself – I love it! I think it is brilliant and the more I learn about learning the more I get to adore the definition.

I have designed a learning activity and today I was trying to argue for what theoretical framework it has. The activity aims to enhance the students awareness of ethical dilemmas linked to CPR-resuscitation and what considerations to be highlighted. The students will be divided into small groups and they will get three short introduction videos to the topic,

  • Surviving CPR-resuscitation
  • Not surviving CPR-resuscitation
  • No active CPR-resuscitation

After watching them the students are supposed to discuss ethical considerations and argue for pros and cons. Finally they are asked to present a quick version of their discussion for the other groups.

At first it was not an easy task to take a theoretical stand but after some reading and thinking it ended up with me arguing for Vygotsky´s Sociocultural Theory… or at least from that tradition. Development and learning process is dependent upon collaboration, interaction and relationship. When I got feedback from my colleagues I learned that this learning activity also could be related to Variation Theory by Marton. At first sight CPR-resuscitation is all about saving lives. When diving into the topic, viewing from different angles students can learn throughout discerning differences about the topic.

It appears to me that teaching is a blessing thus you can pick and choose from a diversity of learning theories when designing learning activities. The main thing is to choose the right theory for the right purpose. The purpose of learning! As Jarvis definition implies, learning is a complex process, occurring both cognitively, emotively and in social contexts. Learning is truly embedded into a persons whole lifetime.

Jarvis P (2010) Adult education and lifelong learning. Theory and practice. 4th edition. New York, Routledge.

Photo: Embedded by Simon Evans (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)