Using adult learning theory, (where adults are self directed and learn best when enabled to set their own learning outcomes), can create hidden tensions when the curriculum is professionally regulated.
Its the regulator who sets the agenda and in effect prescribes what has to be learned. This is necessary because the standard needed to fulfill the role, (in this case Nursing), is external and needs to be consistent across the country.
For educators though this means that enabling the adult learner to set their own outcomes may be misleading. Mind you, once that notion has been established and is clear in the students mind then adult learning theory can still be used to guide the pedagogical choices of the teacher to best guide the student towards learning gain. Essentially achieving a competency is based on a single loop learning model where the learner “achieves” a competency: job done. However if we are also encouraging critical thinking then it follows that the competency itself is open to question and revision. Not only do we expect students to achieve competencies but also we also expect them to say why. This invokes Argyris’ ideas about double loop learning? Or do we? Maybe we only want them to say why to a narrow range of issues and working out which one’s can be questioned is all part of the fun?
Another idea to consider is the potential impact of regulation on criticality. Recently it occurred to me that criticism about the level of criticality present in student work seems to be pretty universal. Over the years I’ve seen this in many external examiner reports and I’ve probably even said it myself. So why is that the case? Perhaps there is a fundamental tension between professional regulation that demands compliance and higher education that encourages analysis, deconstruction and criticism. This is a paradox and when put together regulation has to win because it operates in the “real world” whereas the academic desire to analyse is one step removed and/or of less relevance. Additionally not complying with regulation carries serious sanctions whereas to not be critical enough, (or at all), doesn’t have the same impact. I wonder how you design a study to investigate this notion?