Applying Humanistic Learning Theory (HTL) to healthcare education has strong advantages.   HTL fosters empathy and patient-centered care, empowers professionals to connect with their patients on a deeper level, and significantly improves health outcomes.

Understanding Humanistic Learning Theory

At its core, Humanistic Learning Theory (HLT) is a framework that believes education should be centered around the learner’s unique needs, motivations, and aspirations. This approach suggests that individuals are most engaged when they take ownership of their learning, guided by their curiosity, and supported by an educator who respects their autonomy.

Humanistic Learning Theory embraces the following principles:

1. Self-Directed Learning

A cornerstone of HLT is the belief that learners should direct their education. In self-directed learning, students set their own goals, determine the pace, choose their study methods, and evaluate their own progress. Instead of acting as a traditional instructor, the educator’s role shifts to that of a facilitator. They aim to support students through their journeys rather than direct the path.

2. Active Participation & Engagement

HLT proposes student engagement is vital for genuine knowledge absorption and highly values active participation. By allowing students to explore areas of personal interest, educators foster a sense of autonomy and self-fulfillment that can lead to deeper engagement and better learning outcomes.

3. Self-Evaluation

Unlike traditional educational models that benchmark performance through standardized tests and grades, HLT encourages learners to evaluate themselves. This introspective approach promotes personal growth and a deeper understanding of the subject matter, which standardized assessments often overlook.

4. The Whole Person Perspective

HLT views the learner as a ‘whole person,’ not as a student in an educational vacuum. The theory acknowledges the role of emotion and perspective in the learning process.  Learners can be more successful when in a positive emotional state, which is more conducive to academic and personal development.

HLT challenges educators and programs to emphasize the psychological and emotional needs of the learner and support personal knowledge goals. This change in focus diverges from traditional, content-driven, and teacher-led instructional models.

How Does Humanistic Learning Theory Apply to Healthcare Education?

Humanistic Learning Theory might initially seem at odds with healthcare’s traditional, content-driven, and clinical-led instructional models. However, a closer examination reveals several benefits that merit consideration for implementation.

HLT is a highly flexible and integrative approach, which makes it suited to the specialization and interdisciplinary cooperation that occurs in healthcare.

Healthcare can be a high-pressure, high-stakes career. Supportive, learner-centered environments often foster natural collaboration among peers. Formal and informal peer-learning opportunities can benefit learners, including enhancing competence and confidence while reducing feelings of anxiety and stress. A study among radiologists demonstrated that peer coaching and collaboration leverage natural learning opportunities and result in a more effective review of errors, enhanced acquisition of new skills, and self-directed professional growth.

Additionally, few traditional educational models can accommodate the demanding schedules of healthcare professionals without compromising the standards of their education. Flexibility and self-directed learning are significant tenets of HLT. These characteristics are frequently found in on-demand, asynchronous online courses, which are valuable CME resources for busy practitioners. 

Perhaps the most critical and influential alignment with HLT is viewing healthcare professionals as learners through a person-centered lens. In the past, work-life balance was often an allowable sacrifice in pursuing a rigorous education and a successful medical practice. However, more programs are adopting a ‘whole person’ approach that appreciates the importance of balance and well-being among physicians

This shift follows “patient-centered care,” which emphasizes the importance of considering patients as a whole and not just a snapshot of a medical file. More than a face with a white coat or stethoscope, practitioners have thoughts, emotions, and goals that can influence them daily. 

Gather-Ed: Real-World Applications of Humanistic Learning Theory in Healthcare

Gather-ed leverages HTL principles to create a supportive, learner-centered environment that encourages personal and collaborative engagement in the learning process. 

Group facilitators in Gather-ed courses support self-directed learning and encourage collaboration. Group leaders are healthcare practitioners with specialized interests and knowledge committed to helping other providers learn and grow.  

Learners are engaged at their own pace and on their own terms. Primarily asynchronous by design, Gather-ed courses prioritize learner autonomy and respect the busy schedules of participants. 

Gather-ed fosters a transparent learning process in which all members can view the group’s progress throughout the course. The platform leverages collaborative learning through group projects that challenge each member to contribute and share perspectives. This approach is rooted in HLT and leads to a more interconnected learning experience through peer interaction.

 We are excited to see this model of healthcare education continue to evolve. There is inherent value in enhancing the depth and personal engagement of CME content, and we’re just getting started.

Explore our peer-led courses and join a learning group or let us know if you are interested in leading a group of your own. We look forward to seeing you on Gather-ed!