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J Adv Nurs. 2001 Feb;33(4):512-22.

Bridging theory and practice in the supervisory relationship: a sociocultural perspective.

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Lecturer, Work-Based Learning, School of Health and Social Welfare, The Open University Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, UK.



This paper proposes alternative theoretical frameworks for conceptualizing supervisory relationships in clinical settings where professional development is the key activity. In discussing findings from the research, paradigm examples of students' mentor experiences will be used to illustrate socio-cultural theories of learning and their relevance to professional education in clinical settings.


The concept of a theory-practice gap dominates approaches to preparing professionals for their future role. With increasing emphasis on work-based learning one of the many strategies designed to support students and professionals is supervision. This strategy has had mixed success. In many instances this is because of insufficient numbers of suitably experienced and prepared staff. Another factor is how supervision has been conceptualized. In professional education the term mentorship is often used synonymously with preceptorship and supervision. These terms are all concerned with activities intended to foster professional and educational development, and in many instances the learner is a novice working in an unfamiliar setting over a predefined period of time.


This longitudinal study using a Constructivist/Naturalistic paradigm was designed to investigate factors influencing the professional development eight preregistration nursing students' during their practice experiences. A multimethod approach to data collection was used. An extensive literature review of nurse education texts was conducted. Research findings. The most significant influence was found to be effective mentorship. Characteristics of successful mentorship are best explained using frameworks derived from socio-cultural theories. Concepts of sponsorship, legitimate peripheral participation, scaffolding and zone of proximal development (ZPD) offer a more effective means to understand and implement an educational partnership for work-place learning.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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