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Learning theory

The rationale for interprofessional learning (IPL) is not only underpinned by service demands around teamworking, shared knowledge, professional development and collaboration, but also by learning theories. Freeth (2007, pp. 4/5) cites Jarvis’s (1983) work on motivation and adult learning theory, which focuses on effective learning happening in the gap (or ‘disjuncture’) between what someone thinks they know and what they think they need to know. Freeth notes that ‘slightly unfamiliar contexts, such as IPE, create disjuncture, revealing learning needs and motivating learners to close the gap’. In addition, skilfully facilitated and planned IPL can utilise ‘constructive friction’, creative conflict and the learning ‘edge’ to promote change, stimulate debate and discussion, and promote professional and personal development (Freeth, 2007, p. 5).  

Another learning theory that underpins IPL is the ‘contact hypothesis’ (Allport, 1954), which ‘suggests that attitudes towards diverse groups will improve with contact with that group, where there is equal status, focus on difference as well as similarities, the perception that members are “typical” of their professional group, and opportunity to experience successful working together’ (Taylor et al., 2008).

Positive experiences of working and learning in mixed groups validates this hypothesis, but as Carpenter and Hewstone (1995) suggest, this is not always so easy to manage in practice. Media and other professional stereotypes, difficulties in timetabling (particularly in clinical or other work-based placements), apportioning costs, finding appropriately skilled (and credible) facilitators, finding common, meaningful assessments and ensuring the professionals graduate against their own professional standards all seem to conspire against the implementation of IPL activities.

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