Objectives Student nurses are provided with a great deal of knowledge within university, but they can find it difficult to relate theory to nursing practice. This study aimed to test the appropriateness and feasibility of assessing Novak's concept mapping as an educational strategy to strengthen the theory-practice link, encourage meaningful learning and enhance learning self-efficacy in nursing students.
Design This pilot study utilised a mixed-methods quasi-experimental design. Setting The study was conducted in a University school of Nursing in Hong Kong. Participants A total of 40 third-year pre-registration Asian mental health nursing students completed the study; 12 in the concept mapping (CM) group and 28 in the usual teaching methods (UTM) group.
Methods The impact of concept mapping was evaluated thorough analysis of quantitative changes in students’ learning self-efficacy, analysis of the structure and contents of the concept maps (CM group), a quantitative measure of students’ opinions about their reflective learning activities and content analysis of qualitative data from reflective written accounts (CM group).
Results There were no significant differences in self-reported learning self-efficacy between the two groups (p = 0.38). The concept mapping helped students identify their current level of understanding, but the increased awareness may cause an initial drop in learning self-efficacy. The results highlight that most CM students were able to demonstrate meaningful learning and perceived that concept mapping was a useful reflective learning strategy to help them to link theory and practice.
Conclusions The results provide preliminary evidence that the concept mapping approach can be useful to help mental health nursing students visualise their learning progress and encourage the integration of theoretical knowledge with clinical knowledge. Combining concept mapping data with quantitative measures and qualitative reflective journal data appears to be a useful way of assessing and understanding the effectiveness of concept mapping. Future studies should utilise a larger sample size and consider using the approach as a targeted intervention immediately before and during clinical learning placements.