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Application of Adult Learning Theory to Physician Assistant Education

Lewis, Sarah K. MHS, PA-C; Thompson, Patricia DEd

The Journal of Physician Assistant Education: December 2017 - Volume 28 - Issue 4 - p 196–200
doi: 10.1097/JPA.0000000000000172
Special Article

Just as we depend on medical science and research to treat patients, we should connect our teaching methods to educational theory and research. In particular, the foundations of adult education philosophy and adult learning theories can be deliberately applied to further strengthen the clinical learning experience of physician assistants (PAs). We propose that PA educators should be aware of how their personal philosophy of education affects their teaching practice. In addition, educators should apply learning theories to both classroom process and content. We provide an overview of 5 categories of learning philosophy (liberal, progressive, behavioral, humanist, and radical) and 6 learning theories (experiential learning, reflective practice, situated learning, communities of practice, transformative learning, and critical consciousness) of adult education. Concrete examples of how to apply adult education theory to meet specific learning objectives for PA students are described. Understanding how to apply learning theory and identify and shape one's educational philosophy provides theoretical and empirical support for what we often deem an intuitive process.

Sarah K. Lewis, MHS, PA-C, is an assistant professor for Physician Assistant Studies at Lock Haven University, Lock Haven, Pennsylvania.

Patricia Thompson, DEd, is an affiliate assistant professor of adult education at Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania.

Correspondence should be addressed to: Sarah Lewis, MHS, PA-C, Physician Assistant Studies, Lock Haven University, 2986 North Second Street, Harrisburg, PA 17110. Telephone: (570) 484-2618; Email:

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Copyright © 2017 Physician Assistant Education Association
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