The data collection, analysis, and interpretation focused on the meaning of face-to-face lived experiences of learning in RN nursing students and were guided by the study purpose and research questions, as well as the philosophical framework. Illumination of the meaning of face-to-face learning as experienced by a cohort of these students resulted. Data analysis in this study included concentrating on the nature of experiences as lived, reflecting on essential themes, and writing and rewriting to accurately transform texts into words and language that were meaningful in interpreting patterns and themes. Patterns and themes were categorized using van Manen’s (1990) four lifeworld existentials as the categorical compass. Discovering insights, meanings, and lived experiences of face-to-face learning from rich and deep texts was the goal of this phenomenological study.
During the interviews, participants contextualized vivid stories and dwelled, with some direction from me, on face-to-face learning. Participants gave meanings that were real and “full of the world” lived experiences. Their stories were analyzed and patterns and themes emerged from the data. The importance of the teacher, as experienced by the students, was also discussed.
Patterns and Themes
A pattern is the first heading for the lifeworld existential findings of this research. The word pattern was chosen because it exemplifies a broad structure or a category (Wolf, 2007) and is a discernable coherent system based on intended interrelationships of component parts (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 2007). Theme, then, was the subheading of each of the four lifeworld existentials. Theme, said van Manen (1990), gives control and order to research and writing; theme is a phenomenological structure of experience and a reduction of a notion. Theme is the form that captures the phenomenon one tries to understand.
Patterns and themes emerged while the data were carefully analyzed. Each of van Manen’s (1990) four existentials, or experientials, comprised a face-to-face category (Table).
Table: Lived Experiences of Face-to-Face Learning: Patterns and Themes
Lived space (spatiality), van Manen’s (1990) first existential, is the felt space in which we find ourselves and is also the space that helps to determine how we feel. This space has a semblance of a home, where we can be what we are and feel protected. It is a spatial environment that has the social character of conventional space. For this study, lived space was the human face-to-face classroom where students connect, share, feel, learn, talk, share, and understand, with each other and with a teacher.
Judy (pseudonym) gave voice to the classroom spatiality when she said, “I have to have that humanistic communication with people” and “it matters and makes a big difference when the teacher is there because she wants you to understand, not just give you information.” Molly, too, echoed her impression of a “good classroom”: “Yes, you get that ‘going in the right direction’ feeling. If you get the right kind of encouragement and the right kind of nudges, it’s good.”
Experiencing the classroom from the participants’ points of view was a “coming and being together,” where feelings and insights meshed to create an atmosphere of “live” closeness. Students spoke of face-to-face teachers: “Good teachers give encouragement and feedback that helps us learn; but if the teacher doesn’t care, we don’t care.” Nancy described her experience with a teacher drawing pictures of fetal tracings on the board, and discussing the normalities and aberrations of the tracings:
I can still see those pictures on the board. Now that I’ve had experience in it, that helped a lot, just remembering the teacher showing that information to us, how she presented it to us, versus just reading about it and looking at it in the book. I now can remember it and why.
Nancy found meaning in the lived experience of learning tracings by the way the teacher taught and how she (Nancy) remembered; the teacher connected with her by her positive teaching attributes, which included the pictures she drew.
Kleiman (2007) discussed relationships or connections between the student and the teacher, evolving as coming to know and understand the nature of nursing with its values and meanings. Participants echoed these relationships: “immediate gratification,” “getting it first person,” “the real thing,” “humanistic connections,” and “hearing and seeing it in real time helps learning.” In nursing, being present, or presence, was a gift of one’s self in human interactions and relationships (Easter, 2000). Physical, or body-to-body, presence includes “being there,” or in other words, human proximity. According to Feenberg (1999), this proximity is far from being reproduced in the space of the World Wide Web. All participants voiced the supreme importance of the teacher-student relationship as a major factor in their learning.
Lived body (corporeality) is van Manen’s (1990) second lifeworld existential. We are always bodily in the world. According to van Manen (1990), “When we meet another person in his or her landscape or world we meet that person first of all through his or her body” (p. 103). The human senses personify lived body and were the most talked about attributes of face-to-face learning during each interview. In this study, lived body was a primary characteristic of face-to-face learning and was how we reveal ourselves to others through our bodies. Sight was the most frequently discussed human sense, followed by hearing; “being there” was included as a subtheme. Judy stated, “In face-to-face, you can see their emotions, see whether they’re hiding something or lying to you. When you’re talking with others, there is no filter.” Nancy said, “I want to be there to hear the teacher to really understand it.” Participants talked of the ability to know someone personally through their eyes and body language. The meanings of face-to-face learning, they said, come from body language, facial expressions, and caring teachers.
The overall pattern was “in-person presence,” and the theme was “learning through the senses.” Subthemes of lived body (in participants’ words) included “getting it first person rather than a secondary source,” “can’t see it in a textbook,” “seeing a face enriches learning,” “seeing interaction between student and teacher promotes learning,” and “tell me, show me, and I’ll learn.”
There also was the strong context of Gadamer’s (1960/2004) interpretation of language, a belief that all learning is about language and its textual components. Gadamerian hermeneutics captured the essence of language and text (both inherent in face-to-face learning). Another participant, Alice, stated, “The main thing about face-to-face learning is immediate gratification with the teacher answering questions,” leaving little doubt as to what she meant—she portrayed the satisfaction of getting answers to questions instantly, paramount in the context of her learning. Textual data, brought forth by participants through dialogue and speech, represented language with all of its undertones and kaleidoscopic meanings.
Data analysis for this study included concentrating on the nature of experiences as lived; reflecting on essential themes; writing and rewriting to accurately transform texts into words and language that are “in this world” and were meaningful in discovering key meaning units; and accurately defining and interpreting patterns and themes. Patterns and themes were categorized using van Manen’s (1990) four lifeworld existentials as the categorical compass. Peer debriefing of sample transcripts provided verification of a sample of assignments of patterns and themes. Discovering insights, meanings, and lived experiences of face-to-face learning from rich and deep texts was the goal of this phenomenological study.
Lived time (temporality) is van Manen’s (1990) third lifeworld existential. The temporal dimension of past, present, and future constitute the horizon of a person’s temporal landscape. According to van Manen (1990), “Lived time is our temporal way of being in the world” (p. 104). Lived time was subjective time for participants. They talked of time that affected their learning. For example, when participants experienced the extended time it took to get immediate help from the teacher (primarily in online learning), it seemed like an eternity, they said, and was therefore a hindrance to their learning and progress. When immediate responses took place, they processed this as essential to their thinking and internalization of information. Each participant defined time as related to fully understanding the concepts and meanings of what they were truly learning. The immediacy of receiving feedback or confirmation of what they were learning was a coveted parameter of students’ learning in a face-to-face classroom. One student, Ella, said, “It’s the real time that constitutes face-to-face learning. When the instructor is right there, you can ask the question and deal with it immediately; it’s immediate gratification; clarification happens right then.” The overall pattern of lived time was “immediacy,” and the theme was “timely feedback.”
Subthemes of lived time (in the participants’ words) included “it’s real time,” “waiting hinders understanding,” “when fresh in mind, learning is immediate,” “in the zone of learning,” “delayed responses hinder learning,” “don’t have to wait to get that e-mail,” “not too little, too late,” and “time affects remembering.”
Lived other (relationality) is van Manen’s (1990) fourth lifeworld existential. This existential was the lived relation we maintain with others in the interpersonal space that we share with them. As we meet others, we can develop a conversational relation by which we can transcend ourselves. This existential represents the social, interactional nature of face-to-face learning. Sara explained, “The interactions, the dynamics that go on between teacher and student, are very important.” Relationality is humanistic communication with people; learners receive reassurance from others—teachers and fellow students. According to Molly, “Doing things together makes a huge difference because I get reassurance from others.” Molly stated a perfunctory, yet crystal-clear reason: “We’re pack animals and we like being around each other!” The overall pattern of lived other, human relations, was “learning dynamics,” and the theme was “lived relation to the other.”
Subthemes of lived other included “feeling of needing others,” “learning together,” “learn a lot in group discussions,” “social aspects of learning are important,” “experiences of others bring insight,” and “human contact and camaraderie are important.”
One of the participants provided a novel, yet intriguing historical aspect to face-to-face learning that, not directly applicable to the existentials, provided valuable and clairvoyant insight into learning:
Face-to-face learning is the human experience—it’s just so; there are so many human emotions. At least 70% to 90% of human communication is nonverbal. We lose that when we don’t have face-to-face interactions. As humans we’re designed to interact with each other, beginning from the time we were created. We learn things as children and that’s how we continue to learn. I feel like that’s very important, especially in nursing. Nursing has such a human holistic care focus as we continue to care for other people. I think we’ll always have face-to-face and a classroom. It’s not that we’ve always done it this way, but it still is how we learn best. It’s worked from the beginning of time.