Complexity Science and Adult Education: The Role of Trauma in Nurses' Embodied Learning

Open Access
Swartz, Ann Louise
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 08, 2009
Committee Members:
  • Elizabeth Jean Tisdell, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Elizabeth Jean Tisdell, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Edward W Taylor, Committee Member
  • Jo Tyler, Committee Member
  • Seth Wolpert, Committee Member
  • Nursing Education
  • Neuroscience
  • Mindfulness
  • Healthcare
  • Fear Leaning
  • Embodiment
  • Embodied Cognitive Science
  • Complexity
  • Compassion Fatigue
  • CAS
  • Adult Education
  • Adult learning
  • Paradox
  • Self-Awareness
  • Somatic Learning
  • Storytelling
  • Systems
  • Trauma
  • Yoga
Every day nurses work in environments that expose them to trauma and they move through their professional space as embodied creatures with their own histories of trauma. Because trauma changes our bodies in multiple ways, these diverse, changed and changing embodied selves are the people who come to class when nurses engage in higher education. From Adult Education emerging interests in several discourses are present to inform this picture: complexity science and education, embodied learning, neuroscience, and trauma. Although the discourses have intersecting theoretical underpinnings, they are not yet interconnecting in explicit ways. This mixed-methods, primarily qualitative research study grounded in a complexity science theoretical framework sought to understand how RN-BS clinical students learned through their bodies, how they formed new patterns of connection, and how these patterns related to trauma. It examined, retrospectively, the learning that occurred for a group of 16 RN-BS students who took two courses in health assessment and complex clinical problems, using a pedagogy that included experiential anatomy, yoga trance dance, mindfulness exercises, reflective journaling, and clinical storytelling that attended to body experiencing. Course content incorporated an ethological neurobiological model of human development and trauma and a complexity science informed perspective of nursing and healthcare. Outcomes were examined as new patterns of connection into the contexts of personal and professional lives. Findings revealed the ubiquitous presence of trauma in nurses’ clinical learning. The trauma arises from education and socialization processes and the paradoxes of hi-tech healthcare. Embodied connection with self emerged, branching into new patterns of connection as new personal / professional knowledge and actions.