Are students ‘empty vessels’ or can previous experience enhance future practice?

Alison Power, Laney Holland

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticle


In the pedagogical model of teaching and learning, used in the education of children since the 19th century (Hill, 2015), the educationalist has control, decides the content and mode of delivery, with the students as ‘empty vessels’ or passive recipients of information. In contrast, adult learners are self-directing, having a repertoire of experience and are internally motivated to learn subject matter that can be applied immediately (Knowles, 1998). Each student’s unique previous experience not only makes their learning very individual, it also has the potential to enrich the learning experiences of their peers and ultimately positively impact on the quality of care received by women and their babies. This article will consider adult learning theory to identify how adults learn best, identifying the link between previous experience and the acquisition and application of new knowledge and will go on to focus on the experiences of Laney Holland (3rd year student midwife) prior to starting her training as an example of the potential for previous experiences to enhance future practice.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Midwifery
Issue number2
Early online date31 Jan 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Jan 2018


  • Student midwives
  • adult learners
  • andragogy
  • previous experience


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