Vicarious learning: a review of the literature

Nurse Educ Pract. 2010 Jan;10(1):13-6. doi: 10.1016/j.nepr.2009.01.017. Epub 2009 Feb 28.


Experiential learning theory stresses the primacy of personal experience and the literature suggests that direct clinical experience is required in order for learning to take place. However, raw or first hand experience may not be the only mechanisms by which students engage in experiential learning. There is a growing body of literature within higher education which suggests that students are able to use another's experience to learn: vicarious learning. This literature review aims to outline vicarious learning within a nursing context. Many of the studies regarding vicarious learning are situated within Higher Education in general, however, within the United States these relate more specifically to nursing students. The literature indicates the increasing global interest in this area. This paper reveals that whilst the literature offers a number of examples illustrating how vicarious learning takes place, opinion on the role of the lecturer is divided and requires further exploration and clarification. The implications for nurse education are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Education, Nursing*
  • Humans
  • Problem-Based Learning*
  • United Kingdom
  • United States