Learning in and across communities of practice: health professions education students’ learning from boundary crossing

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Learning to adapt to new contexts is crucial in health professions education (HPE). Boundaries between and within contexts challenge continuity in students’ learning processes. Little is known about how HPE students can make these “boundary experiences” productive for learning. We investigated how and what nursing students learn from boundary experiences while they are simultaneously growing into a community of practice (CoP). Using a boundary-crossing lens, experiences of discontinuity were identified in pre-placement and post-placement interviews and diary fragments with 14 nursing students during their placement in an academic hospital. We found that students experience discontinuity as a result of different approaches to nursing care and to learning, both between (academic and clinical) settings and within a setting. When students feel safe enough, they can convert boundary experiences into meaningful learning situations, such as critical discussions with staff. Successfully overcoming boundary experiences improves students’ understanding of healthcare and professional development and helps them to develop a personal approach to learning. Students critically address boundary experiences when they are motivated to learn and when they perceive a violation of ethical standards but not when they are concerned that it will affect their assessment. Objects designed to bridge theory and practice can generate additional barriers. This study adds to the HPE literature by demonstrating the learning potential of boundaries and to the broader literature by showing how responses to boundary experiences are intertwined with the process of growing into a CoP. The findings can be used to design future boundary objects.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
Early online date2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2022


  • Clinical education
  • HPE
  • Landscapes of practice
  • Nursing education

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