Answer to "What theories underpin IPE and IPP?"


There has been criticism in the past of IPE and interprofessional collaborative practice (IPCP) as being atheoretical concepts.  However, this criticism is no longer valid, and there is a growing body of literature on choosing and using theory to underpin scholarly work and practical developments in IPE and IPCP. IPE draws on a number of educational, sociological and psychological theories.  Hean and colleagues have provided a useful guide to learning theories applicable to IPE and highlight the inclusion of socio-cultural theory that recognises the social aspect of learning, helping to differentiate between uniprofessional and interprofessional learning. Interprofessional learning is based on the active engagement of learners with the roles, beliefs, values and culture of other professionals.  Collaborative learning helps to achieve shared understanding and, in terms of clinical practice, shared goals.


In terms of the ‘community of practice’ concept based on the theory of situated learning, students undertaking interprofessional activities move first from the periphery of their own profession into a greater understanding of their role within it, and then interact with other professions, first as observers, and later as members of the team. In terms of social psychology theory, social identity theory is referenced frequently.


Reeves et al. (2010) have classified social science theories into four categories to enhance understanding of IPCP: these may be used as theoretical frameworks to underpin further research. There are relational theories (e.g. Tajfel and Turner); processual (e.g. Engeström’s activity theory); organisational (e.g. see Ginsburg and Tregunno, and Suter et al.) and contextual (e.g. Freidson’s work on professionalism).



ENGESTRÖM, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding: An activity-theoretical approach to developmental research. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit.

FREIDSON, E. (1994). Professionalism Reborn.  Theory, prophecy and policy.  Cambridge: Polity Press.

GINSBURG, L. and TREGUNNO, D. (2005). New approaches to interprofessional education and collaborative practice: lessons from the organizational change literature. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 19, S177-S187.

HEAN, S., CRADDOCK, D., and O’HALLORAN, C. (2009).  Learning theories and interprofessional education: a user’s guide.  Learn Health Socl Care, 8, 250-262.

HEAN, S., CRADDOCK, D., and HAMMICK, M. (2012). Theoretical insights into interprofessional education.  AMEE Guide No. 62. Medical Teacher, 34, e78-e101

LAVE, J., and WENGER, E. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

REEVES, S. and HEAN, S. (2013).  Why we need theory to help us better understand the nature of interprofessional education, practice and care. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 27, 1-3.

REEVES, S., LEWIN, S., ESPIN, S., and ZWARENSTEIN, M. (2010). Interprofessional teamwork for health and social care. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

SUTER, E., GOLDMAN, J., MARTIMIANAKIS, T., CHATALALSINGH, D., DEMATTEO, DJ. and REEVES, S. (2013).  The use of systems and organisational theories in the interprofessional field. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 27, 57-64.

TAJFEL, H., and TURNER, JC. (1986). The social identity theory of inter-group behavior. In S Worchel and LW Austin (eds.), Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1986.