Purpose: Students enrolled in courses that focus on patient contact participate in practical laboratories to learn clinical skills but this can be challenging in a pre-clinical environment. A simulated case based format using role play in small groups is commonly undertaken. Students may find it difficult to actively engage in learning and effective role playing without prior clinical experience. The aim of this study was to discover what type of experiences facilitated student learning in practical laboratory sessions.

Method: Design: Action research study.

Participants: Thirty two undergraduate second year physiotherapy students who were engaging in practical laboratories.

Data collection and analysis: Teacher observations, minute papers and semi structured interviews were conducted over a nine week teaching period to gain the student perspective on what facilitated their learning. Data from these three sources were categorised and coded. A concept mapping technique was then used to represent the construct of learning facilitators identified, from which the final survey was developed.

Results: Learning facilitators identified by students were categorised under three key units: those provided by the teacher, those initiated by the students themselves and material resources. Concept mapping revealed three emergent themes: provide multiple opportunities for learning that address all learning styles, formative learning support and resources to consolidate learning. Students rated timely feedback from the teacher while they practiced the required skills and behaviours as the highest valued learning facilitator (strongly agreed 78.6%, agreed 21.4%) followed by watching the teacher modelling the skill or behaviour required (strongly agreed 67.9%, agreed 25.0%). Students also reported that using a peer feedback checklist constructed by the teacher clarified their expectations of engaging in observation and feedback (strongly agreed 32.1%, agreed 50.0%) and guided their performance in the skills and behaviours expected (strongly agreed 35.7%, agreed 53.6%).

Conclusions: Students at a pre-clinical level can identify which experiences facilitate their learning in practical laboratories, if given the opportunity. While these students place the highest value on teacher feedback they can actively engage in peer learning if given constructive guidance on the skills and behaviours required. Discovering what students identify as facilitating their learning in practical laboratories can guide successful evaluation of laboratory teaching plans to modify and create new learning opportunities and resources. This has the potential to improve student satisfaction and achievement of intended learning outcomes.


action research, practical skills, physiotherapy, undergraduate


©IATED (2012). Reproduced in Research Online with permission.

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