Supporting students in their study of evidence informed practice using a problem based learning approach

Pippa Steele, Simon Igo

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review

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The “Evidence Informed Practice (EIP) and Decision Making” module introduces physiotherapy students to the principles of evidence based practice and research. The module is part of a Collaborative Curriculum education strategy. This strategy was designed to develop health and social care practitioners that function at the highest capability in delivering high quality care through strong inter-professional education and collaborative practice. This module was delivered using a guided approach to problem based learning (PBL).The guided PBL approach places students at the centre of the learning process by presenting students with a practice based trigger as a stimulus to focus learning around EIP and its application in the real and complex world of clinical practice.

Problem Based Learning has been adopted within health professional curricula, albeit with some scepticism, as this active form of learning is believed to assist in easier retrieval and integration of knowledge once in practice. However, little research investigates how physiotherapy students adapt to this pedagogical style. This study aimed to explore physiotherapy students’ experience and perceptions of PBL within the EIP module with the objective to develop resources to support future students and enhance their engagement and facilitate their transition into the PBL process.

A participatory action research approach was used in order to address the aims of this research. This study represents the first stage of a much larger project. Participatory action research proposes to engage researchers and participants in the inquiry of a thematic concern and produce practical knowledge that is useful for action. In this case how to best support and enhance student engagement in the PBL process. From an undergraduate physiotherapy cohort, and using purposive sampling, eight students were recruited in this study. A focus group was conducted which aimed to explore students pre-perceptions of PBL. Thematic analysis was used with the analytic intention of identifying and reflecting on key themes to develop educational resources and strategies to support students’ transition into PBL. Peer review of findings, participant validation and reflexive dialogues were used to enhance the rigour of this study.

The notion of a “PBL pedagogical threshold concept” emerged from the data and comprised of 4 key themes: readiness for PBL, “standing at the door”; learning conflict, “hesitancy crossing the threshold”; and the learning bridge, “moving across the threshold and transitioning into PBL.

Students described and demonstrated tacit understandings of PBL which was rooted in their past learning experiences. Students were hesitant and apprehensive about PBL and were unsure about trusting their ability to learn the right things at the right time. They were concerned that non engagement of others would demotivate their engagement with PBL. Experience of PBL on placement was the most important learning bridge.

•Raise awareness of PBL on placement to facilitate the transition into class room PBL.
•Raising awareness of PBL didactically does not impact on students understandings of this approach.
•Recognise the pedagogical threshold concept and acknowledge it implications for students.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2017
EventWorld Confederation of Physical Therapy Congress - Cape Town, South Africa
Duration: 2 Jul 20175 Jul 2017 (Link to the conference website)


ConferenceWorld Confederation of Physical Therapy Congress
Abbreviated titleWCPT
Country/TerritorySouth Africa
CityCape Town
Internet address


  • PBL
  • Pedagogy
  • Evidence informed practice


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