Gaps in Learning and Study Strategies of Newly Enrolled Physical Therapy Students
Purpose/Hypothesis: Students entering an entry level Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program experience challenges adjusting to new academic demands. In preparation to meet both academic challenges of graduate level coursework and professional expectations of lifelong learning, physical therapy students must demonstrate attributes and abilities of self-regulated learning (SRL). Good self-regulators (SRLs) have developed the skills and habits to be successful learners, and exhibit effective learning strategies, effort, and persistence. SRLs are able to select and utilize advantageous study strategies, and regulate and direct their own learning for academic success. Without adequate study skills and strategies necessary for SRL, students are at risk for poor academic performance, including failure. Study strategies and skills are related to academic achievement during the first semester of a graduate program, and can be measured using the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory, 3rd Edition (LASSI). This 60-item self-assessment includes ten scales assessing essential components of SRL, and each scale has demonstrated good reliability and validity. The LASSI is a widely used instrument to both diagnose deficits in study skill and strategies, as well as indicate area for prescribed intervention, and has demonstrated relationships to academic performance in graduate health professions students. The purpose of this study was to better understand whether and to what extent new DPT students present with study skill and strategy deficits, and if so, which students may be at greater risk for academic struggle. With this knowledge, DPT programs can anticipate student needs and provide appropriate supportive resources to maximize students’ academic and professional success. Number of Subjects: 84 Materials and Methods: Sixty-three females and 31 males with an average age 24.9 completed the online LASSI self-assessment during orientation in their first week of a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. Demographic data and standardized percentile scores for each of the ten LASSI scales underwent descriptive statistical analysis. Scale scores were then were divided into tertiles, where scores >75th percentile = areas of strength (no need to improve), scores 50th-75th percentile = areas of moderate deficit (could be improved), and scores less than 50th percentile = areas of significant deficit (must be improved to maximize academic success). Scores were assigned by tertile range to generate a percent proportion of subjects in each range for each scale. Finally, independent t-tests were performed to assess for any differences in mean scores between select demographic groups. Results: No mean scale scores exceeded the 75th percentile mark, nor did any fall below the 50th percentile mark (range of scores = 50.2 to 69.7). The lowest scores were found in Using Academic Resources (UAR; 50.2) and Selecting the Main Idea (SMI; 52.3), with two additional scales in the 50-60th percentile range. Highest mean scores were in Attitude (ATT; 69.7), Testing Strategies (TST; 68.9), and Motivation (MOT; 67.8). All remaining scores fell within the 60th to 70th percentile ranges. Standard deviations for each scale were relatively large (18.91-29.53). A majority of students had either moderate or severe deficits (scored below 75th percentile) in 6 of 10 scales, including SMI (79.8% of students) and UAR (70.6% of students). Conversely, a majority of students demonstrated proficiency (scored above 75th percentile) in only 2 of 10 scales: TST (65.5% of students), and ATT (57.1% of students). Women (55.11, p=.032) and graduates of historically black colleges/universities (HBCUs) (n=15; 67.33, p=.007) scored higher in UAR compared to peers. Men had higher scores in anxiety (ANX; 73.2, p=.002) than women, indicating better management strategies. Graduates of private undergraduate institutions (n=7; 70.7, p=.018) and first generation students (n=11; 84.0, p=.000) had better ATT scores than peers, and first generation students were also stronger in Motivation (MOT; 81.8, p=.001), Self-Testing (SFT; 70.9, p=.031), and TST (79.55, p=.010). There were no differences on any of the LASSI scales between students of any racial/ethnic group, or between students with/without an economically disadvantaged background. Conclusions: On average, new DPT students could improve in all areas of self-regulated learning, as measured by the LASSI. DPT programs could most benefit new students by providing support and resources to develop abilities for selecting the main idea of course content, and for identifying personal need and seeking out help for academic problems. Some subgroups within a cohort may have greater or lesser deficits that a mean class score may hide. Significant differences were found in select scales between genders, and based on undergraduate institution type. Second generation students may need additional support to address deficits in attitude and motivation as well as in skills of self-testing and testing strategies. Scale scores were highly variable suggesting individual student scores may fall far above or below class averages. Individual scores should be reviewed one-on-one by students and/or faculty advisers to identify low scoring areas and pursue appropriate developmental activities. Clinical Relevance: Group assessments are helpful to identify areas of deficit in study skill and strategy, and DPT programs may lower the risk for academic difficulties by offering targeted supportive resources to newly matriculated DPT students. Individual score review is essential as mean scores may mask significant deficits and fail to acknowledge specific student needs.