Improving Teaching with a Solid Theoretical Foundation


Developing the next generation of excellent physical therapists will require educators equipped to teach more than facts and inert knowledge. As clinicians, clinical reasoning is the foundation that enables effective use of clinical skills; as educators an understanding of how learning occurs enables appropriate use of pedagogical tools and strategies. While learning is not a directly observable process, educators must structure learning experiences to address the complexity of multi-dimensional dynamic learning processes and operationalize assessments in alignment with learning goals and teaching methods. During the last decade, many resources have been dedicated to “innovation” in teaching for the health sciences. Innovation without foundation, though, may limit the effectiveness of the innovation and fail to address teaching and learning goals. In teaching, one’s implicit theories of learning influence teaching and assessment. Educators, however, are often unaware of the theories or models of learning that influence them. Further, many educators lack formal training in these models of teaching and learning. We can make teaching and learning more intentional if we identify and elucidate the theory supporting our teaching. Identification of one’s working theory can guide alignment of teaching and assessment methods. The purpose of this session is to examine three views on knowledge, teaching, and learning and to explore strategies to design learning activities reflective of current theories of teaching and learning.

Methods and/or Description of Project

This session will begin by examining the three primary models of teaching and learning: behavioral, cognitive or sociocultural. Behavioral theories position knowledge as external to the learner, and concepts must be assimilated through associations and breaking ideas down. Cognitive theories propose that knowledge is constructed by the learner through organization and connection of ideas. Sociocultural theories propose that knowledge is situated in contexts and that learning cannot be fully dissociated from the context. These theories have influenced elements of physical therapy education. We will present an example using the flipped classroom to demonstrate how a single educational innovation can be enacted in very different ways depending on the theoretical perspective of the teacher. A flipped classroom enacted from a behavioral perspective conveys very different learning goals than one enacted from a sociocultural or cognitive perspective. Students do not necessarily enter PT school prepared to be efficient adult learners. Instructors’ teaching strategies influence students’ approaches to learning. This session will provide activities for participants to reflect on their own teaching practices in order to identify strategies to better align their learning goals with instructional activities and assessments. Instructors who are aware of the theories they are practicing from can be more intentional in selecting means to achieve their teaching goals. Furthermore, increased awareness can enable instructors to critically analyze their theories and practices to move towards more effective instruction, educational goals, and outcomes. The final portion of the session will explore teaching strategies grounded in each of the theoretical perspectives to enable participants to intentionally design learning experiences that are most effective for their goals.


Developing knowledge of educational theories and strategies to develop as a reflective educator can lead to improved educational outcomes. Participants will gain an understanding of three educational perspectives: behavioral, cognitive and sociocultural as well as how these theories can support their teaching and assessment strategies to improve student outcomes. Participants will also develop strategies for analyzing existing teaching practices in order to make more informed choices for effective pedagogy. Sound pedagogy grounded in learning theories and more effective teaching strategies can lead to improved student learning and attitudes towards knowledge development and learning.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: The Pursuit of Excellence in Physical Therapy Education

The integration of theory in teaching enables physical therapy educators to be more intentional in their selection of teaching strategies based on their learning goals. Effective alignment of learning goals, teaching and assessment can enhance student learning and elevate the level of clinical practice of physical therapist students. Excellence in learning requires excellence in teaching. Excellent teaching must be informed by the broader body of knowledge in education.


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Course Objectives

Following this session, participants will:
Analyze their current teaching strategies to identify their primary models of learning
Evaluate innovations in teaching strategies in light of the theories in operation
Design more effective teaching strategies and innovations based on current learning theories

Instructional Methods

Lecture (overview of theories)
Application (illustration of teaching theories in action)
Reflection (questions for participants to analyze their own teaching)
Discussion and Problem Solving (exploration of ways to enhance participants’ own teaching)

Tentative Outline/Schedule

Introduction: Impact of models of learning on knowledge development and teaching strategies (10 minutes)
Overview of theories of teaching and learning (15 minutes)
Case application: Teaching in a flipped classroom: Three perspectives on the same innovation (15 minutes)
Reflection questions for analysis of teaching and small group discussion (15 minutes)
Design of Teaching Strategies (activity and discussion): Using cognitive theories to drive active learning. Using sociocultural theory and the cognitive apprenticeship model to design situated learning. (20 minutes)

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  • Control #: 2520018
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2016
  • Authors: Dr. Sarah Gilliland, Dr. Karen Huhn, Susan Wainwright, Thuha Hoang
  • Keywords:

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