Surviving and Inspiring the Generation Y Physical Therapy Student


The main purpose of this educational session is to provide clinical and academic instructors with practical strategies for engaging the Generation Y physical therapy student. Generation Y students are known to be tech-savvy, feedback-dependent, kinesthetic and visual learners. This session will explain characteristics of Generation Y which have an impact on the learning experiences in physical therapy curriculums and clinical education. Each characteristic will be followed-up with a practical strategy for participants to implement in their academic or clinical education programs. Participants will learn communication and teaching skills to enhance learning experiences in the classroom and clinical setting.

Methods and/or Description of Project

Generation Y students are known to be tech-savvy, feedback-dependent, kinesthetic and visual learners.1 For those not of this age group, Generation Y can be a frustrating and difficult group to challenge and motivate to a deeper level of knowledge. This group of students is proficient at parallel processing, but have difficulty with assessing information through linear thinking.2 The challenge for educators comes in the attempt to not only acknowledge these differences, but develop effective teaching strategies to engage this generation. The methods and strategies to reach this group of students is crucial not only for their success in the classroom3, but also for their success in the clinical education component of our curriculums. Understanding the characteristics of Generation Y and the effects on the learning environment should be a priority in developing our academic instructors and our clinical instructors.
In the field of physical therapy, there are limited resources for training our clinical instructors in the field. One of the methods for clinical instructor training is through the American Physical Therapy Association’s Credentialed Clinical Instructor Program (CCIP) course. According to a 2013 study, the top three reasons clinicians attend the CCIP course was to improve clinical instruction, communication, and to learn legal aspects of being a clinical instructor.4 Although the CCIP has been proven to be an effective source for improving some clinical instructor skills5, it does not address the specific learning characteristics of the current generation of physical therapy students. This educational course will address the need to understand the learning characteristics of Generation Y and how to utilize this knowledge to develop appropriate learning opportunities in both the classroom and clinical setting. A review of the methods and educational strategies developed for the author’s affiliated DPT program and a partnered clinical facility will be discussed and reviewed with participants. A review of recent literature on the learning styles of Generation Y will be utilized to teach educators how to develop courses to engage the learner and prepare them for a successful career in physical therapy.
Eckleberry-Hunt and Tucciarone looked at the educational challenges for the Generation Y medical student and found the main difficulties for educators to be use of technology, professional behaviors, mentoring, and communication.3 Understanding the characteristics which make up the Generation Y student allows educators to approach the classroom and clinical education with specific strategies to employ teaching methods that are effective for this particular generation. The literature suggests several educational challenges, or characteristics, which impact the learning styles of these students. Learning characteristics of Generation Y includes, but is not limited to: being self-reliant and willing to question authority6, demanding consumers with expectations of immediate service7, and being dependent on technology, which inspired the term “digital native” for this generation of student8. Generation Y is known to be motivated and inspired by real-life encounters,9 which supports a strategy to incorporate experiential learning opportunities within a didactic curriculum.10 Utilizing experiential learning as a teaching strategy also provides an opportunity for the student to gain personal satisfaction to solidify their career choice. This personal fulfillment early in a program provides meaning to a didactic curriculum through real-life clinical experience, which can motivate the Generation Y student to continue in their study efforts.11 Generation Y also shows a strong connection to knowledge learned through discussion of personal experiences12, which can also be utilized through the experiential learning opportunity. Understanding these and other characteristics of Generation Y which influence the learning style is crucial to planning effecting teaching strategies in the classroom and the clinical setting.


Participants will have a greater understanding of the Generation Y characteristics which relate to learning methods and styles. Participants will learn communication and teaching skills to enhance learning experiences in the classroom and clinical setting. Discussion of practical application of teaching methods will allow the participant to implement strategies to further engage the Generation Y physical therapy student.

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

This session relates to the conference thematic area Instructional Strategies for the Classroom and Clinic, as the information provided in this session will benefit both academic and clinical instructors. At the conclusion of the session participants will be educated on characteristics of Generation Y, and how these characteristics can guide the development of appropriate and effective learning experiences in the classroom and clinical setting. The participant will have a list of practical, take-home strategies to implement on return to the academic or clinical setting to further engage the Generation Y physical therapy student. The ultimate goal is to improve the effectiveness of teaching methods in didactic and clinical education for the current generation of physical therapy students.


1. Reilly, Peter. "Understanding and Teaching Generation Y." English Teaching Forum. Vol. 50. No. 1. US Department of State. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of English Language Programs, SA-5, 2200 C Street NW 4th Floor, Washington, DC 20037, 2012.

2. Eisner, Susan P. "Teaching Generation Y College Students." Journal of College Teaching and Learning. 1;9: 69-84.

3. Eckleberry-Hunt, Jodie, and Jennifer Tucciarone. "The challenges and opportunities of teaching “Generation Y”." Journal of Graduate Medical Education 3.4 (2011): 458-461.

4.Musolino GM, Van Duijn J, Noonan AC, et al. Reasons identified for seeking the American physical thearpy association-credentialed clinical instructor program (CCIP) in Florida. Journal of Allied Health. 2013;42(3): e51-e60.

5. Morren KK, Gordon SP, Sawyer BA. The relationship between clinical instructor characteristics and student perceptions of clinical instructor effectiveness. Journal of Physical Therapy Education. 2008;22(3): 52-63

6. Walker JT, Martin T, White J, et al. Generational (Age) Differences in Nursing Students’ Preferences for Teaching Methods. Journal of Nursing Education. 2006;45(9): 371-374.

7. Black, Alison. "Gen Y: Who they are and how they learn." Educational Horizons (2010): 92-101.

8. Prensky, Marc. “Listen to the Natives.” Educational Leadership (2006). 63(4):8-13.

9. Sladek S. Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now. Washington, DC. 2014.

10. Hakin E, Moffat M, Becker E, et al. Application of Educational Theory and Evidence in Support of an Integrated Model of Clinical Education. Journal of Physical Therapy Education.2014;28(1):13-21.

11. Nimon, S. Generation Y and higher education: The other Y2K. Journal of Institutional Research. 2007;13(1): 24-41.

12. Weiler, A. Information-seeking behavior in Generation Y students: Motivation, critical thinking, and learning theory. The Journal of Academic Librarianship. 2005;31(1): 46-53.

13. Firdous J, Sadaf S, Kalia S, et al. Attributes of an Effective Clinical Teacher: a Survey on Students’ and Teachers’ Perceptions. Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons. 2008;18(6): 357-361.

14. Engelhard C, Seo KK. Assessing the effectiveness of a clinical instructor online training module as measured by student perception and sustained best practices. Journal of Allied Health. 2015;44(1): 17-24c.

15. Maas MJ, Sluijsmans DM, Van der Wees PJ, et al. Why peer assessment helps to improve clinical performance in undergraduate physical therapy education: a mixed methods design. BMC Medical Education. 2014;14(117): 1472-6920.

Course Objectives

At the conclusion of the educational session, the following objectives will be met:
1. The participant will identify and assess characteristics of Generation Y learners to appropriately develop learning encounters.
2. The participant will design and modify learning experiences to engage the Generation Y physical therapy student.
3. The participant will identify communication strategies for Generation Y students to effectively provide feedback and problem resolution.
4. The participant will examine 4 critical focus areas in clinical education for the Generation Y physical therapy student and identify practical strategies for student engagement.

Instructional Methods

The design of this educational session is a hybrid model of interactive lecture and active learning strategies. The instructors for this course will present the academic perspective of a current assistant professor and also the clinical perspective of a CCCE. Teaching strategies for both academic and clinical education will be highlighted. A pre-test of the material to be covered will be utilized through a gaming and simulation activity, which is currently applied with Generation Y students. Active learning strategies to be utilized for this session include: use of videos and pictures of suggested learning activities as strategies, guided imaginary, word association activity, and the use of technology/instructional resources.

Tentative Outline/Schedule

10 minutes: Introduction & background of research interest into topic
10 minutes: Session pre-test utilizing active learning strategy for quizzing Generation Y students
15 minutes: Background of generations and the characteristics of each will be reviewed
30 minutes: Characteristics of Generation Y will be shared through interactive lecture with a learning strategy identified for each attribute; Practical and real-life examples will be shared through guided imagery, student pictures of described learning experiences, and videos
10 minutes: Interactive lecture describing 4 critical focus areas in clinical education to engage the Generation Y physical therapy student; this section will involve sharing technology and academic resources to achieve success in the focus areas.
5 minutes: Conclusion of session and take-home points for implementation of the material
10 minutes: Open for questions, ideas, discussion of topic

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  • Control #: 2523710
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2016
  • Authors: Dr. Angel Holland, Nathan Jowers
  • Keywords:

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