Building our Educational Research Capacity: How do we Strengthen our Foundation?


The purpose of this educational session is to present a provocative argument, supporting rationale and a set of working recommendations that address the following:
1. Facilitating education research in physical therapy and the intentional development of a community of educational researchers for the profession.
2. A set of working recommendations to support education research in the profession.
3. Engage in an open discussion with didactic and clinical faculty, and program directors about the draft recommendations and what strategies to best progress education research in Physical Therapy.

Methods and/or Description of Project

Educational research has been labeled as the “hardest science” of all given the challenges of teaching and learning that take place in an environment where there is a mix of social interactions, events, problems coupled with a persistent belief that education depends more on common sense than disciplined knowledge and skill. As a scientific field of study, the American Educational Research Association (AERA) specifies that education research examines teaching and learning processes across settings that shape educational outcomes and a learning process takes place throughout a person’s life. The complexity of learning and learning environments requires not only a diverse array of research methods but a community of educational researchers committed to exploration of the critical questions in the education of physical therapists. While basic research and clinical research in physical therapy has continued to expand through a growing number of funded physical therapist researchers, the profession still lacks a robust and vibrant community of educational researchers.

At the behest of the Foundation for Physical Therapy, The American Council of Academic Physical Therapy’s (ACAPT) appointed a task force on education research (Gail Jensen, Terry Nordstrom, Ceil Graham, Bruce Greenfield, Christine McCallum with Segal as Board liaison) which has engaged in a critical review process investigating the profession’s education research, (1) common barriers and (2) success strategies for education research in the health professions, and (3) potential translation of successful clinical research models to education research. From this process the task force proposes a compelling rationale for building a much needed foundation for education research in physical therapy and a set of recommendations for immediate action to increase the quality and capacity for education research.


While there continues to be growth in basic science and clinical research, and knowledge creation in the profession of physical therapy, robust growth of education research appears to be more challenging to develop.

1. In her final editorial, Craik expounds on the continued growth of research and evidence in the profession, as seen over the last ten years in Physical Therapy. PTJ’s research reports, perspectives and other published papers suggest an exponential growth in evidence, with a push by collaborative teams that are conducting research to help define best practice, identify underlying mechanism, and highlight the utility of tracking meaningful outcome measures.1 (p 1603)

2. In contrast, consider a 2015 editorial in the Journal of Physical Therapy Education:
The editors of JOPTE and our colleagues contributing to this editorial believe that the quantity and quality of educational research produced in physical therapy is not at the level needed to face the upcoming complexities of higher education and practice.2 (p3)

3. Similarly, leaders in medical education continue to argue for increased emphasis and funding for education research. 3,4

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

This presentation relates to the overarching theme of “The Pursuit of Excellence in PT Education” because Excellence in PT Education must be based on high-quality education research. The following are the recommendations of ACAPT Education Research Task Force.

Recommendation 1: Develop a Conceptual Framing and a Vision for Education Research in Physical Therapy Education Research
We must develop a deep and broadly held understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of teaching, learning and the outcomes of professional and post-professional education among everyone involved in professional and post-professional education.

Recommendation 2: Develop the Community of Scholars in Education Research in Physical Therapy
Physical therapy education researchers must engage in the broader community of interest of education researchers, in general and in the health professions in particular.

Recommendation 3: Build a Data Repository for the Profession
An adequate infrastructure to support education research in physical therapy should be developed and maintained for the profession.

Recommendation 4: Creative innovative funding structures
While national initiatives to achieve sufficient funding for education research in the health professions are essential, specific efforts within particular professions are also essential. The Foundation for Physical Therapy has played a critical role in advancing clinical and basic science research in physical therapy and can play a critical role in advancing education research. Key stakeholders such as ACAPT, the Education Section, the Research Section and the Foundation for Physical Therapy could collaborate to develop a strategy for funding education research.


1. Craik R. Editorial. PTJ has no silo. Phys Ther. 2015;95:1602-1604.

2. Gwyer J, Hack L, Jensen GM, Segal R, Boissonnault W. Future directions for educational research in physical therapy. J Phys Ther Educ. 2015; 29 (4): 3-4.

3. Carline J. Funding medical education research: opportunities and issues. Acad Med. 2004; 79: 918-924.

4. Cooke M. A more ambitious agenda for medical education research. J Grad Med Educ. 2013; 5: 201-202.

Course Objectives

Learning Objectives: Through active participation and dialogue, participants will be able to:

1) Explain the critical importance of an intentional focus and development of a robust community of educational researchers in the profession is critical for physical therapy to thrive in the higher education and practice environments.

2) Discuss the importance of collaboration within and outside of the profession to build a robust, theoretically grounded knowledge base and capacity for advancing education research.

3) Identify at least three challenges for education research in Physical Therapy and potential solutions for each challenge.

4) Appraise novel approaches to developing models and infrastructure for education that will increase capacity for and quality of research.

5) Contribute to and critique the ACAPT Task Force’s recommendations to develop a robust program in education research.

Instructional Methods

Teaching methods: lecture, small group work, audience participation/discussion

Tentative Outline/Schedule

This education session and a robust conversation will have the following portions:
1) Brief historical look at education research in the profession (10 minutes)
2) Set of common challenges in education research (15 minutes)
3) Successful models and infrastructures for education research (10 minutes)
4) Draft recommendations for the profession to develop a robust education research program (15 minutes)
5) Discussion in round table format among stakeholders about truly advancing education research in Physical Therapy (40 minutes)

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  • Control #: 2527179
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2016
  • Authors: Gail Jensen, Dr. Terrence Nordstrom, Christine McCallum, Richard Segal
  • Keywords:

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