Physical Therapist Students' Learning Styles and Their Teaching Method and Instructional Activity Preferences

Article excerpt

Background and Purpose. We tested the common assumption that students' learning styles should be associated with their preferences for various teaching methods (TM) and instructional activities (IA). Subjects. The subjects were a convenience sample of all students enrolled in the 3 entry-level (professional) master's degree programs in physical therapy in New Jersey (N=264). Methods. A survey questionnaire gathered data on students' learning styles and their TM and IA preferences. The Gregorc Style Delineator (GSD) measured learning style on 4 dimensions: concrete-sequential (CS), abstract-sequential (AS), abstract-random (AR), and concrete-random (CR). The TM and IA scales were derived from the literature and assessed via principal components analysis. Results. One hundred ninety students (72.3%) responded. A "dual" learning style was modal (n=65, 34.2%), followed by the CS (n=59, 31.1%), AR (n=37, 19.5%), AS (n=15, 7.9%) and CR (n=11, 5.8%) styles. The TM scale yielded 4 factors (collaborative, self-directed, detailed, and structured), as did the IA scale (naturalistic, media based, theme oriented, and traditional). There were weak positive correlations between respondents' CS and AS scores and their traditional learning scores and between their CR and media-based learning scores. There were weak negative correlations between respondents' CS and media-based learning scores and their CR and traditional learning scores. The CR learners had higher self-directed scores than other style groups, whereas CS learners had higher structured teaching scores. No differences in IA factor scores were observed among the style groups. Discussion and Conclusion, Support for the research hypothesis is weak. This may be due to flaws in the Gregorc model, low GSD reliability values with this sample, or the influence of confounding variables. Among the findings warranting further study was the unexpectedly high proportion of dual style learners. In addition, the updated profile of this sample of physical therapist students as predominantly CS learners has important implications for educators, especially in light of the current trend toward more self-directed and problem-based learning.

Key Words: Instructional activity preferences, Learning styles, Physical therapy education, Teaching methods.

INTRODUCTION

A learning style represents the typical means by which an individual gains, processes, and stores information.1-3 To educators, knowing how students acquire and process information has great potential value. Such knowledge could be used to predict educational outcomes,4,5 to help counsel or guide students toward effective learning activities,6 and to design more effective teaching-learning strategies.7,8

The first published research focusing on physical therapist students' learning styles appeared over 2 decades ago.9 Subsequent analyses have been few in number and strictly limited to descriptive profiling.7,10 Perhaps most important, no study has directly explored the relationship between physical therapist students' learning styles and their actual preferences for teaching-learning activities. If learning style theory is to be of any practical use in physical therapy education, we need a better understanding of this relationship. Such understanding will not only help determine the validity of the underlying concepts, but also provide valuable insight into both how and why physical therapist students choose to gain, process, and store information in different ways.

Goals, Research Questions, and Conceptual Definitions

The primary purpose of this study was to test the theoretical assumption that physical therapist students' learning styles express themselves in preferences for various teaching-learning activities. Based on this general goal, 3 research questions were formulated:

1. What are the learning styles of physical therapist students?

2. What teaching methods (TM) and instructional activities (IA) do physical therapist students prefer? …