Knowledge Integration: Theory to Practice in Physical Therapy Education

Article excerpt

Background and Purpose. Physical therapy educators expect students to integrate knowledge in both academic and clinical settings. A deeper understanding of human knowledge integration may assist academic and clinical educators to enhance teaching practices and diagnose student problems. This purposes of this article are to examine aspects of information-processing theories relating to the phenomenon of knowledge integration and to explain a model of knowledge integration useful for physical therapy education. Methods and Materials. Using criteria established by theory-building authorities as a means to evaluate theories, the author compared various literature sources describing human information processing. Information-processing literature was reviewed, evaluated, and selected for its use in providing an explanation of knowledge integration. Criteria for selection included importance, clarity, simplicity, comprehensiveness, operationality, empirical validity, fruitfulness, and practicality. Summary of the Literature. No explicitly defined theories of knowledge integration were found in the literature; rather, explanations of integration and specific research on integration were embedded within the larger framework of information-processing theory and research. Aspects of informationprocessing theories relating to the phenomenon of knowledge integration are presented to explain a model of knowledge integration useful for physical therapy education. Knowledge integration is the building of new knowledge through constructing connections within and between new information and prior knowledge. During the cognitive learning process, knowledge integration occurs within working memory, and during the bridge between working memory and long-term memory. Components of knowledge integration include encoding, elaboration, retrieval, reconstruction, and preparation for long-term memory storage. Discussion and Conclusion. Implications for facilitating knowledge integration in physical therapy classroom and clinical education practice are offered, and limitations to the review are discussed. Knowledge integration serves as afoundational skill for problem solving and transfer of knowledge. A model of knowledge integration may serve as a useful guide for fostering research in physical therapy education and aid the effectiveness of academic and clinical educators.

Key Words: Clinical education, Information processing, Knowledge integration, Physical therapy education.



Physical therapy educators expect knowledge integration in classroom and clinical experiences. Integration of information is necessary to piece foundational knowledge (ie, anatomy, physiology, kinesiology) together for understanding and solving patient problems. Generally, physical therapy curricula are logically ordered, with later courses building on earlier foundational knowledge. Content often moves from the simple and concrete material toward the more complex and abstract material. Courses are sequenced to build upon and integrate prior knowledge.1(p14),2 For example, a physical therapist student's knowledge of biomechanics builds on content learned in anatomy. Similarly, neuropathology draws upon information from neuroanatomy and neurophysiology.

Though content is logically ordered, in my experience, some students appear to demonstrate difficulty with integrating information. Is this because students may not have been ready to take the foundational courses seriously enough or spend adequate time wrestling with the content in the early stages of the curriculum? If so, such students might eventually be at a disadvantage when expected to learn new material based on the assumption that prior information has been mastered. A suboptimal performance in neurologic rehabilitation may be due to an inadequate understanding of basic motor control theories. A student may recall origins, insertions, and actions of particular muscles but have difficulty identifying the impact of this information in performing passive range of motion. …


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