Testing a new active learning approach to advance motor learning knowledge and self-efficacy in physical therapy undergraduate education

Daniela V. Vaz, Erica M.R. Ferreira, Giulia B. Palma, Osnat Atun-Einy, Michal Kafri, Fabiane R. Ferreira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Motor learning (ML) science is foundational for physical therapy. However, multiple sources of evidence have indicated a science-practice gap. Clinicians report low self-efficacy with ML concepts and indicate that the lack of access to systematic training is a barrier for practical implementation. The general goal of this preliminary study was to describe the effects of a new educational intervention on physical therapy student’s ML self-efficacy and knowledge. Methods: Self-efficacy was assessed with the Physical Therapists’ Perceptions of Motor Learning questionnaire. Data was acquired from third-semester students before their participation in the ML educational intervention. Reference self-efficacy data was also acquired from physical therapy professionals and first and last-semester students. The educational intervention for third-semester students was designed around an established framework to apply ML principles to rehabilitation. A direct experience, the “Learning by Doing” approach, in which students had to choose a motor skill to acquire over 10 weeks, provided the opportunity to apply ML theory to practice in a personally meaningful way. After the intervention self-efficacy was re-tested. ML knowledge was tested with an objective final exam. Content analysis of coursework material was used to determine how students comprehended ML theory and related it to their practical experience. The Kruskal-Wallis and Mann-Whitney U tests were used to compare self-efficacy scores between the four groups. Changes in self-efficacy after the educational intervention were analyzed with the Wilcoxon test. Spearman rank correlation analysis was used to test the association between self-efficacy and final exam grades. Results: By the end of the intervention, students’ self-efficacy had significantly increased (p < 0.03), was higher than that of senior students (p < 0.00) and experienced professionals (p < 0.00) and correlated with performance on an objective knowledge test (p < 0.03). Content analysis revealed that students learned to apply the elements of ML-based interventions present in the scientific literature to a real-life, structured ML program tailored to personal objectives. Conclusions: Positive improvements were observed after the intervention. These results need confirmation with a controlled study. Because self-efficacy mediates the clinical application of knowledge and skills, systematic, active training in ML may help reduce the science-practice gap.

Original languageEnglish
Article number62
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Active learning
  • Education
  • Motor learning
  • Physical therapy
  • Clinical Competence
  • Self Efficacy
  • Students
  • Humans
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Problem-Based Learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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