The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education emphasizes the development of critical thinking
skills in physical therapy students. Although educators assess knowledge and skills, they do not directly measure the development of critical thinking
skills. A student's learning style may affect his or her critical thinking
ability. The purpose of this study was to monitor the acquisition of critical thinking
skills in entry-level Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students as they progress through the curriculum and to examine the relationship between learning styles
and the acquisition of critical thinking
The study sample consisted of 61 students in a DPT program located in the northeast United States.
A repeated measures design was used to study student outcomes on critical thinking
across the curriculum over a 2–1/2-year period. Students completed an online version of the Health Science Reasoning Test (HSRT) and the Kolb Learning Style Inventory, version 4 (KLSI) at the beginning of their program. The students completed the HSRT 3 additional times: at the end of their first academic year, at the end of their second summer semester after their first full-time clinical experience, and again at the time of graduation at the completion of the student portion of their program.
Results of the repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) on the composite overall scores on the HSRT indicated a statistically significant increase in composite scores between times 1 and 4. There was also a statistically significant increase in subscale scores in the area of deduction and inference between times 1 and 4. Students’ learning styles
were distributed over 7 of 9 learning styles
on the Kolb Learning Style Inventory. There was a statistically significant but weak correlation between the learning modes of abstract conceptualization and the combination of abstract conceptualization and concrete experience.
Discussion and Conclusion.
The HSRT detected statistically significant changes in students’ critical thinking
skills over the course of the curriculum that appear to be “clinically” important. Based on normative data, the students started at the lower end of a strong HSRT composite score and improved to the upper end of the strong range. Three of the 5 subscales on the HSRT showed a ceiling effect. The correlation between HSRT scores and abstract conceptualization was significant but weak and warrants further study.
Students in a DPT program showed an increase in critical thinking skills at the completion of their program. Learning modes had a significant but weak relationship to critical thinking skills. Various components of the curriculum may be related to these gains. The students in this cohort exhibited a variety of learning styles and had no one predominant style.