Learning styles in physiotherapy and occupational therapy students: an exploratory study

Benita Olivier, Lizelle Jacobs, Vaneshveri Naidoo, Nikolas Pautz, Rulaine Smith, Paula Barnard-Ashton, Adedayo Tunde Ajidahun, Hellen Myezwa


Background: Learning styles of health care professionals are unique and tend to be profession- specific. This study aimed to compare the learning styles of undergraduate occupational therapy and physiotherapy students and to determine the relationship between preferred learning styles, demographic factors, and academic performance.

Method: The study design was a cross-sectional, descriptive study. Undergraduate occupational therapy and physiotherapy students completed a self-developed questionnaire and the Grasha-Reichmann Learning Style Inventory.

Results: A total of 313 students with a mean age of 19.6±1.58 years participated in this study. The results showed that students preferred the collaborative (75%) learning style, with the first-year students scoring significantly higher in the collaborative style (3.97±0.48; p<0.001). The male students (2.67±0.65) scored higher in the competitive learning style than female students (2.20±0.62; p=0.001, d=0.757). The competitive learning style, when controlling for sociodemographic variables, is a significant predictor of an increase in academic performance in English language (B=2.28, [0.60-3.96]), physics (B=3.62, [0.22-7.02]) and overall academic performance (B=2.12, [0.34-3.90]).

Conclusion: The predominant preferred learning styles are the collaborative and participant styles. The application in the teaching space should be carefully considered for the selection of teaching approaches and activities. This study points to the Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy programmes need to align to the collaborative style and respond with a variety of teaching methods. The associations shown between preferred learning styles and demographic variables point to the need to pay attention to diversity when selecting teaching approaches and activities.

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ISSN 0038-2337 (print), ISSN 2310-3833 (online)

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