Following graduation from professional education, the development of clinical expertise requires career-long participation in learning activities. The purpose of this study was to evaluate which learning activities enhanced physical therapist practice.
Eight databases were searched for studies published from inception through December 2018. Articles reporting quantitative data evaluating the effectiveness of learning activities completed by qualified physical therapists were included. Study characteristics and results were extracted from the 26 randomized controlled trials that met the inclusion criteria. Clinician (knowledge, affective attributes, and behavior) and patient-related outcomes were extracted.
There was limited evidence that professional development courses improved physical therapist knowledge. There was low-level evidence that peer assessment and feedback were more effective than case discussion at improving knowledge (standardized mean difference = 0.35, 95% CI = 0.09–0.62). Results were inconsistent for the effect of learning activities on affective attributes. Courses with active learning components appeared more effective at changing physical therapist behavior. The completion of courses by physical therapists did not improve patient outcomes; however, the addition of a mentored patient interaction appeared impactful.
Current evidence suggests active approaches, such as peer assessment and mentored patient interactions, should be used when designing learning activities for physical therapists. Further high-quality research focused on evaluating the impact of active learning interventions on physical therapist practice and patient outcomes is now needed.
This study is a first step in determining which learning activities enhance clinical expertise and practice would enable the physical therapy profession to make informed decisions about the allocation of professional development resources.