Experiential learning can provide students in entry-level physical therapy (PT) education programs the opportunity to practice skills and techniques, learned in the classroom, in a real-world setting. Experiential learning is currently being utilized in all entry-level PT programs in the form of professional practice experiences but may be integrated throughout the curriculum to enhance student engagement and knowledge application and retention. The purpose of this paper is to express the need for increased integration of experiential learning into entry-level PT education curricula.
Experiential learning can effectively replace a portion of in-class laboratory time in entry-level PT education programs. Several methods of experiential learning exist, including simulation, integrated clinical experiences, service learning, community patient resource groups, and professional practice opportunities. Students benefit from the ability to practice hands-on skills in a safe, nonjudgmental environment. Students can still experience consequences of poor decisions but can have multiple opportunities to master the skill without the fear of negative outcomes. Incorporation of high-risk age ranges and diagnoses can be achieved through simulation.
Experiential learning can be integrated into any PT curriculum if faculties are committed and flexible. Experiential learning may be particularly useful in specialty practice areas where there are fewer opportunities for students to practice skills. The practice of reflection upon experiences that is commonly performed in conjunction with experiential learning will help prepare students for the type of reflective practice that is essential to transition from novice to expert practitioners.