Curriculum Overview

The MScPT program was developed from 2000 to 2003 through a comprehensive process that included intensive committee work and extensive consultation with key stakeholders, external experts and project facilitators. We have built an integrated, dynamic, entry-level curriculum with a strong foundation, a clear vision of the ideal graduate, and key teaching and learning principles. Since then, these principles have provided the MScPT program and its participants - teachers and learners - with an excellent foundation from which to discover, and begin to master, the art and science of physical therapy. As a Department we have continued to refine and improve the curriculum and the MScPT program based on: our experiences, changes within the healthcare and practice environment, and the feedback form our learners and our external community stakeholders. In particular, with our expansion to satellite campuses we have had to rethink some of our course timing and delivery to ensure that students at all sites have an equivalent learning experience, are included in course discussions and have access to resources and instructors.

The MScPT program includes 31 required courses totalling 93 credits as well as three credits in required elective coursework. The program is typically completed within 28 calendar months and eight terms of study (Fall, Winter and Spring/Summer).

Program Curriculum

Educational Theory

The MScPT program is not underpinned by one specific educational theory; it is informed by a blend of theories in the paradigms of behaviourism and social learning theory (Bandura,1971), the work of Piaget and Vygotsky in social and situational constructivism (Taylor and Hamdy, 2013) and of humanism (Mazlow 1943, 1968; Rogers, 1946). Additionally, given the advances in technology, the abundance of new and accessible stored information, and the need to know how to and where to find appropriate, reliable information and how to evaluate it, we draw on connectivism, an extension on the above learning theories appropriate for the digital age (Siemans, 2005).

We believe that the MScPT student should be an active contributor to their learning by incorporating their past experiences and unique perspectives, exploring the context in which they find themselves, hypothesizing based on the circumstances, by taking action, and evaluating and remodeling as they progress. Opportunities to observe modeling of expected behaviours both in lab and in clinical practice enable students to explore that context, evaluate and act. Students are encouraged to experiment and take risks with their new knowledge as they continue to build their foundation throughout the program.

Frequent feedback from instructors and classmates in the form of practical lab sessions, discussions about professional behaviour, student study groups, frequent formative assessments, and practical exams reinforces expected behaviours and clinical skills. Reflection as a self-assessment strategy and a process for and critical to lifelong learning is also ingrained in the students and begins very early in the program. Layered on the learning process for each individual student is the learning that happens within group activities. The work of Kolb (1984) in experiential learning, Lave and Wenger's (1998) communities of practice, Barrows and Tamblin (1980) with problem based learning and Schon (1983) in reflection in practice have all informed the MScPT curriculum and we have sought to create spaces and opportunities for these learning theories and practices to be enacted. Lastly, Knowles' assumptions and strategies for successful adult learning (Andragogy) and the work on learner- centered education (Weimer, 2002) have been woven into the MScPT key principles and values.


Guiding Models

We draw on Sackett's work in evidence-based decision-making for best practice as the overarching conceptual basis for the curriculum. Sackett's definition of evidence-based practice (EBP) is used to integrate three equally valued components in clinical decision making: 1) evaluation of the literature, 2) consideration of the client's perspective, and 3) therapist (student) knowledge and experiences. The EBP skills that are emphasized in the MScPT program are research and evaluation skills, and outcome measurement at the level of the client (rather than at the level of a sample population of clients expected in a research-based graduate program). Operationalizing our principle of simple to complex, EBP skills are introduced early on in the program (Block 2 in PTHER 572) and integrated and applied within a clinical context to facilitate the students' integration of clinical skills, research evidence and client values for best practice.

Two conceptual models were developed by faculty members (Darrah et al, 2006) to guide the integration of clinical and EBP skills for both students and instructors. The Client-Oriented Research and Evaluation (CORE) model, introduced early in Block 1, depicts the relationship between theory, assessment and intervention, research and outcome evaluation in physical therapy. The Clinical Decision-Making (CDM) model illustrates the integration of components of the CORE model for clinical decision-making with clients. It provides the students with a general map of how to initiate their clinical reasoning skills and integrate EBP with a client, family and/or population. Both the CORE and CDM models depict the patient/population at the centre to further reinforce patient and family centred care. The CORE and CDM models were revised in 2014 as part of our curriculum review. We made a few minor revisions to the language and wording in the models. We also made changes to the images used in the model to depict a more inclusive society and to demonstrate that the model applies to patients, families and the population as a whole.

CORE Model

Clinical Decision Making Model

CORE article

ICF Model

Integrated Curriculum

The MScPT program uses an Understanding by Design (Wiggins and McTighe, 1998) approach to curriculum development and delivery. We have worked backwards from our vision for the MScPT graduate, determined the knowledge, skills and attributes our graduates will need to succeed in practice, and we have designed our curriculum to meet those needs. This approach is also incorporated into courses. We determine the goals and outcomes of the course, what skills the students will need to learn, and we have created and modified our courses to ensure that the learning activities built into the course allow our students to meet the goals and objectives by the end. We have aligned our assessment strategies with these expected outcomes to evaluate whether students possess the knowledge and skills expected by the end of the course.

Our curricular content is mapped to the National Curriculum Guidelines (CCPUP, 2009) and the Essential Competency Profile for Physiotherapists in Canada (NPAG, 2009). We ensure that as our students progress through the MScPT program they are acquiring the knowledge, skills and behaviours necessary to function as safe, and effective autonomous health practitioners ready for practice in the Canadian context and beyond.

Although our program is offered at three separate sites we are one MScPT program and expect all of our students to acquire the same knowledge, skills and behaviours by the end of the program regardless of campus of education. During the planning of the initial satellite site in Augustana, and subsequently in Calgary, significant attention was devoted to instruction and curriculum delivery and how this might be impacted by the satellites and to ensure that students at all campuses have an equivalent learning experience. Each course was scrutinized to ensure that the learning activities could be delivered at a satellite site, what modifications if any would be required, were external guests available to facilitate labs for specialized content, and would modifications be needed if expertise or facilities were not available in the local area - particularly for Augustana. For example, when the Augustana satellite first started, students in first year were bused to Edmonton once a week in Block 1 for anatomy labs in the cadaver lab as this did not exist in Camrose. However, with the advent of the Calgary satellite, driving to Edmonton once a week for lab was not feasible. This coincided with the beginnings of the curriculum review; a modification to the Block 1 timetable resulted in an August anatomy residency for all MScPT students. The students completed their anatomy course work through the month of August as a large group and then split off to their respected sites in September for the beginning of Block 1. This ensured that all students received the same anatomy training and was also a really great opportunity for all students to meet their classmates before they moved to the sites. The friendships built during anatomy endure throughout the program. 

The MScPT curriculum is organized into seven 'Blocks' that roughly correspond to the traditional university terms. Consideration is given to how content within and across the blocks is aligned. Content is introduced at a basic level, typically integrated within that block and may be reactivated and integrated into subsequent blocks. Classes are delivered using a variety of formats - lecture, seminar, lab, blended and fully online - and can often involve real clients/ patients. Curricular content and the learning activities typically move from simple concepts and skills and progress to complex concepts, condition and skills within and across blocks. Instructors use Bloom's Taxonomy to ensure learning is encouraged in all three domains (cognitive or knowledge, psychomotor or skills and affective or emotive) and is presented in a progressive manner. Students are supported to 'bring along' and reactivate previous knowledge, and build upon learnings as they proceed through the program. This is supported by the Block systems approach.

Bloom's Taxonomy Website

Each block is assigned a Block Leader who coordinates the flow, planning and debriefing of the block. Course coordinators perform similar functions for each course. Block committees comprise all course coordinators teaching in that block, satellite instructors who teach/facilitate in the block, the MScPT program director and student representatives from each campus. Each Block Committee meets before the block starts to discuss content integration and alignment, coordinate assignments and exam timing, to address any issues raised in the previous offering of the block/courses, and to discuss any new initiatives. Instructors from each satellite are on every committee and ensure to raise issues regarding the delivery of new and existing initiatives for satellite sites. In particular the timing and feasibility of off campus clinical visits or whether a specific lab would be feasible to reproduce at the satellites. In addition to specific learning objectives in courses, each block has overall block objectives which guide instructors and students and assist with integration of content. These objectives are discussed and updated each year, and stimulate discussions about integration of clinical and EBP content within the block. For example, we look for opportunities to introduce timely clinical cases into the PTHER 572 EBP course that are relevant to the clinical content being taught in the MSK, cardiorespiratory or electrophysical agents courses during Block 2.

After each block, and usually once student course evaluations are available, the Block Committees convene to discuss how the block went. We make a particular effort to schedule these meetings at a time convenient for students to ensure that we get the feedback from the class reps in person. The format of pre-briefing, action, and debriefing provides us with a platform for continuous evaluation and improvement of courses and the integration of content within and across blocks.

Block Timing

Block 1 - Summer/Fall Term Foundations - Professional Issues
Block 2 - Winter Term MSK and Cardiorespiratory
Block 3 - Spring/Summer Term.   Progression of Topics to date
Block 4 - Fall Term Neurology - Lifespan
Block 5 - Winter Term Long Term Conditions
Block 6 - Spring/Summer Term   Complex Conditions - Major Project
Block 7 - Fall Term

Final Clinical placements and OSCE

Program Flow Chart

Overall there are eight key educational principles and values that underpin the curriculum. The nature of the integrated curriculum, along with the approaches used with teaching, learning and assessment, bring these principles and values to life.

1. Focus on student learning (learner centered teaching)

  • Facilitate deep learning in all three domains (knowledge, skills and attributes). Deep cognitive skills emphasized are application, synthesis and integration
  • Evaluate learning at these higher levels with appropriate assessment such as course and block practical exams, OSCE, authentic cases

2. Ensure integration of learning at many levels

  • Integrate content in background knowledge, research applications, clinical skills development across the program and clinical practice in placements
  • Integrate program threads (e.g. Professional Issues, Evidence Based Practice, Therapeutic Exercise) across courses and blocks
  • Use models (CORE & CDM) to guide learning/evaluation within and across Blocks. Progress from simple to complex in all areas (e.g. skills, communications, ethical situations, cultural diversity, business and administrative practices, interprofessional collaboration, etc.) and within assessments (e.g. practical exams, comprehensive OSCE, complex scenarios, program evaluation, etc.)
  • Progressive increase in expectations for student performance with each clinical placement (e.g. complexity of patients, caseload, time management, interprofessional collaboration, etc.)
3. Promote evidence based practice
  • Include EBP in all aspects of curriculum
  • Apply EBP to authentic practice situations (e.g. literature searching, critical appraisal, application to authentic cases, etc.)

4. Cover key content areas in class

  • Not all content is covered in class - be selective
  • Use representative conditions for learning basics
  • Employ student led activities for application of basics in other conditions

5. Provide a learning context - authentic case studies/scenarios

  • Drive and consolidate learning within classes and outside of the classroom
  • Work individually and in groups
  • Evaluate both appropriateness of assignment content and process used for learning
  • Include all aspects of practice - clinical assessment/intervention, communication, client education, etc.

6. Use teaching strategies for active learning

  • Learning how to learn facilitates what is learned
  • Incorporate adult learning principles (real-life, experiential, self-generated, etc.)
  • Augment classroom activities with readings, technology assisted activities (e.g. self quiz, recorded presentations, learning modules, etc.)
  • Decrease passive teaching and increase peer teaching/sharing

7. Integrated learning requires collaborative teaching

  • Allow student to experience a variety of teaching styles while teaching in teams
  • Be familiar with Block and Program content and objectives to allow for consistency in collaborations

8. Encourage responsible students

  • Include in-class learning about professional behavior
  • Clarify expectations for communication, preparation, attendance and participation
  • Promote out-of-class learning
  • Connect clinical learning to academic coursework
  • Learning Plans
  • Placement Projects
  • Professionalism in all encounters

Clinical Learning Record


These key principles and values are discussed, reviewed and shared at all curriculum venues (committee meetings), Staff meetings and FRM innovative teaching sessions. Department faculty members participate in a variety of teaching and learning professional development activities throughout the year (incl. the University's Festival of Teaching and learning), and also share their experiences with the other teachers in FRM and beyond.

Key Education Principles


Vision of the MScPT Graduates

The Masters of Physical Therapy program graduates are prepared to meet the current and future challenges of client‐ centered, evidence‐ informed, interprofessional practice. They represent tomorrow's professional leaders

Expected Attributes of the MScPT Graduates

The MScPT graduates are professionals with clinical knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable them to:

• Integrate theory, research, clinical skills, and client values to identify, develop and implement intervention strategies that result in the best outcome for each client, family, and client population.
• Practice in a manner inclusive of all whom they serve, are understanding of oppressive and systematic practises that result in the health disparities, and are active contributors to anti-racist and equitable physiotherapy service delivery.
• Continually improve physical therapy services delivered to the public and contribute to the research and clinical knowledge in physical therapy.
• Demonstrate adaptability and resilience, assume leadership roles, and work collaboratively to achieve appropriate outcomes for a variety of clients in diverse, complex and changing healthcare environments.


Barrows HS & Tamblyn R M (1980). Problem-based learning: An approach to medical education, New York: Springer.

Knowles MS et al (1984). Andragogy in Action. Applying modern principles of adult education, San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Kolb DA (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

Lave J & Wenger E (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sackett DL, Straus SE, Richarson WS, Rosenberg W, Haynes RB (2000). Evidence-based medicine: How to practice and teach EBM, 2nd ed, Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone.

Schon, D (1983). The Reflective Practitioner, How Professionals Think In Action, London: Temple-Smith

Weimer, M (2002). Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice,. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.