Curriculum Overview

The MScPT program was developed from 2000 to 2003 through a comprehensive process involving intensive committee work and extensive consultations with key stakeholders, external experts and project facilitators. The outcome was an integrated, dynamic, entry-level curriculum built on a strong foundation with a clear vision of the ideal graduate and key teaching and learning principles. For the last eight years, 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. 

The MScPT program includes approximately 35 required courses and three credits in elective coursework. The program is typically completed within 28 calendar months and eight terms of study (Fall, Winter and Spring/Summer

Program Curriculum

The MScPT program does not adhere to one educational theory but rather it is a blend of theories in the paradigms of social and situational constructivism and of humanism. The MScPT student is encouraged to recognize their unique perspective, knowledge and culture, explore the context they find themselves in, hypothesize based on the circumstances, take some action, evaluate and remodel on the go. Experimentation from an ever-broadening foundation that the learner builds throughout the program is encouraged. Using reflection as a self-assessment strategy is also engrained. 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) with communities of practice, Barrows and Tamblin (1980) with problem based learning and Schon (1983) in reflection in practice have all informed the MScPT curriculum. In addition, the assumptions and strategies which Knowles puts forth for successful adult learning (Andragogy) and the inspiring work done in the realm of learner-centered education (Weimer, 2002) have been interwoven in the MScPT key principles. Finally, the curriculum would not be current without a strong interprofessional collaboration theme throughout its components and principles.

Guiding Models

The overarching conceptual basis of the curriculum is evidence-based decision-making for best practice. Sackett's definition of evidence-based practice (EBP) is used to integrate three equally valued components in clinical decisions: 1) evaluation of the literature, 2) consideration of the client's perspective, and 3) therapist (student) knowledge and experiences. EBP skills emphasized 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). EBP skills are integrated and applied within a clinical content, to facilitate the students' integration of clinical skills, research evidence and client values for best practice.

Two conceptual models guide the integration of clinical and EBP skills for both students and instructors. The Client-Oriented Research and Evaluation model (CORE) depicts the interplay among theory, assessment and intervention, research and outcome evaluation in physical therapy. The Clinical Decision-making Model explains how to integrate these components for clinical decision-making with clients. It provides the students with a general map of how to initiate their clinical reasoning skills with a client, family and/or population of clients. 

CORE Model

Clinical Decision Making Model

CORE article

ICF Model

Integrated Curriculum

The MScPT curriculum is organized into 'Blocks' that roughly correspond to the traditional university terms. Consideration is given to the alignment and timing of content within and across blocks. Threads of content are introduced at a basic level, integrated and carried forward. Classes have a variety of formats - lecture, seminar, lab - and can often involve real clients/patients. Curricular content and the learning activities move from simple to complex within and across blocks. Instructors use Bloom's Taxonomy to ensure learning is encouraged in all three domains (knowledge, skills and attributes) and is presented in a progressive manner. Students are supported to 'bring along' and build upon learnings as they proceed through the program. This is supported by the Block systems approach.

Bloom's Taxonomy Website

  • Block Leaders coordinate the flow, planning and debriefing of each block. Course coordinators play the same role for each course.  In addition to specific learning objectives in each course (elaborated upon in Standard 6), overall block objectives help guide instructors and students. Block committees including all course coordinators, the program director and student representatives allow for continuous evaluation and improvement.

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


  • Physical therapy clinical skills are taught concurrently with EBP skills. Some specific research and evaluation skills are learned within the three Concepts in Evidence Based Practice courses (PTHER 572, 573, 574) but findings from the literature are also applied within the MSK, Cardiorespiratory, Neurological and Long Term Conditions courses.
  • Coursework from previous and current courses are integrated into cases nested within the courses for each block. Integrated learning for students requires coordination by instructors and many of the MScPT courses and classes involve a collaborative teaching effort. Students' feedback indicates that they truly appreciate this and that it indeed assists their learning through concept reinforcement.
  • The ultimate road test of learning (clinical placement) is integrated within the Blocks. The clinical component of the MScPT program ensures that each student will successfully complete a minimum of 31 weeks (~1100 hours) of clinical practice in formal, full-time placements. MScPT students achieve this in six separate placement settings. Thirty-one weeks is among the highest level for Canadian PT Schools. Clinical experience is also augmented in some of the elective courses including those offered in the Student Clinic and those offered within community programs. These electives allow exposure to more practice areas and to innovative community based programming which is not always available for students within formal placements.

Program Flow Chart

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

  • Use models (CORE & CDM) to guide learning/evaluation within and across Blocks
  • Integrate content threads across the program
  • 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

  • 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
  • ePortfolio
  • Clinical Learning Record and Learning Plans
  • Placement Projects
  • Professionalism in all encounters

Clinical Learning Record


These key principles are routinely discussed, reviewed and shared at all curriculum venues (committee meetings), Staff meetings and FRM innovative teaching sessions. Department faculty members not only participate in many teaching and learning professional development activities throughout the year, they also share experience with the other teachers in FRM and beyond. 

Key Education Principles

Vision of the MScPT Graduates

The University of Alberta's Physical Therapy program graduates reflective practitioners who are prepared to meet the challenges of client-centered, evidence-based practice. The graduates demonstrate knowledge, skills and professional attitudes that enable them to:
Integrate theory, research and clinical skills, and client values to identify, develop and implement management strategies that result in the best outcome for each client, family and/or client population.
Assume leadership roles and work collaboratively to achieve appropriate outcomes for a variety of clients in diverse, complex and changing health care environments.
Use appropriate learning skills in order to continually improve physical therapy service delivered to the public and to contribute to the research and clinical knowledge in physical therapy.

Objectives for the Graduates

Short Term: The immediate objective of the program is to provide students with physical therapy skills that meet the workplace demands of diverse and changing healthcare environments. In addition to clinical competencies, entry-level practitioners need effective strategies for autonomous practice, evidence informed decision making and outcome and program evaluation. They need graduate level research evaluation skills that they can apply to the client in day-to-day clinical practice.

Long Term: The longer term objective is to graduate entry-level physical therapists with life-long learning skills who will continually monitor and modify their practice to ensure efficacious, cost-effective physical therapy care to the people of Alberta, Canada and the global community. 

Some of the information above is shared, as appropriate, with applicants on the UofA Department website. Once applicants have been accepted into the program they have access to an eClass recording that provides an overview of the MScPT program. When students come to Corbett Hall for the first course, there are a series of orientation presentations that include the material above. This information is also included in the Student Manual which students can access throughout their program on the eClass MScPT Home Page.

Faculty members, instructors and teaching assistants have access to a recorded presentation providing a MScPT program overview. This information is also kept in the PT Administrative eClass site.

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.