Improving students' interpersonal skills through experiential small group learning

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Health professional students must be equipped with the skills necessary to interact with patients. Effective interpersonal skills are difficult to both learn and teach, requiring development, practise and evaluation in both educational and clinical settings. In professions such as physiotherapy, there have traditionally been two approaches to teaching these skills: clinical modelling, and stand-alone didactic teaching of the theory behind communication. These approaches provide limited opportunity for students to practise and receive feedback on their interpersonal and communication skills. This paper describes the implementation of an experiential small group learning approach in an undergraduate physiotherapy program and discusses outcomes and challenges from both student and staff perspectives. Implications for practice are that: experientially based small group learning with opportunities for practise, reflection, self-evaluation and feedback, can improve students’ interpersonal skills; consistent and scaffolded participation in experiential learning opportunities and assessment across the program is key to this approach; a small group experiential learning approach can contribute to increased student satisfaction with the support they receive; and interpersonal skills still remain a challenge for new graduates. Support and mentoring in this domain may enhance the transition to work.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-36
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Learning Design
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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