Pre-registration physiotherapy education in the COVID-19 era: a comparison of module results between students receiving traditional face-to-face or online-only education

T. Butcher*, A. Lewis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Purpose: Physiotherapy education is traditionally hands on and practical, reflecting professional needs. During the 2020-21 academic year the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many students not being able to access face-to-face teaching on campus due to shielding and international travel restrictions. Brunel University London (BUL) adapted to this by developing extensive online learning resources, and by providing students studying remotely with interactive online tutorials equivalent to those being received by their peers on campus. The aim of this project was to evaluate module assessment results for students who completed one full academic term online only compared to students who attended face-to-face teaching. The hypothesis was that there would be a significant difference in academic attainment according to exam results between students studying online vs face-to-face.

Methods: Data were collected from all years of study on the BSc and pre-registration MSc programmes at BUL following completion of one full term of teaching and the associated end of term module assessments. Modules which were taught and assessed included Anatomy, Rehabilitation, Pathophysiology, Musculoskeletal, Neurorehabilitation and Critical Care. All students received pre-recorded online lectures throughout the term. Module assessments were completed online for all students due to COVID-19 restrictions through video call vivas, online written exams and multiple-choice exams. Correlations between student demographics, programme, mode of study, and exam results were performed, using the strongest of these correlations in a univariate linear regression analysis via SPSS v26.

Results: A total of 730 module assessments were completed by the students at the end of the term one, comprising of 178 from online teaching and 552 from face-to-face teaching. Students who studied online achieved a grade 9.6% higher than those studying face to face (P: 0.045).

Conclusion(s): Understanding whether students are being disadvantaged or not when receiving online teaching compared to traditional face-to-face teaching is vitally important for maintaining academic and professional standards and ensuring equal opportunities for all students. The findings of this project suggest that no such disadvantage exists when looking at academic attainment through module assessment results. Further work is required however to investigate any potential long-term impact when students go out on clinical placement and also on overall degree attainment at course completion.

Impact: The ability to effectively deliver physiotherapy education online could have a wide-ranging impact. The immediate impact is that it offers increased flexibility and the ability to continue delivering physiotherapy degree courses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which is essential for ensuring a continued supply of newly qualified physiotherapists to meet health service demands. In the long term it may prove beneficial for allowing greater remote delivery of physiotherapy education which could improve national and global accessibility to Physiotherapy degree programmes.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere15
Number of pages1
Issue numberSupplement 1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes
EventVirtual Physiotherapy UK (VPUK) 2021 - Virtual, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Nov 20216 Nov 2021

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