Conceptual models in the transfer of learning
In order to attain clinical competence student physiotherapists apply knowledge from a range of cognitive domains in the assessment and treatment of patients with a variety of conditions. Current research indicates that the ability to transfer knowledge to a wide variety of conditions requires a cognitive structure in which concepts are embedded in a rich network of interconnections (Faletti, 1990, Spiro, 1987). A concept mapping technique was selected as means of eliciting a representation of the knowledge the student possessed and would access in order to underpin the assessment and treatment of a specific peripheral joint condition. Twenty second and third year physiotherapy students currently on clinical placement in an Out-Patient Department each produced a concept map prior to assessing the patient. A modification of the 'Student Teacher Dialogue' (Hammond et al, 1989) was the methodology selected for identification of the transfer of learning. Analysis of the transcription of this interaction provided evidence of the domain specific and procedural knowledge transferred to the patient assessment. Weak correlations were found to exist between the degree of complexity of the concept map the student produced and the amount and level of transfer achieved in the clinical setting. Also there was evidence to suggest that abstract subject areas, or those which involved practical or clinical applications, facilitated the development of more concentrated conceptual networks. However, contrary to expectation, third year students failed to produce higher quality maps than second year students, despite having greater academic and clinical experience.