Students' perception of a theory-practice gap in athletic training education

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Students' perception of a theory-practice gap in athletic training education

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Although highly researched in the fields of nursing and medicine, little research has been conducted on the presence of a theory-practice gap in athletic training education. Specifically, little is known about the students‘ perception of differences between what is taught in the classroom versus what is used during clinical placements. The presence of a theory-practice gap could be problematic, creating confusion, forcing students to adapt what they are learning in the classroom from faculty Athletic Trainers to what they are using with their practicing Athletic Trainers in the clinical setting and vice versa. The purpose of this study was to assess if there is a perceived difference between the skills that are taught in the classroom and the skills that are practiced in the clinical setting. In addition, this research aimed to understand what effect a theory-practice gap had on students and how students manage any differences they find. Lastly, this study aimed to understand whom students rely on for information, their classroom faculty or their preceptors. An online survey was sent to all 340 Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) undergraduate athletic training education programs in United States and was completed by 435 students in the clinical/professional phase of their program. Participants represented all ten National Athletic Trainers‘ Association Districts. Findings suggest that undergraduate athletic training students do perceive a difference between what they are taught in the classroom versus what they experience in the clinical setting. No significant difference was found based on student experience level in the program. Although some students described negative emotional responses to the differences between the classroom and clinical settings, overall, athletic training students felt that the theory-practice gap had a positive impact on their learning, especially with their learning-over-time. Management strategies, especially asking for help, were similar for most respondents in this study. Lastly, athletic training students were found to rely more heavily on the clinical setting information as well as using their preceptors as a source of knowledge over the classroom and program faculty. Unlike results from previous research on the theory-practice gap, most athletic training students in this study were able to see the connection between the classroom and the clinical setting. Still, 30% of the respondents felt the theory-practice gap had negative implications for their education. We as professional athletic trainers, both as faculty and preceptors need to do a better job explaining and helping our students understand the importance of seeing a variety of ways to practice athletic training. We need to help students see that both entities, content and experience, are vital to building a strong foundation as a practicing athletic trainer.


University of Minnesota Ed.D. dissertation. April 2013. Major: Teaching and Learning. Advisor: Dr. Susan Damme. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 92 pages, appendices A-D.

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Streveler, Megan Jane. (2013). Students' perception of a theory-practice gap in athletic training education. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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