Educational Framework

The MSc(PT) Program curriculum has been renewed using the concept of a spiral curriculum. A spiral curriculum occurs when there is an iterative revisiting of topics, subjects or themes across the program (Harden, 1999; Fraser et al, 2019). Within a spiral curriculum, the complexity of a topic or theme increases with each successsive introduction – so new learning is related to previous learning (Harden, 1999; Fraser et al, 2019).

The benefits of a spiral curriculum include: 

  • Integration of knowledge and skills over the course of the program (vertical integration) and between concurrent courses (horizontal integration)
  • Reinforcing and solidifying information each time a student revisits the subject area
  • Application of early knowledge to later course objectives

The MSc(PT) program’s mission, educational philosophy, values, student outcomes and program outcomes form the foundation for the physical therapy curriculum.  At the core of the curriculum design are patient/client centered care and the physiotherapist as an expert in function and functional capacity. This is based on the integration of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) ( within a clinical decision making framework and the Essential Competencies for Physiotherapists (

The curriculum emphasizes a self-directed, problem-based, evidence-based, and integrated approach.  The curriculum is supported by organizing elements – which provide the foundation on which all units of study are built. These elements are:

  • Holistic approach to physical function (MSK, CVR, Neuro, Integumentary, Multi-system)
  • Health environments (context of care, care continuums)
  • Physiotherapist roles
  • Communication and technology

Additionally, there are themes which can be identified throughout courses and the curriculum (known as trans-curricular themes), and that are used to assist in preparing students to function in an increasingly complex social and health care systems. These themes are:

  • Safety
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Collaboration and Teamwork
  • Professionalism and Professional Standards
  • Clinical skills competency
  • Clinical reasoning and decision-making
  • Leadership and Advocacy
  • Reflective practice
  • Client-centered care

With exposure to the SPIREL curriculum, its’ organizational elements and trans-curricular themes, graduates of the McMaster MSc(PT) Program will be competent to practice physiotherapy autonomously at an entry level, in Canada.

Click on each term from our SPIREL curriculum to learn more about how it relates to the Physiotherapy Program at McMaster:

  • SDL is a component of life-long learning, which is an expectation for all physiotherapists as practitioners within a regulated health profession
  • Provides students with essential skills such as…. that are needed to work within changing practice contexts
  • In the framework of the Physiotherapy Program at McMaster:
    • Students use SDL to determine their own learning goals and how to best achieve them (i.e. selecting appropriate learning resources, measuring own progress, setting timelines)
    • Faculty facilitate SDL by asking questions, stimulating critical thinking, challenging students’ points of view, providing feedback and evaluating student performance
  • A conceptual framework that contends that knowledge is best remembered in the context in which it is learned, and that acquisition and integration of new knowledge requires activation of prior knowledge
  • Requires the learner encounters a problem first as the initial stimulus for learning, which actively involves the learner in the learning process, allowing
    • The learner to shape learning to meet personal needs through independent study appropriate to individual learning styles
    • Integration of information from many sources, including student peers into a conceptual framework for use in dealing with future problems


  • Knowledge and clinical skills are introduced and revisited in multiple courses in one unit (i.e. term) – which is known as horizontal integration - as well as over the course of the Physiotherapy Program – which is known as vertical integration.  For example:
    • Students may discuss a clinical case in the problem based tutorial course, review relevant assessment and treatment techniques in the clinical laboratory course, and discuss underlying anatomical and pathophysiological changes anatomy and physiology sessions in one term
    • The same condition is then revisited but with more complexity (i.e. more secondary complications, workload demands) in a subsequent unit and students have the opportunity to apply what they already know and enhance this knowledge with new learning


  • An important component of the educational framework with rehabilitation and health sciences
  • Within the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster, the Program for Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research (PIPER) provides opportunities for students to develop interprofessional competencies such as collaboration, communication and conflict resolution.  To learn more about PIPER click here:
  • Students in the MSc(PT) Program are required to participate in a minimum number of interprofessional events prior to completing the MSc(PT) Program.
  • Many health care practitioners experience clinical scenarios that are complex, uncertain and unique. Reflective practice occurs when an individual uses reflection as a means of learning from experiences to not only advance one’s expertise, but also to navigate through complex problems that arise in professional practice (Schon 1987; Ziebart, 2019)
  • Reflective practice is linked to life long and experiential learning, which are essential to maintaining competency in professional practice
  • Examples of how reflective practice will be developed over the course of the MSc(PT) Program include:
    • Self-regulation activities – students set goals for their learning and attempt to monitor, regulate and control their motivation, cognition and behaviours,
    • Reflective writing assignments
    • Large and small group discussions within courses
  • An expected student outcome of the MSc(PT) Program is to develop graduates who are able to critically evaluate and effectively apply evidence as a basis for physiotherapy practice in order to determine the effectiveness of interventions and to contribute to a body of knowledge in physiotherapy. Thus, EBP is an important part of our educational framework
    • To achieve this outcome, students in the MSc(PT) Program learn how to:
      • Evaluate and use evidence to support their clinical decisions
      • Incorporate the needs and values of clients in clinical decision making
      • Develop effective clinical skills
  • In the second year, students will advance their EBP and research skills by working in groups on research projects and presenting the results of this work to peers, faculty and the clinical community
  • Relies on ongoing development of individual competencies in the course of the professional pathway 
  • It will involve social professional and technical changes 
  • Requires motivation and education and the competence to reflect on your learning and apply the learning to different situations 
  • Over the course of the MSc(PT) Program students will have the opportunity to develop the skills that will facilitate and promote life-long learning 

References (Educational Framework)

Fraser S, Wright, AD, van Donkelaar Pv, Smirl, JD. Cross-sectional comparison of spiral versus block integrated curriculums in preparing medical students to diagnose and manage concussions. BMC Medical Education. 2019; 19:17

Harden RM. What is a spiral curriculum. Medical Teacher. 1999;21(2): 141-143

National Physiotherapy Advisory Group (NPAG). NPAG Competency Profile for Physiotherapists in Canada (2017). Available from:

Schon DA. Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Toward a New Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 1987.

World Health Organization. International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). Available from:

Ziebart C, MacDermid JC. Reflective practice in physical therapy: a scoping review. Phys Ther. 2019;99:1056-1068.