Learning to learn: how can we make learning inclusive?

Considering neurodiversity on placement, for both students and practice educators. CSP professional adviser Pip White tells us more...

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Learning is a continuous, lifelong journey. It goes beyond the time spent in a classroom or lecture theatre, as we continue to adapt and grow during our careers. We may help others to learn, or learn about learning, either in our professional roles or in a wider personal context of supporting friends and family and as part of our own lives and all the changes it will bring. But do we ever stop to really think about the factors that can impact on our learning? 

Now is as good a moment as any to stop and ask ourselves ‘what impacts on my learning?’ and ‘what can I do to help someone else get the best learning experience for them?’

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one right way of thinking and learning, and differences should not be viewed as deficits. Many factors can impact on your personal learning; no two people will be identical. Of note, an improved recognition of neurodiversity can lead to better awareness among employers of the needs of all their employees. It’s estimated that 15 per cent of the UK population are neurodivergent, meaning their brain functions and processes information in a different way to the majority of people. Neurodiversity encompasses descriptions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), dyslexia, dyscalculia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Neuro differences

To be inclusive as a profession, neurological differences must be accepted as a normal part of workplace culture including practice placements. Every neurodiverse person will have their own strengths and challenges. For example, sensory stimulation such as flickering lights, extraneous background noise or colourful environments might be OK for neurotypical people but can be extremely disruptive and distressing for neurodiverse people. Neurodiverse people may process cognitive demands in a different way and may manage factors such as a timekeeping, prolonged concentration and maintaining a schedule and routines differently to neurotypical people. 

Data indicates that six per cent of Health and Care Professionals Council registered physiotherapists report a disability. Remember not all disability is visible and reasonable adjustments required under the Equality Act don’t just apply to physical disability. Current data indicates that 14 per cent of first year physiotherapy students report a disability1 and within that figure over 55 per cent have additional learning needs and 17 per cent report a mental health condition. 


So what does this mean if you are a student or a practice educator?  From September most pre-registration learners will be using the Common Placement Assessment Form (CPAF). Within the learning agreement of CPAF there is an optional  section to identify any factors at all that may affect your learning on placement. If you are a student please do use CPAF, your university support structures and any available support in practice to help you to speak up to make it clear what you need to get the best experience from your placement. Your placement provider will then be aware and better able to work with you to ensure any reasonable adjustments that you need are put in place.

If you are a practice educator you too can use the CPAF to both support your learners by having the conversation and asking if they have written anything in this section. Find out how you can support them as an individual learner and  help them to understand you too so you both get the best from your learning partnership. Practice education is everyone’s responsibility but if you don’t currently support practice placements you can still identify factors that impact on learning to support your own development and that of those with whom you work.

Research and student lived experience tells us that some students experience unacceptable discrimination while on placement from both staff and patients. Let’s be clear from the outset – the CSP promotes anti-discriminatory practice and does not tolerate discrimination of any kind towards any individual. 

We need everyone – students, practice educators and all members – to challenge and report discriminatory behaviour in the workplace to management and (if applicable) your university tutor, where matters should be addressed in line with local policy and procedures. Those experiencing discrimination are encouraged to access available support networks including placement tutors; university pastoral support; NUS student officers; workplace support offered by your placement provider; student reps; CSP diversity networks; and family and friends.

We all need to understand what impacts our learning as by doing so we can get so much more out of any learning opportunity. 

1 Annual Quality Review – UK pre-registration physiotherapy education

CSP’s Professional Advice Team

The CSP’s Professional Advice Service gives advice and support to members on complex and specialist enquiries about physiotherapy practice, including professional practice issues, standards, values and behaviours, international working, service design and commissioning, and policy in practice. 

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