Australian Journal of Adult Learning
Volume 60, Number 1, April 2020
Misconceptions in the knowledge of
vocational fitness students and graduates
Daniel J Jolley
Andrew P Lavender
South Metropolitan TAFE
Edith Cowan University
The use of non-academic sources of health information is popular
among both the public and exercise professionals. However, the
quality of this information varies and without the application of
critical thinking skills, may lead to misconceptions forming. This
research aimed to compare the knowledge, presence of misconceptions,
and critical thinking ability of vocational education and training
(VET) tness students at the beginning and end of their training,
and qualied personal trainers (PTs). It also examines dierences
in the sources of information used by students and professionals. An
Exercise Science Knowledge Survey was developed to assess knowledge
and misconceptions about ten areas of exercise and nutrition. VET
students were assessed at the beginning and end of a personal training
qualication and PTs were surveyed once. Though VET students’
knowledge improved and misconceptions decreased from pre- to post
training, PTs did not dier from post-VET students in knowledge,
Misconceptions in the knowledge of vocational ﬁtness students and graduates 67
misconceptions, or critical thinking ability. PTs reported using more
varied sources of information and were more likely to trust reliable
sources. Critical thinking ability correlated with higher knowledge
scores and lower misconception scores. Instruction in critical thinking
should be embedded at lower levels of VET, and exercise professionals
should be encouraged to undertake higher levels of study.
Keywords: critical thinking, personal trainers, sources, professional
The benets of physical activity and healthy eating are well established and
widely promoted to the public. However, patterns of eating and exercise
can vary greatly, so it is not unusual for the public to search for information
to inform their decisions. While searching for health information online is
popular among the public, (Fox & Duggan, 2013; Hall, Bernhardt, Dodd &
Vollrath, 2015), and those accessing websites for health information have
a sense of competence and control in making health decisions (Lemire,
Sicotte & Paré, 2008), there is a risk of receiving poor quality information.
A range of informal sources such as forums and social media may be used
(Lederman, Fan, Smith & Chang, 2014), and readers may not investigate the
quality of the information presented in detail, instead relying on heuristics
to judge the information (Metzger, Flanagin & Medders, 2010). A heuristic
approach is a cognitive shortcut, used to reduce complex mental tasks into
simple judgements, and speed up processing (Stanovich, Toplak & West,
2008). While often helpful, heuristics can negatively impact learning, as
they may affect how new information is interpreted. This information
may be judged based on its agreement with existing opinions (Koriat,
Lichtenstein & Fischhoff, 1980), known as conrmation bias (Nickerson,
1998). Later evidence inconsistent with this opinion is diminished in
importance (Sherman, Zehner, Johnson & Hirt, 1983), and over time
the existing opinion can become stronger. If this opinion is incorrect, a
misconception can form. This is a persistent belief contradicting current
scientic opinion (Badenhorst, Mamede, Hartman & Schmidt, 2015).
Correcting a misconception requires the learner to undergo a process
of conceptual change (Posner, Strike, Hewson & Gertzog, 1982). But
68 Daniel J Jolley, Melissa Davis, Andrew P Lavender
this process is more difcult, and the misconception more resistant
to change, if the misconception is fundamentally different from the
correct understanding. Chi (2005) used two physiological processes to
illustrate this point. While circulation is a direct process, with clearly
identiable actions and effects, the process of diffusion is emergent, with
a number of actions occurring concurrently, and independently of each
other, and as a result, is harder to understand. Chi (2005) proposed that
misconceptions can be durable if concepts are interpreted in a different
ontological category, such as emergent process misunderstood as a
Misconceptions related to exercise and nutrition topics may originate
from exposure to incorrect information and be strengthened over time
as conrmation bias inuences the perception of new information.
Popular misconceptions in exercise and nutrition include concepts
around obesity (Casazza, et al., 2013), protein supplements (Duellman,
Lukaszuk, Prawitz & Brandenburg, 2008), vitamins (O’Dea, 2003) and
resistance training (Manini, Druger & Ploutz-Snyder, 2005). To correct
these misconceptions, Posner et al. (1982) proposed that the learner
must become dissatised with their current knowledge (otherwise new
information is rejected), and a new, convincing, intelligible conception
must be available.
Misconceptions in personal trainers
There are over 27 000 exercise professionals registered with the peak
body (Fitness Australia, 2016), the majority qualied as personal
trainers. While Barnes, Desbrow, and Ball (2016) identied that PTs
in Australia report high levels of condence in their knowledge, they
did not assess the actual knowledge of participants. Given that other
research has identied signicant errors in the knowledge of PTs
(Kruseman, Miserez & Kayser, 2008; Malek, Nalbone, Berger & Coburn,
2002; Zenko & Ekkekakis, 2015), that condence may be misplaced.
PTs have also been found to place importance on experience and on-
the-job training, over formal qualications (De Lyon & Cushion, 2013),
but research has found that the quality of sources of information PTs
use to inform their practice are unrelated to their experience, or level of
qualications (Bennie, Wiesner, van Uffelen, Harvey & Biddle, 2017).
A more experienced PT is not necessarily making better choices about
sources of information.
Misconceptions in the knowledge of vocational ﬁtness students and graduates 69
Misconceptions have more potential to survive in the face of less reliable
information. A meta-analysis by Stacey, Hopkins, Adamo, Shorr, and
Prud’homme (2010) examined the sources of information used by PTs,
and the barriers to using evidence-based information. Although only two
studies met the criteria for inclusion in the meta-analysis, results showed
that PTs reported difculty assessing the quality of information they were
presented with. Subsequent research is consistent with this, identifying a
large proportion of Australian PTs rely on unreliable sources of information
(Bennie et al., 2017; McKean et al., 2015). McKean et al. (2015) identied
that the majority of trainers used online sources and magazines as sources
of information, in addition to more reliable sources. Systematic reviews
have consistently identied that online sources are mixed in quality
(Eysenbach, Powell, Kuss & Sa, 2002; Zhang, Sun & Xie, 2015), with
many not disclosing information like author details, sponsorships, or
source material. Therefore, misconceptions could avoid correction, and
even be reinforced. Bennie et al. (2017) attempted to identify factors that
predicted the regular use of high-quality information in PTs, assessing age,
time as an industry professional, employment status, qualication, the
timeframe and mode of learning of their qualication, and industry setting.
Of these factors, only age (those over 40 years old) and industry setting
(outdoor personal trainers, and those in medium-sized facilities) predicted
participants’ use of high-quality sources of information.
While PTs in Australia are required to undertake professional
development to maintain registration with the peak body, this
registration is voluntary, and PTs have a broad scope to select the
professional development they participate in. Given the sources of
information identied above and the difculties reported by trainers
in identifying the quality of information, PTs could be exposed to very
little evidence-based information. Errors in knowledge could, therefore,
persist to become enduring misconceptions that are not corrected.
Misconceptions in students
Alternative concepts leading to exercise and nutrition misconceptions can
arise, not only from misinterpreting information in instructional contexts
(Morton, Doran & MacLaren, 2008) but also due to personal experience.
Those without relevant expertise may arrive at a fast, intuitive explanation
(Baylor, 2001), leading to a naïve concept that may interfere with further
learning. University students have demonstrated misconceptions in
70 Daniel J Jolley, Melissa Davis, Andrew P Lavender
cardiac (Ahopelto, Mikkilä-Erdmann, Olkinuora, & Kääpä, 2011), exercise
(Morton, Doran & Maclaren, 2008), and respiratory (Michael et al., 1999)
physiology, however, the presence of physiological misconceptions have
not been assessed in VET tness students.
It has been proposed that an appreciation of the level of complexity of
physiological systems, and the interaction between these systems, will
reduce the presence of misconceptions (Badenhorst, Mamede, Hartman
& Schmidt, 2015; Michael, 2007). However, this depth of knowledge is
not typically a feature of VET, which assesses students’ competence in
completing job tasks, rather than the knowledge underpinning these tasks
(Gonczi & Hager, 2010). Although it is a requirement of VET to prepare
students for higher levels of study, research has shown that students
transitioning to university struggle with understanding complex theoretical
concepts, academic literacy, and the more independent, less scaffolded
learning (Ambrose, Bonne, Chanock, Cunnington, Jardine & Muller, 2013).
Posner et al. (1982) recommended that for a conceptual change to be
rational, instructors should develop in students an awareness of their
assumptions, the assumptions implicit in scientic theory, and of the
epistemological foundations of modern science. A key component of
this type of thought is critical thinking ability (CTA), which is dened
as reasoned, reective thinking (Pithers & Soden, 2000). This also
encompasses an awareness of the limitations of one’s knowledge, and
the skills to nd, and assess the quality of, new information. Therefore,
CTA may be a factor not only in the presence of misconceptions but also
the sources of information chosen by students and PTs.
Critical thinking skills have been repeatedly identied as highly
desirable by employers (Jackson & Chapman, 2012; Sheldon &
Thornthwaite, 2005) but are not a major component of VET. CTA has,
however, been found to be strongly associated with student success
in United States community colleges (Fong, Kim, Davis, Hoang &
Kim, 2017), suggesting it may also play a role in VET. The CTA of VET
students before commencing a course, or the change in CTA during a
course, has not yet been empirically investigated. There is also no known
research on the CTA of PTs.
So, while it is known that the knowledge of PTs is often formed from
poor quality sources (Bennie et al., 2017), misconceptions in the
understanding of fundamental exercise and nutrition topics (that could
Misconceptions in the knowledge of vocational ﬁtness students and graduates 71
be passed on to their clients) have not been assessed, either in PT or
VET students. Whether the CTA of PT and VET students is related
to these misconceptions is also unknown. While recent research has
examined the sources of knowledge of PTs (Bennie et al., 2017), it is
not known if the use of more reliable sources, or trust in these sources,
is related to better knowledge, or fewer misconceptions. The aims
of this study therefore were, i) to assess the change in knowledge,
misconceptions, and CTA during a VET tness course, and compare
these ndings in students with VET qualied PTs; ii) to determine
whether the presence of misconceptions was related to lower CTA,
knowledge, or level of education; and iii) to identify the sources of
information used by VET students and PTs, the amount of trust placed
in these sources, and whether the use or trust of particular sources was
associated with knowledge, CTA, or the presence of misconceptions.
This was a prospective cohort study of students undertaking a vocational
tness course. Students were surveyed in the rst weeks of their course,
then again in the nal week, during February and December 2017. This
allowed the change in students during the course to be examined and
is in contrast to previous research into the knowledge of students and
professionals, which is largely cross-sectional. Practising PTs were also
surveyed once within the same period.
Students completing the vocational qualications Certicate III in
Fitness (SIS30315) and Certicate IV in Fitness (SIS40215) were
recruited from three Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) in Perth,
Western Australia. SIS30315 contains prerequisite units for SIS40215,
so these qualications are often completed back-to-back to qualify as a
PT. One hundred and eleven students enrolled full-time in on-campus
(not online) courses were recruited. Sixty-six complete sets of pre- and
post-course responses were obtained.
The PT group consisted of 70 Certicate IV qualied personal trainers,
currently working in the delivery of exercise programs to adults and
registered with Fitness Australia. The demographic characteristics of
each group are shown in Table 1.
72 Daniel J Jolley, Melissa Davis, Andrew P Lavender
A power analysis determined that a total sample size of 34 was required
to yield an actual power of 0.8 for a paired samples t-test to assess
differences in the student group pre and post course completion.
One hundred and twenty-eight participants were required to yield
an actual power of 0.8 for an independent samples t-test to assess
differences between the student group and personal trainers. Eighty-
nine participants were required for a multiple linear regression yielding
a power of 0.8, based on six predictors of misconceptions (group, CTA,
Australian Qualications Framework [AQF] level, and trust ratings for
three categories of sources of information).
The Exercise Science Knowledge Survey (ESKS) (Jolley 2019),
which consists of a series of 10 misconceptions and 10 knowledge
statements, was used to assess participants’ endorsement of common
misconceptions related to exercise and nutrition. The ESKS was
designed following a series of interviews with experienced lecturers
from university exercise science departments and vocational tness
courses. Lecturers were asked for their opinions regarding a range of
misconceptions based on previous research (Ebben & Jensen, 1998;
Kieffer, 2008; Morton, Doran & MacLaren, 2008), and their own
professional experiences. Lecturers were also asked to identify how each
misconception should be corrected, to inform the knowledge statements
in the ESKS which assess the correct understanding of the topic. The
items included in the ESKS are shown in Table 2.
Misconceptions in the knowledge of vocational ﬁtness students and graduates 73
Participants rate whether they agree with each statement (“yes”, “no”,
or “not sure”), and are instructed not to guess. For each item rated
“yes” or “no”, participants also rate their condence in their answer on
a three-point scale (1=slightly condent to 3=very condent). A “don’t
74 Daniel J Jolley, Melissa Davis, Andrew P Lavender
know” answer to a statement resulted in a condence score of zero for
that item. The ESKS produces a Knowledge score and a Misconceptions
score. Knowledge (KNOW) is computed from the number of knowledge
statements rated as “yes” (maximum value 10). The Misconceptions
(MISC) score is the number of misconception statements agreed
with (maximum value 10). Cronbach’s alpha for the Knowledge and
Misconception scores were 0.64 and 0.77, respectively. Internal
consistency coefcients of this magnitude have been considered adequate
reliability for cognition and numeracy measures (Liberali, Reyna, Furlan,
Stein & Pardo, 2012).
Critical thinking ability (CTA) was assessed using Frederick’s (2005)
three-item Cognitive Reection Test (CRT), which requires participants
to derive answers to mental arithmetic questions that have deliberative,
accurate answers that are usually obtained after considering an
incorrect, intuitive answer. The Cronbach’s alpha coefcient in the
present sample (a = 0.59) was below commonly accepted levels of
internal consistency. However, given the CRT only contains three
items, and has been shown to predict performance in tests of bias
and heuristics (Toplak, West & Stanovich, 2011), and a range of other
cognitive skills (Oechssler, Roider & Schmitz, 2009; Pennycook,
Cheyne, Seli, Koehler & Fugelsang, 2012), which make up CTA, this was
Demographic information and highest prior educational attainment
(AQF level) were collected, as well as the length of time PTs had worked
in the tness industry, and their highest exercise qualication (Exercise
Participants also identied what sources of exercise or nutrition
information they had accessed in the previous 12 months from a list of
21 options of varying quality, including professionals, online sources,
academic sources, and informal sources (such as friends). Participants
also rated the trustworthiness of each source (regardless of whether or
not they accessed this source) on a ve-point Likert-type scale (1=not at
all trustworthy, 5=very trustworthy).
Ethics approval was granted by the Curtin University Human Research
Ethics Committee (HRE2016-0292). All participants were volunteers,
Misconceptions in the knowledge of vocational ﬁtness students and graduates 75
and informed consent was gained prior to completing the survey. All
responses were anonymous, with each participant generating a unique
code that allowed matching of pre- and post-course survey data. The
pre-course survey (pre-VET) was completed in the rst week of the
Certicate III, and the post-course survey (post-VET) was completed in
the nal week of the Certicate IV course. Students were recruited via
the RTO delivering their course and surveyed during class time.
Personal trainers (PT) were recruited via convenience snowball
sampling using the rst author’s tness industry contacts, emails to
Australian gyms, and postings on relevant private social media groups.
The survey was completed in person on a provided tablet device, without
using reference material, and took approximately 15 minutes.
Data were analysed using SPSS Version 25 (IBM Corporation).
Differences between pre-VET and post-VET were assessed using paired
samples t-tests. Differences between pre-VET and PT, and post-VET and
PT groups in Knowledge, Misconceptions, and Critical thinking ability
were examined using independent samples t-tests. Cohen’s d effect sizes
were calculated to assess the practical signicance of the differences
Pearson’s bivariate correlations were used to examine the association
between trust scores and Knowledge, Misconceptions, Critical thinking
ability, age, and AQF level.
A hierarchical multiple linear regression analysis was used to examine
the relationship between prior education, critical thinking ability,
knowledge, and sources, and the presence of misconceptions.
Sources of information were combined into broad categories for analysis.
Reliable sources (e.g., textbooks, public health promotion campaigns),
and sources of mixed or unknown reliability (e.g. friends, social media,
alternative health practitioners), were classied according to the categories
identied by Bennie et al. (2017). Additional categories for exercise and
nutrition professionals (degree qualied professionals, personal trainers,
and physiotherapists), and other health professionals (general practitioners
and pharmacists) were also established. The trust score for each category
was the mean score for items in the category. Use of each source was coded
76 Daniel J Jolley, Melissa Davis, Andrew P Lavender
as either zero (did not access this source in the previous 12 months) or one
(did access this source). The mode of each category was used to identify
whether a participant was a user of these sources.
A chi-square test for independence was used to examine differences
between PT, and VET groups in the sources of information used.
Cramér’s V was used to measure the strength of the association between
participants’ group, and the use of sources. McNemar’s test was used to
assess changes in the use of sources within the VET group. Differences
between those using/not using sources were examined using an
independent samples t-test. Differences between groups in trust ratings
were examined using paired samples t-test (pre-VET & post-VET), and
independent samples t-test (PT and both VET groups).
Signicance for all tests was accepted at p < 0.05.
Forty-ve participants surveyed in the pre-VET group did not complete
the post-VET survey. Pre-VET results were examined to explore
differences between those who repeated the study, and those who did
not. Dropouts scored higher in Misconceptions (4.96 ± 1.79 compared
to 4.08 ± 1.65) than those who repeated the survey (t(110) = -2.69, p =
0.01), but there were no signicant differences in Knowledge. Dropouts
also scored lower in critical thinking ability (0.13 ± 0.40, compared to
0.38 ± 0.74; t(110) = 2.07, p = 0.04), had achieved a lower AQF level
(2.36 ± 1.84, compared to 3.42 ± 1.76; t(109) = 3.06, p = 0.003) prior
to beginning their course, and reported using fewer sources (4.20 ±
3.35, compared to 6.06 ± 4.20; t(110) = 2.84, p = 0.01), than those who
completed the repeated the survey.
Knowledge and Misconceptions
ESKS and critical thinking ability results for the student group are
shown in Table 3. Knowledge increased signicantly from pre-VET to
post-VET, while Misconceptions decreased signicantly. Moderate effect
sizes were observed in both Knowledge and Misconceptions. Critical
thinking ability did not change.
Misconceptions in the knowledge of vocational ﬁtness students and graduates 77
Results for the PT group compared to the student group are shown
in Table 4. Independent samples t-tests showed that PT differed to
pre-VET in all measures, with effect sizes being large for Knowledge,
moderate for Misconceptions, and small for critical thinking ability. No
statistically signicant differences were seen between PT and post-VET
on any measure.
In the PT group, the exercise AQF of personal trainers did not correlate
with Knowledge (r = 0.10 p = 0.42), or Misconceptions (r = -0.17, p
= 0.17). Years of industry experience also showed no association with
Knowledge (r = -0.10, p = 0.40), or Misconceptions (r = -0.02, p =
Correlations between ESKS scores, critical thinking ability, AQF level,
and age for the combined pre-VET and PT are shown in Table 5. Post-
VET responses were excluded from this analysis, as these are repeated
measures. Age, AQF level, and Critical thinking ability each correlated
with Knowledge, and Misconceptions.
78 Daniel J Jolley, Melissa Davis, Andrew P Lavender
A hierarchical multiple regression was conducted to predict
Misconceptions scores based on participants’ group (pre-VET or
PT), AQF level, critical thinking ability, and trust in three of the four
categories of sources of information (DQP, REL, and MIX) (see Table
6). Together the set of variables accounted for 20% of total variance in
Misconceptions scores (F(6, 135) = 5.25, p = 0.00), with an R2 of .20.
Signicant independent predictors were participants’ group (p = 0.00),
trust in reliable sources (p = 0.01), and trust in sources of mixed or
unknown reliability (p = .04). AQF level and critical thinking ability did
not signicantly predict Misconceptions.
Misconceptions in the knowledge of vocational ﬁtness students and graduates 79
Sources of Information
Almost all participants reported having searched for exercise or
nutrition information in the last 12 months (pre-VET 95%, post-VET,
97%, PT 96%). However, independent samples t-tests determined that
the number of sources (pre-VET 6.06 ± 3.35 sources, post-VET 6.32 ±
3.54, PT 8.69 ± 3.98) used by PTs differed signicantly to both
pre-VET (t(134) = 4.156, p = 0.00) and post-VET (t(134) = 3.662,
p = 0.00) groups, with moderate effect sizes for both (d = 0.71, and
d = 0.63, respectively). A paired samples t-test showed no signicant
differences between pre- and post-VET groups (t(65) = 0.66, p = 0.51,
d = 0.08). The total number of sources used did not correlate with any
The use, and trust, of sources in each group, are described in Table 7.
McNemar’s test revealed no signicant differences from expected values
in the use of any source from pre-VET and post-VET. Trust in other
health professionals increased from pre-VET to post-VET (t(65) = -2.45,
p = .02, d = 0.32), and trust in sources of mixed and unknown reliability
decreased (t(65) = 3.37, p = .001, d = 0.44).
Comparison of PTs to pre-VET students showed observed counts
signicantly higher than expected for the use of exercise and nutrition
professionals (𝜒2 (1) = 10.55, p = .001, V = 0.28), and reliable sources (𝜒2
(1) = 30.49, p = .00, V = 0.47). Personal trainers also had signicantly
more trust in reliable sources (t(134) = -2.23, p = .03, d = 0.38), and less
trust in all other sources (PRO: t(134) = 5.80, p = .00, d = 1.00, OTH:
t(134) = 4.01, p = .00, d = 0.69, MIX: t(134) = 5.56, p = .00, d = 0.95),
with moderate or large effect sizes. Comparison to post-VET students
similarly showed personal trainers had higher than expected counts for
the use of exercise and nutrition professionals (𝜒2 (1) = 10.55, p = .001, V
= 0.28), and reliable sources (𝜒2 (1) = 21.14, p = .00, V = 0.39). Trust was
in reliable sources was not signicantly different (t(134) = -1.55, p = .12),
and less in all other sources (PRO: t(134) = 5.24, p = .00, d = 0.90, OTH:
t(134) = 5.54, p = .00, d = 0.95, MIX: t(134) = 3.59, p = .00, d = 0.61),
again with moderate or large effect sizes.
80 Daniel J Jolley, Melissa Davis, Andrew P Lavender
This study examined the knowledge, misconceptions and CTA in VET
students and PTs, whether misconceptions were associated with critical
thinking ability, education or knowledge, and identied predictors of
misconceptions. It also investigated the sources of information used
by students and personal trainers, the trust placed in these sources,
and whether they were associated with knowledge or the presence of
misconceptions. Students were demonstrated to possess misconceptions
before entering a VET tness course. These were partially corrected
during the course, as Knowledge improved, and Misconceptions declined.
However, there was no difference observed between PTs and students
who completed the course, regardless of the experience of the trainer.
The increase in Knowledge during the course was expected. While
previous research has identied that PTs performed poorly in
assessments of required knowledge (Malek et al., 2002; Zenko &
Ekkekakis, 2015), more difcult survey questions could account for this.
The statements in the ESKS were largely simple enough for the public
to answer correctly, and some misconception statements contained
obvious aws in reasoning. However, the lack of differences in between
post-VET and PT groups provides some support for the ndings of
previous research (e.g., De Lyon & Cushion, 2013; Kruseman et al.,
2008), suggesting that the professional development of personal
trainers was largely informal and insufcient.
Misconceptions in the knowledge of vocational ﬁtness students and graduates 81
No relationship between Knowledge and Misconceptions was identied
in the present study. Further, overall AQF level was associated with
fewer misconceptions, while exercise AQF level was not. These ndings
suggest that misconceptions are not just the absence of knowledge
and can co-exist with correct knowledge within the same domain.
Furthermore, it appears that generic education and critical thinking
ability are important factors in inuencing misconceptions. This is
consistent with Hughes et al.’s (2015) nding that misconceptions in
psychology students were not related to the number of psychology units
completed but did relate to time at university. Instruction in critical
thinking skills may lead to greater success correcting exercise and
nutrition misconceptions than merely providing specic information.
There was no signicant change in CTA observed in VET students,
although the previous education level of participants was correlated
with CTA, also consistent with the ndings of Hughes, et al. (2015).
Additionally, the CRT scores observed were notably lower than
previous research. The mean for PTs (the best performing group) in
the present study was 0.69 ± 0.92, whereas other research using the
CRT demonstrates a range of scores from 0.7 ± 0.93 (Toplak, West,
& Stanovich, 2011) to 2.45 ± 0.64 (Alter, Oppenheimer, Epley & Eyre,
2007). These ndings suggest that critical thinking skills are not well
developed during a VET tness course. There are some units in the
Certicate IV training package (SIS40215) that require students to
analyse health information, demonstrate evaluation skills, and maintain
knowledge through independent study. But it has been proposed that
teaching critical thinking is a complex, specialised skill, as it requires
knowledge of not only critical thinking, but how to contextualise
this within the course content, and the pedagogical skills to teach
it effectively (Ab Kadir, 2017). Given the limitations of the teaching
qualications of VET lecturers (Guthrie & Jones, 2017), it is not clear
they possess the skills to effectively deliver critical thinking instruction.
While students are assessed as competent for these skills, the quality of
the instruction, and assessment, of these skills is unknown.
From pre-VET to post-VET to PT an increase in the number of sources
of information used was observed, with increased use of reliable sources,
and exercise and nutrition professionals. Further, trust in all sources,
except reliable sources, decreased. Fewer than half of PTs used reliable
sources of information, consistent with Bennie et al. (2017), though
82 Daniel J Jolley, Melissa Davis, Andrew P Lavender
those that did scored higher in Knowledge. Since Stacey et al. (2010)
highlighted the lack of research on the sources of information of PTs,
this has been a growing area of interest. The variety of sources identied
here supports earlier qualitative ndings (De Lyon & Cushion, 2013)
that informal and self-directed learning was an important source of
knowledge for PTs. But while Stacey et al. (2010) identied that personal
trainers were not condent in assessing the quality of information, those
interviewed by De Lyon and Cushion (2013) did not express the same
reservations. The differences in trust between VET students and PTs in
the present study suggest that PTs can differentiate between reliable and
unreliable sources, though the high number of different sources used
by personal trainers suggests that this may not inform decisions about
which sources to access.
The use of online sources has been a theme in recent research (Bennie
et al., 2017, De Lyon and Cushion, 2013), and was a consistently popular
source of information in the mixed and unknown reliability category
of the present study. But the quality of health information from online
sources is highly variable (Eysenbach et al., 2002; Miles, Petrie & Steel,
2000; Zhang, Sun & Xie, 2015), and users have been shown to rely on
heuristics to assess the quality of the information they are presented
with, using strategies such as endorsements from others, and the extent
a site conforms to expectations, to make decisions about trustworthiness
(Metzger et al., 2010). It is highly likely PTs will rely on similar
strategies to inform their decisions, so it is plausible that misconceptions
are reinforced by poor choices of online content.
Given the likely use of these heuristics, and given that Misconception
scores did not relate to the exercise qualication achieved by the PT group,
it is likely that generic critical thinking skills, such as research skills, the
ability to interpret and evaluate claims, and introspection, are required to
correct misconceptions. Furthermore, these skills have been repeatedly
recognised as being highly desired by employers (Jackson & Chapman,
2012). Improving the depth of knowledge has also been identied as a way
to prevent misconceptions (Badenhorst et al., 2015; Michael, 2007), but
neither of these approaches to correcting misconceptions is characteristic
of VET, which is largely competency-based.
Therefore, improved CTA may allow vocationally qualied PTs to
improve their knowledge beyond what is developed during their VET
Misconceptions in the knowledge of vocational ﬁtness students and graduates 83
courses. Given the limitations of VET identied above, the lack of
signicant differences between post-VET and PT groups, and the lack of
an effect from years of experience, it appears that there might be a need
for explicit instruction in critical thinking, using domain specic content
(Tiruneh, Veburgh & Elen, 2014), to allow PTs to choose appropriate
sources of information. As the SIS40215 training package has simple
critical thinking skills embedded in it already, attention should be paid
to the pedagogical skills of VET lecturers to teach and assess these
critical thinking skills. This could be achieved through modication of
the Certicate IV in Workplace Training and Assessment or encouraging
further study in education in VET lecturers. Further exposure to
these skills for personal trainers should be obtained through specially
designed professional development resources.
There are some limitations to the present study which need to be
considered when interpreting these results, and for informing future
research. Assessing the impact of a vocational tness course on
professional practice is challenging due to frequent changes to the
training package (major updates having occurred in 2000, 2004,
2011, and 2015). This means any sample of PTs is likely to include a
variety of training packages, as well as different modes of delivery of
training. Additionally, rapidly changing trends in tness lead to popular
misconceptions changing over time, so the misconceptions examined
need to be regularly updated. This will make comparing research
ndings difcult, even when the same survey tool is used.
Although participants were instructed not to guess while completing
the ESKS, Knowledge scores may over-estimate the knowledge of those
surveyed, as participants may have decided to agree with statements that
seemed plausible. For a more detailed assessment of knowledge, multiple
choice or short answer questions may be required. Additionally, the
reliability of the Knowledge subscale of the ESKS was not sufcient in the
present sample. The Spearman-Brown formula indicated that expanding
the Knowledge subscale to 15 items would result in a Cronbach’s alpha of
0.72. This should be addressed for future use of this survey.
84 Daniel J Jolley, Melissa Davis, Andrew P Lavender
This study has shown that generic critical thinking skills are more important
than industry experience or exercise qualications as predictors of knowledge
and misconceptions in practising trainers. PTs should be encouraged to pursue
high level (diploma or degree) qualications where possible to increase their
exposure to these skills. There is also a need to further embed these skills into
the current Certicate IV in Fitness course, as it appears that these skills are
not being developed to a level that allows PTs to manage their professional
development, or to accurately assess information on their own. But as VET
trainers may lack the skills to teach these skills adequately, critical thinking and
relevant pedagogical skills should also be developed further in VET trainers.
Ab Kadir, M.A. (2017). What teacher knowledge matters in effectively
developing critical thinkers in the 21st century curriculum? Thinking Skills
and Creativity, 23, 79–90. DOI: 10.1016/j.tsc.2016.10.011
Ahopelto, I., Mikkilä-Erdmann, M., Olkinuora, E., & Kääpä, P. (2011). A follow
up of medical students’ biomedical understanding and clinical reasoning
concerning the cardiovascular system. Advances in Health Sciences
Education: Theory & Practice, 16, 655–668. DOI: 10.1007/s10459-011-9286-3
Alter, A.L., Oppenheimer, D.M., Epley, N., & Eyre, R.N. (2007). Overcoming
intuition: metacognitive difculty activates analytic reasoning. Journal of
Experimental Psychology, 136, 569–576. DOI: 10.1037/0096-3422.214.171.1249
Ambrose, I., Bonne, M., Chanock, K., Cunnington, C., Jardine, S., & Muller, J.
(2013). “Like catching smoke”: easing the transition from TAFE to university.
Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 7, A120–131. Retrieved from
Badenhorst, E., Mamede, S., Hartman, N., & Schmidt, H.G. (2015). Exploring
lecturers’ views of rst-year health science students’ misconceptions in
biomedical domains. Advances in Health Science Education, 20, 403–420.
Barnes, K., Desbrow, B., & Ball, L. (2016). Personal trainers are condent in
their ability to provide nutrition care: a cross-sectional investigation. Public
Health, 140, 39–44. DOI: 10.1016/j.puhe.2016.08.020
Baylor, A.L. (2001). A U-shaped model for the development of intuition by level
of expertise. New Ideas in Psychology, 19, 237–244. DOI: 10.1016/S0732-
Bennie, J.A., Wiesner, G.H., van Uffelen, J.G.Z., Harvey, J.T., & Biddle, S.J.H. (2017).
Sources of practice knowledge among Australian tness trainers. Translational
Behavioral Medicine, 7, 741–50. DOI: 10.1007/s13142-017-0482-4
Misconceptions in the knowledge of vocational ﬁtness students and graduates 85
Casazza, K., Fontaine, K.R., Astrup, A., Birch, L.L., Brown, A.W., Bohan Brown,
M.M., … & Allison, D.B. (2013). Myths, presumptions, and facts about
obesity. New England Journal of Medicine, 368, 446–454. DOI: 10.1056/
Chi, M.T.H. (2005). Commonsense conceptions of emergent processes: why
some misconceptions are robust. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 14,
161–199. DOI: 10.1207/s15327809jls1402_1
De Lyon, A.T.C., & Cushion, C.J. (2013). The acquisition and development
of tness trainers’ professional knowledge. Journal of Strength and
Conditioning Research, 27, 1407–1422. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182653cc1
Duellman, M.C., Lukaszuk, J.M., Prawitz, A.D., & Brandenburg, J.P. (2008).
Protein supplement users among high school athletes have misconceptions
about effectiveness. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22,
1124–1129. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31817394b9
Ebben, W.P., & Jensen, R.L. (1998). Strength training for women. The Physician
and Sportsmedicine, 26, 86–97. DOI: 10.3810/psm.1998.05.1020
Eysenbach, G., Powell, J., Kuss, O. & Sa, E. (2002). Empirical studies assessing
the quality of health information for consumers on the World Wide Web.
Journal of the American Medical Association, 287, 2691–2700. DOI:
Fitness Australia (2016). Prole of the Fitness Industry in Australia: Fitness
Industry Workforce 2016. Retrieved from https://tness.org.au/articles/
Fong, C.J., Kim, Y., Davis, C.W., Hoang, T., & Kim, Y.W. (2017). A meta-analysis
on critical thinking and community college student achievement. Thinking
Skills and Creativity, 26, 71–832. DOI: 10.1016/j.tsc.2017.06.002
Fox, S., & Duggan, M. (2013). Health online 2013. Pew Research Centre.
Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/01/15/health-
Frederick, S. (2005). Cognitive reection and decision making. Journal of
Economic Perspectives, 19, 25–42. DOI: 10.1257/089533005775196732
Gonczi, A., & Hager, P. (2010). The competency model. International
Encyclopedia of Education, 8, 403–410. DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-08-044894-
Guthrie, H., & Jones, A. (2017). How can VET teacher education and
development be improved? LH Martin Institute. Retrieved from https://
Hall, A.K., Bernhardt, J.M., Dodd, V., & Vollrath, M.W. (2015). The digital health
divide: evaluating online health information access and use among older adults.
Health Education and Behavior, 42, 202–209. DOI: 10.1177/1090198114547815
86 Daniel J Jolley, Melissa Davis, Andrew P Lavender
Hughes, S., Lyddy, F., Kaplan, R., Nichols, A.L., Miller, H., Saad, C.G., … &
Lynch, A. (2015). Highly prevalent but not always persistent: undergraduate
and graduate student’s misconceptions about psychology. Teaching of
Psychology, 42, 34–42. DOI: 10.1177/0098628314562677
Jackson, D., & Chapman, E. (2012). Non-technical competencies in undergraduate
business degree programs: Australian and UK perspectives. Studies in Higher
Education, 37, 541–567. DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2010.527935
Jolley (2019). Misconceptions and Critical Thinking Ability in Undergraduate
Exercise Science Students, Vocational Fitness Students, and Exercise
Professionals (Doctoral dissertation, Curtin University, Perth, Western
Australia). Retrieved from https://espace.curtin.edu.au/bitstream/
Kieffer, H.S. (2008). Myths and truths from exercise physiology.
Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 79, 23–25. DOI:
Koriat, A., Lichtenstein, S., & Fischhoff, B. (1980). Reasons for condence.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 6,
107–118. DOI: 10.1037/0278-73126.96.36.199
Kruseman, M., Miserez, V., & Kayser, B. (2008). Knowledge about nutrition
and weight loss among tness instructors: a cross-sectional study in
Geneva, Switzerland. Schweizerische Zeitschrift fur Sportmedizin und
Sporttraumatologie, 56, 156–160. Retrieved from https://www.sgsm.ch/
Lederman, R., Fan, H., Smith, S., & Chang, S. (2014). Who can you trust?
Credibility assessment in online health forums. Health Policy & Technology,
3, 13–25. DOI: 10.1016/j.hlpt.2013.11.003
Lemire, M., Sicotte, C., & Paré, G. (2008). Internet use and the logics of personal
empowerment in health. Health Policy, 88, 130–140. DOI: 10.1016/j.
Liberali, J.M., Reyna, V.F., Furlan, S., Stein, L.M., & Pardo, S.T. (2012).
Individual differences in numeracy and cognitive reection, with
implications for biases and fallacies in probability judgment. Journal of
Behavioral Decision Making, 25, 361–381. DOI: 10.1002/bdm.752
Malek, M.H., Nalbone, D.P., Berger, D.E., & Coburn, J.W. (2002).
Importance of health science information for personal tness trainers.
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 16, 19–24. DOI:
Manini, T.M., Druger, M., & Ploutz-Snyder, L. (2005). Misconceptions about
strength exercise among older adults. Journal of Aging and Physical
Activity, 13, 422–433. DOI: 10.1123/japa.13.4.422
Misconceptions in the knowledge of vocational ﬁtness students and graduates 87
McKean, M., Slater., G., Oprescu, F., & Burkett, B.J. (2015). Do the nutrition
qualications and professional practices of registered exercise professionals
align? International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism,
25, 154–162. DOI: 10.1123/ijsnem.2014-0051
Metzger, M.J., Flanagin, A.J., & Medders, R.B. (2010). Social and heuristic
approaches to credibility evaluation online. Journal of Communication, 60,
413–439. DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2010.01488.x
Michael, J.A. (2007). What makes physiology hard for students to learn? Results
of a faculty survey. Advances in Physiology Education, 31, 34–40. DOI:
Michael, J.A., Richardson, D., Rovick, A., Modell, H., Horwitz, B., Hudson,
M., … & Williams, S. (1999). Undergrad students’ misconceptions about
respiratory physiology. Advances in Physiology Education, 22, S127–S135.
Miles, J., Petrie, C., & Steel, M. (2000). Slimming on the Internet. Journal of the
Royal Society of Medicine, 93, 254–257. DOI: 10.1177/014107680009300510
Morton, J.P., Doran, D.A., & MacLaren, D.P.M. (2008). Common student
misconceptions in exercise physiology and biochemistry, Advances in
Physiology Education, 32, 142–146. DOI: 10.1152/advan.00095.2007
Nickerson, R.S. (1998). Conrmation bias: a ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises.
Review of General Psychology, 2, 175–220. DOI: 10.1037/1089-26188.8.131.52
O’Dea, J.A. (2003). Consumption of nutritional supplements among
adolescents: usage and perceived benets. Health Education Research, 18,
98–107. DOI: 10.1093/her/18.1.98
Oechssler, J., Roider, A., & Schmitz, P.W. (2009). Cognitive abilities and
behavioural biases. Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization, 72,
147–152. DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2009.04.018
Pennycook, G., Cheyne, J.A., Seli, P., Koehler, D.J., & Fugelsang, J.A. (2012).
Analytic cognitive style predicts religious and paranormal belief. Cognition,
123, 335–346. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2012.03.003
Pithers, R.T., & Soden, R. (2000). Critical thinking in education: a review.
Educational Research, 42, 237–249. DOI: 10.1080/001318800440579
Posner, G.J., Strike, K.A., Hewson, P.W., & Hertzog, W.A. (1982).
Accommodation of a scientic conception: toward a theory of conceptual
change. Science Education, 2, 211–227. DOI:
Sheldon, P., & Thornthwaite, L. (2005). Employability skills and vocational
education and training policy in Australia: an analysis of employer
association agendas. Asia Pacic Journal of Human Resources, 43, 404–
425. DOI: 10.1177/1038411105059100
88 Daniel J Jolley, Melissa Davis, Andrew P Lavender
Sherman, S.J., Zehner, K.S., Johnson, J., & Hirt, E.R. (1983). Social explanation, the role
of timing, set, and recall on subjective likelihood estimates. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 44, 1127–1143. DOI: 10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2067
Stacey, D., Hopkins, M., Adamo, K.B., Shorr, R., & Prud’homme, D.
(2010). Knowledge translation to tness trainers: a systematic review.
Implementation Science, 5, 1–9. DOI: 10.1186/1748-5908-5-28
Stanovich, K.E., Toplak, M.E., & West, R.F. (2008). The development of rational
thought: a taxonomy of heuristics and biases. Advances in Child Development
& Behavior, 36, 251–285. DOI: 10.1016/S0065-2407(08)00006-2
Tiruneh, D.T., Verburgh, A., & Elen, J. (2014). Effectiveness of critical thinking
instruction in higher education: a systematic review of intervention studies.
Higher Education Studies, 4, 1–17. DOI: 10.5539/hes.v4n1p1
Toplak, M.E., West, R.F., & Stanovich, K.E. (2011). The Cognitive Reection Test
as a predictor of performance on heuristics-and-biases tasks. Memory and
Cognition, 39, 1275–1289. DOI: 10.3758/s13421-011-0104-1
Toplak, M.E., West, R.F., & Stanovich, K.E. (2014). Assessing
miserly information processing: an expansion of the Cognitive
Reection Test. Thinking and Reasoning, 20, 147–168. DOI:
Zenko, Z., & Ekkekakis, P. (2015). Knowledge of exercise prescription guidelines
among certied exercise professionals. Journal of Strength and Conditioning
Research, 29, 1422–1432. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000771
Zhang, Y., Sun, Y., & Xie, B. (2015). Quality of health information for consumers
on the web: a systematic review of indicators, criteria, tools, and evaluation
results. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology,
66, 2071–2084. DOI: 10.1002/asi.23311
About the authors
Daniel Jolley was a PhD candidate in the School of Psychology at
Curtin University. He is a lecturer at South Metropolitan TAFE, and a
registered exercise professional.
Melissa Davis is an Associate Professor and Associate Dean
Psychology and Criminology in the School of Arts and Humanities at
Edith Cowan University.
Andrew Lavender is a Senior Lecturer at Federation University, in
the School of Health and Life Sciences.