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Misconceptions in the knowledge of vocational fitness students and graduates



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) fitness students at the beginning and end of their training, and qualified personal trainers (PTs). It also examines differences 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 qualification and PTs were surveyed once. Though VET students' knowledge improved and misconceptions decreased from pre-to post training, PTs did not differ 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.
Australian Journal of Adult Learning
Volume 60, Number 1, April 2020
Misconceptions in the knowledge of
vocational fitness students and graduates
Daniel J Jolley
Melissa Davis
Andrew P Lavender
South Metropolitan TAFE
Edith Cowan University
Federation 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 qualied personal trainers (PTs). It also examines dierences
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
qualication and PTs were surveyed once. Though VET students’
knowledge improved and misconceptions decreased from pre- to post
training, PTs did not dier 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 benets 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 conrmation 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
scientic 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 difcult, 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
identiable 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
direct process.
Misconceptions related to exercise and nutrition topics may originate
from exposure to incorrect information and be strengthened over time
as conrmation bias inuences 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 dissatised 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 qualied as personal
trainers. While Barnes, Desbrow, and Ball (2016) identied that PTs
in Australia report high levels of condence in their knowledge, they
did not assess the actual knowledge of participants. Given that other
research has identied signicant errors in the knowledge of PTs
(Kruseman, Miserez & Kayser, 2008; Malek, Nalbone, Berger & Coburn,
2002; Zenko & Ekkekakis, 2015), that condence may be misplaced.
PTs have also been found to place importance on experience and on-
the-job training, over formal qualications (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
qualications (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 difculty 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) identied
that the majority of trainers used online sources and magazines as sources
of information, in addition to more reliable sources. Systematic reviews
have consistently identied 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, qualication, the
timeframe and mode of learning of their qualication, 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 identied above and the difculties 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 scientic theory, and of the
epistemological foundations of modern science. A key component of
this type of thought is critical thinking ability (CTA), which is dened
as reasoned, reective 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 identied 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 qualied 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 qualications Certicate III in
Fitness (SIS30315) and Certicate IV in Fitness (SIS40215) were
recruited from three Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) in Perth,
Western Australia. SIS30315 contains prerequisite units for SIS40215,
so these qualications 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 Certicate IV qualied 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 Qualications 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 condence in their answer on
a three-point scale (1=slightly condent to 3=very condent). A “don’t
74 Daniel J Jolley, Melissa Davis, Andrew P Lavender
know” answer to a statement resulted in a condence 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 coefcients 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 Reection 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 coefcient 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
considered acceptable.
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 qualication (Exercise
AQF level).
Participants also identied 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
Certicate III, and the post-course survey (post-VET) was completed in
the nal week of the Certicate 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 analysis
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 signicance of the differences
between groups.
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 classied according to the categories
identied by Bennie et al. (2017). Additional categories for exercise and
nutrition professionals (degree qualied 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).
Signicance 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 signicant 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 signicantly from pre-VET to
post-VET, while Misconceptions decreased signicantly. 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 signicant 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.
Signicant 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 signicantly 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 signicantly 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 signicant
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
other variables.
The use, and trust, of sources in each group, are described in Table 7.
McNemar’s test revealed no signicant 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
signicantly 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 signicantly
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 signicantly 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 identied 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 identied that PTs performed poorly in
assessments of required knowledge (Malek et al., 2002; Zenko &
Ekkekakis, 2015), more difcult 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 insufcient.
Misconceptions in the knowledge of vocational fitness students and graduates 81
No relationship between Knowledge and Misconceptions was identied
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 inuencing 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 specic information.
There was no signicant 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
Certicate 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
qualications 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 identied
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) identied that personal
trainers were not condent 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 qualication 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 identied 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 qualied 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 identied above, the lack of
signicant 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 specic 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 modication of
the Certicate 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 difcult, 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 sufcient 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 qualications as predictors of knowledge
and misconceptions in practising trainers. PTs should be encouraged to pursue
high level (diploma or degree) qualications where possible to increase their
exposure to these skills. There is also a need to further embed these skills into
the current Certicate 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.
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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.
Contact details
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Full-text available
Misconceptions of exercise science and nutrition information have been identified in exercise science students and professionals. However misconceptions have not been examined in vocational education (VET) students, or VET qualified personal trainers, and little is known about the relationship between misconceptions, knowledge, and critical thinking skills. The first objective of this research was to identify fundamental exercise and nutrition misconceptions that may be popular in students, professionals, and the public, the information that may lead to developing these misconceptions, and potential methods of correction. Lecturers from university exercise science courses and VET fitness courses (n = 12) were interviewed regarding their opinions of prevalent misconceptions, potential sources of misconceptions, and methods of correction. Interview transcripts were analysed using a directed content analysis. Lecturers considered misconceptions existed before entering a course, persisted throughout, and involved simple subject matter. Popular media was identified as a possible source, as was superseded, or misunderstood, research evidence. Improving critical thinking skills was seen as an appropriate method of correcting misconceptions by participants at both levels of education. A survey was developed using the misconceptions identified in these interviews. The second objective was to examine and compare the prevalence of these fundamental exercise and nutrition misconceptions in first year (n = 159) and third year (n = 57) exercise students, practicing exercise professionals (n = 51), and members of the general population (n = 54) in a cross-sectional survey. Sources of information used and trusted by participants was identified, and critical thinking ability was assessed. Misconceptions were more common in first year than the public or third year students, and more common in all other groups than degree qualified professionals. Better knowledge, and critical thinking ability, was associated with fewer misconceptions. The third objective was to identify the extent of these fundamental exercise and nutrition misconceptions in vocational fitness students (n = 66), and vocationally trained personal trainers (n = 70). A longitudinal survey of VET fitness students was conducted from the beginning to the end of their course, and compared to practicing personal trainers, using the same survey. Misconceptions decreased throughout the VET fitness course, but there was no difference between graduates and practicing personal trainers. The use of unreliable sources was associated with more misconceptions, but years of professional experience was not. The fourth objective was to identify whether a critical thinking professional development activity will effectively counter fitness and nutrition misconceptions and improve critical thinking ability in practicing personal trainers. An online, fitness specific, critical thinking course for personal trainers (n = 83) was designed and evaluated using a randomised control trial. This intervention was effective in reducing misconception scores, increasing critical thinking ability, and improving participants’ trust in reliable sources. Inaccurate or misinterpreted sources of information have previously been identified as common sources of misconceptions. This is supported by the opinions of lecturers, and the finding that in most groups, higher levels of education, critical thinking ability, and the use of reliable sources was associated with fewer misconceptions. The level of education achieved appears to be more important than exercise qualifications, or years of experience, in preventing fundamental misconceptions. That VET qualified professionals did not possess fewer misconceptions than students, while degree qualified professionals did, suggests that the education or professional development of VET professionals should be reviewed. Instruction in critical thinking was effective in reducing these misconceptions, but this is not a major focus of VET. Critical thinking skills have an important role in correcting fundamental exercise and nutrition misconceptions. These skills need to be embedded into VET fitness qualifications, and professional development in these skills provided for fitness professionals.
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Confirmation bias, as the term is typically used in the psychological literature, connotes the seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations, or a hypothesis in hand. The author reviews evidence of such a bias in a variety of guises and gives examples of its operation in several practical contexts. Possible explanations are considered, and the question of its utility or disutility is discussed.
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The quality of online health information for consumers has been a critical issue that concerns all stakeholders in healthcare. To gain an understanding of how quality is evaluated, this systematic review examined 165 articles in which researchers evaluated the quality of consumer-oriented health information on the web against predefined criteria. It was found that studies typically evaluated quality in relation to the substance and formality of content, as well as to the design of technological platforms. Attention to design, particularly interactivity, privacy, and social and cultural appropriateness is on the rise, which suggests the permeation of a user-centered perspective into the evaluation of health information systems, and a growing recognition of the need to study these systems from a social-technical perspective. Researchers used many preexisting instruments to facilitate evaluation of the formality of content; however, only a few were used in multiple studies, and their validity was questioned. The quality of content (i.e., accuracy and completeness) was always evaluated using proprietary instruments constructed based on medical guidelines or textbooks. The evaluation results revealed that the quality of health information varied across medical domains and across websites, and that the overall quality remained problematic. Future research is needed to examine the quality of user-generated content and to explore opportunities offered by emerging new media that can facilitate the consumer evaluation of health information.
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Few studies have examined the sources of practice knowledge fitness trainers use to inform their training methods and update knowledge. This study aims to describe sources of practice knowledge among Australian fitness trainers. In July 2014, 9100 Australian fitness trainers were invited to complete an online survey. Respondents reported the frequency of use of eight sources of practice knowledge (e.g. fitness magazines, academic texts). In a separate survey, exercise science experts (n?=?27) ranked each source as either (1) 'high-quality' or (2) 'low-quality'. Proportions of users of 'high-quality' sources were calculated across demographic (age, sex) and fitness industry-related characteristics (qualification, setting, role). A multivariate logistic regression analysis assessed the odds of being classified as a user of high-quality sources, adjusting for demographic and fitness industry-related factors. Out of 1185 fitness trainers (response rate?=?13.0%), aged 17-72?years, 47.6% (95% CI, 44.7-50.4%) were classified as frequent users of high-quality sources of practice knowledge. In the adjusted analysis, compared to trainers aged 17-26?years, those aged ?61?years (OR, 2.15; 95% CI, 1.05-4.38) and 40-50?years (OR, 1.54; 95% CI, 1.02-2.31) were more likely to be classified as a user of high-quality sources. When compared to trainers working in large centres, those working in outdoor settings (OR, 1.81; 95% CI, 1.23-2.65) and medium centres (OR, 1.59; 95% CI, 1.12-2.29) were more likely to be classified as users of high-quality sources. Our findings suggest that efforts should be made to improve the quality of knowledge acquisition among Australian fitness trainers.
As the key agents of change in educational reforms, it is teachers who are seen as central to effecting change; this is no different in the curricular aim of developing critical thinkers found in numerous educational reforms across the world. One of the key assumptions behind such curricular reforms aimed at developing critical thinking in schools seems to be that teachers would somehow have the required knowledge and capacity to teach critical thinking successfully as envisaged in educational policies. However, research suggests that this is not necessarily the case and that teachers’ knowledge in critical thinking teaching has to be developed in an explicit and systematic manner. Stemming from a qualitative case study on teacher knowledge in the context of implementing a curriculum that explicitly aims to develop critical thinking, a revised framework of teacher knowledge is proposed. This framework, which was emergent in the analysis of the study data, offers possibilities as a more complete heuristic and analytical tool to help understand the complexity and dynamics of teacher knowledge in teaching critical thinking. Moreover, it could help pave the way to better understand the various knowledge domains that need to be purposefully and systematically developed by schools and teacher education institutions to support teachers in their vital work of developing critical thinkers in the classroom successfully for life and work in the 21 st century.
The Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT; Frederick, 2005) is designed to measure the tendency to override a prepotent response alternative that is incorrect and to engage in further reflection that leads to the correct response. It is a prime measure of the miserly information processing posited by most dual process theories. The original three-item test may be becoming known to potential participants, however. We examined a four-item version that could serve as a substitute for the original. Our data show that it displays a .58 correlation with the original version and that it has very similar relationships with cognitive ability, various thinking dispositions, and with several other rational thinking tasks. Combining the two versions into a seven-item test resulted in a measure of miserly processing with substantial reliability (.72). The seven-item version was a strong independent predictor of performance on rational thinking tasks after the variance accounted for by cognitive ability and thinking dispositions had been partialled out.
This survey assessed the knowledge of the "Guidance for prescribing exercise" issued by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in 2011 among certified exercise professionals. A sample of 1,808 certified exercise professionals (66.70% women, Mage ± SD = 38.28 ± 12.56 years) responded to electronic invitations. The 11-question online questionnaire assessed knowledge of the recommended frequency, duration, and intensity ranges in terms of heart rate, metabolic equivalents, and ratings of perceived exertion. Respondents had 7.45 ± 8.07 years of work experience and represented all 50 US states. On average, participants answered 42.87% ± 1.69% of the questions correctly. Gender, age, and years of professional experience were not associated with overall knowledge of the guidelines. Likewise, having 1, 2, or 3+ certifications made no difference in overall knowledge. On the other hand, there were significant differences between levels of education (F = 7.12, P < 0.001), from 38.72% ± 1.62% for "some college" to 47.01% ± 1.71% for "doctorate". There were also significant differences by primary job role (F = 3.45, P < 0.001) but no category exceeded 49% (e.g., personal trainers: 40.59% ± 1.66%; clinical exercise physiologists: 44.18% ± 1.70%). The respondents rated their knowledge of the exercise prescription guidelines as 7.01 ± 1.69 out of 10 but rated the level of knowledge necessary to practice safely and effectively as 8.32 ± 1.64 (t = 28.60, P < 0.001). This survey, the first at this scale to investigate the knowledge of exercise prescription guidelines among certified exercise professionals, showed that there is room for improvement, considering that the average score was below 50%.