Problem-Based Learning (PBL)*, as implemented in the health sciences, is an educational method in which the focus of learning is a small group of tutorials in which students work through healthcare scenarios. The goals of healthcare scenarios are to provide a context for learning, to activate prior knowledge, to motivate students, and to stimulate discussion. Learning is student-centered rather than faculty-centered and self-directed learning is emphasized. The method was developed in the McMaster University Medical School program.
The theoretical basis of PBL is that learning is enhanced by the following conditions:
stimulation of prior knowledge
learning in context to enhance retention
elaboration of knowledge through discussion
There are several assumptions underlying PBL style of learning:
Students can be responsible for the breadth and depth of learning if given direction, resources, and feedback.
Students bring with them a wide background of prior learning and experience.
Learning in small groups enhances understanding, exploration, discussion, and debate.
Faculty tutors facilitate learning and translate concepts rather than "teach" or serve solely as information-givers.
Information used to comprehend and deal with real-life scenarios is integrated from a variety of traditional disciplines.
Critical features of PBL curricula:
Learning in small groups with a faculty member as a facilitator or tutor is pivotal.
The role of faculty is to serve as facilitators rather than as teachers.
Traditional course content, including basic sciences, is integrated into health care scenarios.
Students are responsible for their own learning, thereby allowing integration of prior knowledge and heightening motivation for learning and the development of lifelong learning skills.
*Saarinen-Rahiika, H. Binkley, J. Problem-Based Learning in Physical Therapy: A Review of the Literature and Overview of the McMaster University Experience. (1998). Physical Therapy 78, 2, 195-207.