Problem-Based Learning (PBL) Courses
The main emphasis of PBL is on small group work, peer-to-peer teaching and understanding through solving problems. PBL was first adopted in the UK at Manchester Medical School in 1984. Since then a handful of other schools have introduced it.
This page answers the following questions about PBL courses:
- How does problem-based learning (PBL) work?
- Is problem-based learning (PBL) right for me?
- What is case-based learning (CBL)?
How Does Problem-Based Learning (PBL) Work?
Different schools will use different levels of PBL. Some will be entirely taught using problem-based techniques, whereas others will only have a few sessions a week or term.
The best place to find out about the amount of PBL on a particular course is via the prospectus or website.
You will have lectures, but they will be supplementary, rather than the focus of your studies. The basic structure of PBL sessions is as follows:
- In small groups, you are presented with a ‘problem’ or case study.
- Your group will brainstorm possible hypotheses and solutions, and decide what you’ll need to learn in order to ‘solve’ the problem at hand. These are called your ‘learning objectives’.
- The key difference between PBL and other methods of study is that you come up with your own learning objectives based on the cues in the scenarios you are presented with.
- You go away and gather all of the information you need. This is usually in the form of private study and reading, but can also include lectures, teaching and clinical placements.
- You then present your findings to your group and facilitator, and compare notes.
For more information, you can also read our blog: What’s it like to study on a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) Course?
Is Problem-Based Learning (PBL) Right For Me?
If you’ve always liked group work and are very proactive, then you might like PBL.
Self-directed work can be very rewarding, and may help you develop important skills for your future career. But you will have to be extremely self-motivated.
The emphasis on case-by-case problem-solving, rather than amassing scientific knowledge through attending lectures, defines the technique of problem-based learning.
If you prefer independent study and a high level of academic engagement with a subject matter, you might be better suited to a traditional or integrated course.
What Is Case-Based Learning (CBL)?
Case-Based Learning (CBL) is not the same as Problem-Based Learning (PBL). It is based on the same principals, but it focuses on learning within a clinical setting.
Many international Medical Schools use CBL. An example of a UK Medical School that incorporates CBL into their curriculum is Cardiff University. They describe CBL as follows:
‘CBL is backed up and reinforced by a variety of interlinked learning opportunities including seminars, life sciences resources, lectures, dissection, clinical skills practice, small group learning, individual study and patient-focused learning out in the community.’
CBL uses clinical cases to ‘trigger’ or ‘stimulate’ interest in a specific area of the curriculum. Teaching is conducted in small groups, typically over a 2-3 week period.
Typically, there is a concluding session once all the activities have been carried out. Here, students share their learning experiences and how to apply them going forward.
CBL may become more popular, as students often find it easier to apply and remember scientific knowledge when it is applied to real life medical case.
As interesting article which demonstrates some original research of PBL v CBL can be found here.