If you’re about to start Medical School you might be anxious about what to expect from your first problem-based learning lesson. These tips from Dr Christopher Nordstrom, co-founder of The Medic Portal.
Problem-based learning is all about empowering you to learn, so you need to take a lot of responsibility for things like:
Most PBL lessons follow a clear process:
PBL lessons have a big focus on transferable skills, such as:
You’ve probably started to develop these skills already, so this should arm you with confidence when you begin the lesson.
At the start of the lesson, you should expect to choose your own learning objectives so that you know how to direct your personal study. For example, this could be to simply understand all of the words used in the session – or it could be to remind yourself how a particular area of biology works.
This might seem like a daunting task, but don’t worry because you’ll have a group facilitator there whose job is to make sure the conversation is on the right track. They’ll be there to steer you all, and to help you do things like choosing your own learning objectives.
You’ll be expected to head off and study alone, then bring your learnings to the group when you present the information back to them.
A good plan for self-directed study is to have a single focus for each learning session. For example, if you’re revising a particular area of science, focus only on that and don’t get sidetracked with other learning objectives. This is because we have limited working memory, which means that if we try to cover too many new things at once then we will not learn them as effectively.
You should apply this strategy to not just the content but also the application of your learning. For example, if you have to memorise information then make that the goal of a single study session. Learning how to distil the information and share it during your presentation would be a different study session. You need to make sure you have first mastered the details of what you are learning before you can apply that knowledge to anything more complex.
Finally, remember to interleave your learning, which means regularly revisiting what you have previously learned. Take five minutes to revisit your notes on a separate subject that you’ve mastered, which could be from the previous PBL session or perhaps a different lecture. You could make this more engaging by doing a five-minute refresher on Quizlet, for example. This will keep that memory fresh and prevents the knowledge from decaying.
Other tips for self-directed study include:
Presenting what you’ve learnt to the group is a big part of PBL and one that’s incredibly important because it will develop your teaching and presenting skills. If you work on these skills in your early years of Medical School, it’ll come in very handy when you’re a Junior Doctor presenting during ward rounds.
There are countless free resources on presentation technique online. If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out this Tedx Talk on the three magic ingredients of powerful presentations – or take a look at flaschards on Quizlet.
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