Problem-based learning (PBL) is a method of teaching used by many medical schools. It usually involves a small group (around eight students plus a staff facilitator) delivering learning objectives from a scenario based on a patient, and then going away and researching around these for a feedback session.
I must admit, at first, I was sceptical and dreaded PBL. I hated the idea of ‘unguided’ learning and worried about if I was learning enough or even learning the right things. However, once I had actually tried it I soon grew to love this unique way of learning.
Here are five reasons why PBL is great, and hopefully I’ll be able to show you why you should embrace PBL.
PBL is interactive, unlike lectures which will likely form the majority of your teaching. Almost opposite in style to PBL, lectures involve someone with a presentation talking to you for an hour, rarely with interactive elements.
It is often fast-paced and by the end I never remember everything that has been covered, let alone two months later when an exam comes around. You have to participate in PBL; switching off is not an option. It is this active nature that helps you better retain the content.
Teamwork is essential. PBL by yourself would not be fun or the most effective way of learning. It is great to bounce ideas off each other and learn from your peers. I often find they explain things in ways lecturers don’t – helping me to better understand the key concepts.
Teamwork is an integral part of being a doctor, so it is a great time to start developing these skills. More people mean more ideas and different insights you may not usually have. This is usually great but can sometimes lead to disagreements, which are equally important to learn how to handle.
I love the team spirit you develop once you get to know your group. Working with friends is so important in medical school, and PBL is a great place to start!
The PBL scenario often introduces a patient with a little background, then goes on to discuss their condition and sometimes treatment. Despite not actually being real patients, it feels more important than just learning about a condition.
You really consider the person and the impact it has on their life, not just the medical aspect. We often look for support groups and think about how family members will be affected.
Not only does it make the condition more memorable but it ensures we don’t lose sight of the patient as a person, which I think prepares us well for clinical practice.
It requires self-motivation, but you can really take PBL in whatever direction you want! You definitely aren’t spoon fed and as feedback is normally closed book after the first term, you are pushed to learn the information properly first time.
This feels like a pain at the time, but you are certainly grateful when exam time comes around and you remember the majority of the content! It also improves your research skills, and creating your own notes helps the assimilation of knowledge.
This sounds like a weird reason to like something, but amongst all the lectures, PBL twice a week is a highlight!
It ties everything together (at least on my course!) and it helps with learning lecture content. I love how active PBL is compared to lectures and it requires a different type of thinking to everything else. You aren’t led through it and it is definitely as fun and interesting as you make it!
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that PBL is a great part of a medicine course and not something to be dreaded! It is definitely a different way of learning, but one you will grow to love. It makes you engage with the material you are learning whilst working with your peers, as well as uniquely preparing you for clinical practice.