Proceedings of The Physiological Society

University of Cambridge (2008) Proc Physiol Soc 11, C34

Oral Communications

Effectiveness of problem based learning (a Case Study)

A. Al-Modhefer1, S. M. Roe1

1. Division of Basic Medical Sciences, School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queens University Belfast, Belfast, United Kingdom.


Problem based learning (PBL) has been used as a means of teaching Medicine students since it was introduced in the early 70's by McMaster University’s Faculty of Medicine as a revolutionary approach to Medical Education. Typically, in problem-based learning, students use triggers from problem cases or clinical scenarios to prompt learning and define learning outcomes. To provide a context for learning, PBL uses appropriate problems within small groups to increase knowledge and understanding. Presentation of clinical material as the stimulus for learning enables students to understand the relevance of underlying basic science knowledge and principles in clinical practice (Wood, 2003). In addition to the acquisition of knowledge in context, exponents claim that PBL enhances other desirable skills such as teamwork, problem solving, communication skills, independent learning and working within a team (Allen et al, 1996). In meta-analysis, PBL courses garnered significantly greater praise in student program evaluations than traditional curricula (Vernon & Blake, 1993). The aim of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of PBL as taught to students of a third year clinical Student Selected Component entitled “Creaking Hinges - The Functional and Clinical Anatomy of the Synovial Joint”. This course applies basic life science teaching to clinical scenarios and so is an ideal platform for PBL. A questionnaire rating the effectiveness of the PBL encountered on the course was administered to the students at its conclusion. Questions focused on the purported advantages (putting knowledge in context, fostering communication skills, encouraging team work and self directed learning) and common criticisms (giving students problems without the information needed to solve them) of the PBL format. A 5 point Likert scale was used to evaluate the student response to each of the questions with 1 indicating strong disagreement with a statement and 5 strong agreement. 12 out of 13 student participants in the module responded (92.3% student response rate). Ratings are given as marks out of 5 ± S.E.M, n =13. Students gave high ratings to the PBL course format in areas of clinical reasoning, 3.7±0.2, problem solving 4.2±0.2, communication skills 4.1±0.2, and team work 3.8±0.3. Lower ratings were given, however, to the ability of a PBL course to impart basic knowledge 2.8±0.3. These initial results would indicate that a hybrid PBL/traditional course for students is optimal, with a more traditional course during the early years of medical education segueing to a more context-driven PBL course after the basic information has been imparted. This would be particularly true for mature students, or those from a non-traditional academic background coming into courses such as Nursing.

Where applicable, experiments conform with Society ethical requirements