Applying to Medical School · Nov 02, 2018
What is Problem-Based Learning (PBL)
Reading prospectuses and medical school websites you can quickly become overwhelmed with medical school jargon and acronyms such as PBL, CBL, integrated and systems based teaching. One that comes up a lot is PBL or Problem Based Learning.
PBL is a style of small group teaching in which learning is stimulated by a “problem”, typically a clinical scenario. It was initially developed by a group of doctors at McMaster University Toronto in the 1960s. Since its inception it has been adopted by medical schools across the world, including many in the UK.
Problem based learning can take many different forms but the principles remain the same: learning is contextualised by scenarios or case studies, students derive their own learning objectives from the scenario, and self-directed learning is consolidated by group discussion.
All this talk of self-directed learning and student lead discussion might seem like a lot of work, but it’s important to remember that every PBL curriculum in medical education is supported by at least some lectures and small group teaching as well as clinical skills sessions.
My first two years at medical school were based on Problem-Based Learning, so much of what I’m going to describe in this blog is based on my own experiences at the University of Exeter.
The Problem-Based Learning Process
Problem-Based Learning Medical School Example
- Does anyone know what the blue and brown inhalers are?
- What do you know about smoking and asthma?
Self-Directed Learning (SDL)
So now you’ve got your key learning objectives, it’s time to learn them.
Self-directed learning or SDL as the name suggests just means that it's more active learning and you can direct how you study. It might also mean trips to the library for learning resources.
At Exeter, we also had small group teaching sessions, lectures and clinical skills sessions related to our case-unit scheduled during the fortnight.
Session 2 & 3
Sessions 2 and 3 would both take place in the second week of the fortnight. This allows you some time to work through all of the learning objectives. Both of these sessions are set aside for feedback, problem-solving and discussing your learning objectives. Different members of the group will have learnt different aspects of your objectives to varying depths – and this is the whole point of discussing and consolidating as a group.
The final step is to evaluate your learning objectives:
- Were they appropriate?
- Were they specific enough?
- What would you do differently next time?
And that’s a wrap! The next case unit starts the following week.
Why do Problem-Based Learning at medical school?
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Problem-Based Learning Overview
We hope you have found this blog post on problem based learning at medical school helpful. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions at hello@theMSAG.com.
Miss Rebekah Morris
Rebekah is a Medical Student at Exeter Medical School. She has been recognised for2nd place at the National Student Medical Ethics Debating Competition. She is theMSAG's Research Assistant and Interview Coach.