Intended for healthcare professionals


Problem based, small group learning

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 05 August 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:342
  1. John Bligh, Professor
  1. University Medical Education Unit, Royal Liverpool University Hospital, Liverpool L69 3BX

    An idea whose time has come

    Problem based learning is an educational method that uses problems as the starting point for student learning.1 In medical education these problems are usually clinical and integrate basic science with clinical thinking. Such methods have been used since the 1960s, when the medical school at McMaster, Ontario, first introduced an entirely new approach to medical education.2

    Identifying material for a course of problem based learning requires teachers to analyse their discipline for the critical elements that are essential to medical practice. Once such core elements have been identified, clinical problems can be composed and supporting learning activities (such as lectures, practicals, workshops, and clinical attachments) arranged. Students learn by seeking solutions to the problems. To do this they work in small groups to break the problem into its constituent parts, identifying relations and connections along the way. Individual learning and attendance at timetabled activities follow, with students searching for answers to questions they have raised themselves during the analysis. Validation of learning takes place in the small group under the eye of the tutor.

    Problem based learning has spread to continental Europe, the Middle and Far East, and Australia3 but has not taken root in the United Kingdom. Newly established medical schools are most likely to use problem based learning, although complete conversion within a traditional curriculum and within existing resources is possible.4 A “dual track” approach has been …

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