Intended for healthcare professionals


Researching the outcomes of educational interventions: a matter of design

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 19 January 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:126

RCTs have important limitations in evaluating educational interventions

  1. David Prideaux, professor of medical education (
  1. Office of Education, School of Medicine, Flinders University, Box 2100 GPO, Adelaide, South Australia 5001

    Learning in practice p 153

    Problem based learning, an educational intervention characterised by small group and self directed learning, is one of medical education's more recent success stories, at least in terms of its ubiquity. From its beginnings in McMaster University in the 1960s it has been adopted in undergraduate medical courses worldwide. It is also being used in postgraduate and continuing medical education.

    Problem based learning has been the subject of at least four much quoted reviews, three published in the early 1990s and one more recently.14 Such attention is not surprising. What might be surprising is that the effects of such a popular educational approach are seemingly small, except in the area of student satisfaction. According to the reviews the extent of knowledge gained by such measures as performance in licensing examinations is at best unclear. Participants in problem based learning, however, can expect small gains in clinical reasoning.

    The paper by Smits and colleagues in this …

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