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Should problem based learning be universally adopted? Yes

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 05 July 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4403
  1. Paul O’Neill, professor of medical education and honorary consultant physician
  1. 1University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

Problem based learning is becoming widespread. But how does it compare with traditional methods of teaching?

The term problem based learning (PBL) produces strong, often negative, emotions in many students, academic staff, and clinicians. This depth of feeling often arises from those with no experience of PBL. Consequently and erroneously, PBL is not seen as a useful, well researched learning method to be used alongside other methods such as lectures or e-learning.

The debate is further complicated because the term PBL is used loosely, and models of PBL vary considerably within and between undergraduate, postgraduate, and continuing medical education.1 In discussing the value of PBL the first question is what the course leaders mean by PBL, followed by how it is used in context—for example, in the later years of an undergraduate programme. It is also essential to ask in what way the employed PBL model has evolved alongside e-learning and information repositories.

To understand why PBL should be universally adopted, it is necessary to unpack the underlying principles, to consider the evidence base to understand why it works,2 …

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