Summary of Problem-Based Learning

Problem-Based Learning is a means for accomplishing several objectives in medical education:


  • It shifts some of the burden for learning onto the student.
  • It provides a real-life context and framework for organization of the knowledge students are expected to gain (the clinical case stem). Organization of an individual's knowledge base is a more important factor in their ability to solve problems than is the size of their knowledge base.
  • It introduces the students to clinical reasoning skills and how to approach a medical problem early in their education (the hypothesis generation steps).
  • It takes advantage of the way in which adults learn. Learning is more efficient when:
    • the student asks a question (the generation of learning objectives) and seeks out the answer (the independent study step);
    • the student's prior knowledge is first stimulated (generation of hypotheses);
    • new knowledge is added to the existing framework;
    • new knowledge is acquired in the same context as it will be used in the future.
  • It fosters long-term retention of information. Recall of information is markedly increased when the knowledge is organized in a useful way, and when there is an opportunity for students to elaborate on new knowledge immediately after learning (the discussion of learning objectives in the small group).

Cases are designed to lead the students to study important concepts that will not be covered in the didactic or lecture component of the curriculum. The facilitator will have a list of these concepts and a description of the important clinical and basic science issues which are part of each case. Using these guidelines, facilitators should be able to help the students discover what they need to learn.