Created on: November 17, 2009
What is Problem Based Learning?
Problem Based Learning (PBL) is relatively new breed of learning strategy which is now incorporated in to certain curricula including medical curriculums. It was pioneered in McMaster University, Canada and now has taken a center stage in what is known as 'Student based learning'.
What is the need for PBLs?
The concept of problem based learning derives from the fact that educational experts were seeking ways to improve self directed learning as well as broader analytical skills within their students. Specially in medically related curricula's, they felt that current knowledge expansion and technological evolution would be of waste if medical students learn the way they were used to; which is the teacher centred knowledge gathering.
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PBL in Medical Education:
In Medical Education, the trigger for Problem Based Learning would be a clinical scenario which will describe a clinical situation as it would happen in the real world. For example, it could be a patient presenting with fever, runny nose, headache, body aches and some breathing difficulty and would give a history of to a certain destination. The problem therefore depicts a real life encounter by a doctor at the out patient department, at the ward or in a different setting.
Based on these facts, a list of questions or triggers would be given to the students which were well planned to cover what was expected of the students. Thus, the objective of the PBL is not just to diagnose a disease condition, but to negotiate the uncertainties, make use of the available resources, exclude other diseases with similar presentations, decide on the investigations, define a diagnosis or a tentative diagnosis and plan out a management. Most often, the triggers will prompt the students to seek knowledge on pathological changes, complications, community implications, preventive measures, follow up...etc.
Therefore, following a initial brain storming session, the students will work on small groups and at times alone in order to seek knowledge, analyse what they find and arrive at possible explanations. They will exchange ideas with their colleagues and will seek knowledge from text books, internet, journals, experts on the subject or other sources of information.
In a separate session, the students will discuss the entire scenario and what they were able to gather in solving the triggers. The teacher will not interfere with the exchange of ideas but he will listen carefully on the direction which the discussion be moving. The teacher will thus assume the role of a facilitator and at times can make suggestions and remind an area which wasn't addressed according to the problem outcomes.
In order to make the PBL effective, the facilitator needs to make sure all the students get a fare chance of expressing their views and if not allow or make students participate to the discussion. They should make sure that all the objectives were met and the students were in right frame of mind regarding the problem at the end of the discussion.
By looking at the overall picture, conducting a PBL is both time consuming as well as resource intensive. But, the fact that it opens up the doors for students to unleash their full potential in learning, it's fair to state that the concept has broaden the limits of modern day medical education.
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