Problem-based learning is quite a common pedagogical practice in a lot of progressive medical schools around the world. Although there are several variants of this teaching and learning technique, it basically involves the use of applied problems to engage small groups of students in discussions over a number of sessions. This learning technique originates from McMaster University School of Medicine, where it was developed by a group of doctors in the 1960s. But what exactly does problem-based learning entails, and how can it benefit medical students.
What is Problem-based Learning?
Problem-based learning can be understood as an innovative and challenging teaching and learning technique that involves presenting practical problems to students and making them learn as they attempt to solve the problems. It is innovative in the sense that it is a relatively new teaching and learning technique and challenging because tutors have to make use of supportive and facilitating skills as opposed to the directive and didactic ones. For students, problem-based learning has to do with applying their skills and knowledge to solve problems rather than trying to recall facts. The goals of problem-based learning include:
- Acquiring, synthesizing, and applying basic scientific knowledge in the medical context
- Learning to engage critical thinking in finding solutions for clinical problems
- Developing the ability to collaborate with peers
- Learning to give and ask for feedback from peers and seniors with the aim of improving performance
How Faculty Members Participate in Problem-based Learning
The role of faculty members in implementing problem-based learning cannot be overemphasized. They act as facilitators, and they are usually supportive rather than directive. For instance, they formulate questions that help students to identify the limits of their knowledge and even provide the basis for building models of understanding. Besides, faculty members have a deeper understanding of the various relevant subject matters, and therefore, they can help with enriching students' discussions and making them more comprehensive.
Why Medical Schools are Incorporating Problem-based Learning
As mentioned earlier, problem-based learning is quite a popular teaching and learning technique, particularly in medical schools. As its name suggests, it seeks to expose students to new knowledge as they solve practical problems. For instance, as students solve a clinical problem, they may learn biochemistry since it relates to the organ system. The approach is preferred in medical schools because it provides relevance in addition to encouraging self-directed learning. Besides, compared to traditional lecture-based learning, problem-based learning is higher-order learning that makes it easier for students to acquire new knowledge in a way that promotes long-term retention of content.
Another reason why medical schools prefer problem-based learning has to do with the priceless skills that students acquire in the process. For instance, in addition to internalizing the core content of a course in a more efficient way, problem-based learning provides students with a platform to learn additional skills, including critical thinking, self-directed learning, reflection, and teamwork. These skills are useful during the learning process, and they also make doctors who have been subjected to problem-based learning more effective in their work. Therefore, while problem-based learning is meant to make teaching and learning in medical schools more efficient, its positive impacts on the final product cannot be overlooked.
Beyond The Classroom
Problem-based learning is not just for the classroom environment. Indeed, medical students can make use of it even o their own time as they review concepts learned in the classroom in their personal studies. In such cases, students can use the USMLE STEP1 prep course for guidance and study materials. This will save you from studying concepts without context and confine you to what you really need to know as a practicing doctor.
The Bottom Line
Overall, it is apparent that if you are planning to join a progressive medical school, then you can expect the mode of teaching and learning to be significantly different from what you are used to so far. Most progressive medical schools have abandoned the traditional lecture-based learning system in favor of problem-based learning. This pedagogical shift means that instead of sitting in a classroom listening to instructors, you are going to be presented with problems, and as you attempt to solve them, you will discover the limitations in your knowledge and know for the most relevant information to look for at any given moment. While this learning technique is quite challenging, it will help you build teamwork and critical thinking skills, and consequently, make you a better practicing physician.