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Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

What is it?

Traditionally, students are taught relevant material and then apply their knowledge to solve problems (often as homework). In problem-based learning (PBL) the problem is presented first and students work in groups to investigate the problem and work towards a solution - learning the necessary skills and knowledge as they do so. In PBL, instructors take the role of facilitators and can help students stay on track or moderate discussions, but this approach is designed to allow students to navigate the problems and gain comfort with what is sometimes referred to as, “radical uncertainty”. 


Advantages of this approach include:

  • Develops leadership and teamwork skills
  • Authentic problems can increase engagement and transfer of knowledge


Some challenges of this approach include:

  • Students can get frustrated with the instructor serving as a facilitator rather than providing answers 


Examples and Implementation

Students are presented with a problem - they have to determine the best pharmaceutical option for a patient undergoing chemotherapy who has several allergies and other chronic medical conditions for which they take daily medications. To solve the problem, students must research the chemotherapy agent and the possibilities for its formulation, dosages and timings, drug-drug interactions, and identify if the medication contains elements to which the patient might have an allergy. 


Recall, that this is not a final group project or a homework assignment after a lecture. By engaging with this problem, researching its components, and presenting an answer students are “learning by doing.” 


Use the Google Plug-in below to explore additional examples of PBL in the health sciences.


Google Scholar Search