McMaster University

McMaster University

PBL: What is it?

"The Use of Problem-Based Learning in Medical Education"
Robert M.K.W. Lee, Ph.D.1 Chiu-Yin Kwan, Ph.D.2
Departments of Anaesthesia1 and Medicine2,
McMaster University,
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
L8N 3Z5

[Read "The Use of Problem-Based Learning in Medical Education"]


Since the introduction of a problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum at the McMaster University School of Medicine in 1969, many medical schools in different regions of the world have adopted this approach, usually with some variations to suit their local needs.

The aims of this review, are to report some of our experiences at McMaster, to discuss some of the concerns which are associated with the introduction of PBL in a traditional medical school, and to review our recent experience in the introduction of PBL in Physiology in a traditional medical school.

Some of the advantages of PBL are: early exposure to clinical settings and patients; motivation to learn is self-imposed, because students can see the practical application of the knowledge they are acquiring during their studies; and the acquisition of various learning skills, which will assist them to become lifelong learners.

There are also some perceived weaknesses to PBL, which include a lack of traditional structure and progression, and a lack of depth in the knowledge acquired. Teachers with these concerns do not recognize the integrative nature, and you-learn-what-you-need aspect of PBL.

Specific evaluative tools have now been developed, which will provide better measures of the learning behaviour, knowledge and clinical skills. With appropriate training of the students and teachers, even high school students entering first year university are capable of benefiting from the PBL approach.

In conclusion, any modification or improvement in the curriculum needs to be based on sound reasoning and upon experimental evidence. We have gained a significant amount of knowledge about the use of PBL in medical education since 1969, but further improvements and refinements are still necessary in order to meet the needs of the students, and that of the society.

Key words:

problem based learning, medical education, tutorial learning "You can only learn what you don't know" Dr. C. B. Mueller, Professor Emeritus, Surgery, McMaster University

Address Correspondence to:

Dr. Robert M.K.W. Lee, Department of Anaesthesia (HSC-2U3),
Faculty of Health Sciences,
McMaster University,
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
L8N 3Z5

Phone: (905) 521-2100 extension 5177
FAX: (905) 523-1224

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Level Double-A conformance, W3C WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0