Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) Intro

The PBL is a learner-centered technique designed to develop skills of clinical reasoning, effective clinical practice, self-directed and life-long learning, efficient use of an integrated knowledge base and effective functioning as part of a team.  PBL helps students work through their current knowledge about a clinical problem, identify any missing information, and then acquire and apply basic science knowledge to solve problems presented in the context of clinical scenarios or cases. The PBL learning style reflects the process used in the clinical years, thus helping prepare students to perform well in that venue.  

In PBL, students are assigned a case, research the case independently and come to the small group prepared to present the case, discuss it with their peers and propose a reasoned and defensible solution for the problem presented.  Ideally, students will exercise increasing initiative in acquiring relevant information, applying it and assisting each other with learning.   Cases are generally selected for their inter-professional value, and should integrate learning across multiple basic science and clinical disciplines.  PBL includes self and peer assessment as a means of teaching skills of self-improvement and effective feedback to colleagues.  In theory, Problem Based Learning forms the basis of the curriculum delivery and provides learners with gradually increasing independence and responsibility for their own learning.  In practice, however, PBL is most often integrated within didactic curricula as a means of providing experience with active learning and problem solving in a small group environment (5-7 students and a facilitator).

Read more at:

The Problem Based Learning Initiative website, Southern Illinois University

The Problem Based Learning Clearinghouse at University of Delaware (

Suggested Readings

  • PBL Case Components (pdf)
  • Donner R S, Bickley H. Problem-based learning in American medical education: an overview. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1993 July; 81: 294–298.
  • Barrows HS, Tamblyn RM. Problem-based learning: an approach to medical education. New York: Springer; 1980.
  • Vernon DT, Blake RL. Does problem-based learning work? A meta-analysis of evaluative research. Academic Medicine : Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges 1993; 68:550-63. 
  • Albanese MA, Mitchell S. Problem-based learning: A review of literature on its outcomes and implementation issues. Academic Medicine, 1993; 68:52-81.
  • Springer, L., Stanne, M. E., & Donovan, S. S. (1999). Effects of small-group learning on undergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 69(1), 21-51.
  • Soriano, R. P., Blatt, B., Coplit, L., CichoskiKelly, E., Kosowicz, L., Newman, L., Pasquale, S. J., Pretorius, R., Rosen, J. M., Saks, N. S., & Greenberg, L. (2010). Teaching medical students how to teach: A national survey of students-as-teachers programs in U.S. medical schools. Academic Medicine, 85(11), 1725-1731.
  • Spencer, J. A., & Jordan, R. K. (1999). Learner centred approaches in medical education. British Medical Journal, 318, 1280-1283.

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