2. Scientific background

Problem based learning (PBL) derives from a theory which suggests that for effective acquisition of knowledge, learners need to be stimulated to restructure information they already know within a realistic context, to gain new knowledge, and to then elaborate on the new information they have learned, for example by teaching it to peers or by discussing the material in a group setting.

PBL differs from more "traditional" approaches to teaching in that the participants are encouraged to use self directed learning skills, placing emphasis on a person’s ability to seek out and assimilate relevant information to tackle a problem at hand. The participants analyze a given clinical scenario, formulate and prioritize key learning objectives within that scenario, and then collect whatever additional information they consider relevant to address those objectives. Crucially, all this takes place within a group setting, so that each individual member of the group contributes to the learning process at every stage (c.f. 7-jump.

PBL is consistent with current philosophical views of human learning, particularly constructivism. Three primary constructivist principles, according to Savery and Duffy (1995) are that understanding comes from our interactions with our environment, cognitive conflict stimulates learning, and knowledge evolves through social negotiation and evaluation of the viability of individual understandings. The constructivist view of learning facilitates the adoption of PBL from pre-school to post-graduate training, and broadens its application far beyond medical training.

As a conclusion, PBL provides a more challenging, motivating and enjoyable approach to education. PBL graduates perform better in respect of interpersonal relationships, reliability and self-directed learning. As Albanese et al. (2000) conclude: If knowledge acquisition and clinical skills are not improved by PBL, the enhanced work environment for student and faculty that has been consistently found with PBL is a worthwhile goal. And finally, PBL induces an intensity winning hearts and minds.