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Problem-based learning (PBL)

Barrows and Tamblyn (1980) summarise PBL as ‘the learning that results from the process of working toward the understanding or resolution of a problem. The problem is encountered first in the learning process’. In PBL students are given an ill-structured or open-ended problem. They work often in small collaborative groups towards a solution, but often there is no definite answer. The role of the teacher is one of facilitator, helping groups if they get stuck, providing useful resources and advice. In medical education in particular, PBL has been well researched and there has been some modest evidence that it is more effective than traditional methods (Vernon and Blake 1993; Smits, Verbeek and de Buisonjé 2002), so it has a solid grounding. With its emphasis on learner direction, use of diverse resources and open-endedness it meets many of the requirements set out above. As with RBL it may need recasting to fully utilise the new found abundance of content, where there is greater stress on finding and evaluating wide range of resources, and the utilisation of social networks as a resource.

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