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Problem Based Learning (PBL)

In 1969, the medical school at McMaster University introduced a unique, hands-on approach to learning medicine called Problem-based Learning. Problem-based Learning is quite different from “problem solving”, and the goal of the learning is not to solve the problem which has been presented. Rather, the problem is used to help students identify their own learning needs as they attempt to understand the problem, to pull together, synthesize and apply information to the problem, and to begin to work effectively to learn from group members as well as tutors. Below are the cornerstones of problem-based learning:

Small Group Learning

Problem-based learning occurs in a tutorial-style setting and includes 7-8 student participants. A student is assigned to a different tutorial group and facilitator in each of the five pre-clerkship Medical Foundation. Tutorials occur twice a week.

Faculty Facilitation

Each Problem-based Learning tutorial is led by a physician tutor. The tutor aims to strike a balance between directing the tutorial's conversation, while actively soliciting student feedback to ensure that a student's gap in knowledge is addressed and remedied.

Use of Patient-based Cases

Students are presented with a realistic clinical case during their first tutorial of the week. Students are expected to study and research the case and present their findings during that week's second tutorial. Please find an example of a tutorial case here.

Learning Objectives

Simply providing students with a patient case does not ensure that they will grasp the appropriate concepts. Each tutorial case is paired with a well-defined set of learning objectives, which are essential in ensuring that students address the correct content and identify their strengths and weaknesses in that particular content area. 

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