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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 26  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 197-198

Problem-based learning: Constructivism in medical education

Department of Community Medicine, Shri Sathya Sai Medical College and Research Institute, Kancheepuram,Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Web Publication28-Jan-2014

Correspondence Address:
Saurabh RamBihariLal Shrivastava
3rd Floor, Department of Community Medicine, Shri Sathya Sai Medical College and Research Institute, Ammapettai Village, Thiruporur - Guduvancherry Main Road, Sembakkam Post, Kancheepuram - 603 108, Tamil Nadu
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1357-6283.126013

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How to cite this article:
Shrivastava SR, Shrivastava PS, Ramasamy J. Problem-based learning: Constructivism in medical education. Educ Health 2013;26:197-8

How to cite this URL:
Shrivastava SR, Shrivastava PS, Ramasamy J. Problem-based learning: Constructivism in medical education. Educ Health [serial online] 2013 [cited 2023 Jun 7];26:197-8. Available from:

Dear Editor,

Teaching and learning methods are in an ever-evolving field requiring regular and timely updates that will benefit both students and teachers. Teaching involves a unique challenge of conveying knowledge and information within a confined time period in such a manner that it is retained, remembered and effectively interpreted by a student. This evolution has resulted in compelling reforms in the field of medical education, with transformation from subject-based teaching to the practice of interactive, problem-based and student-centered learning. [1] Adopting newer teaching and learning methods in medical education results in the mutual betterment of both learners and teachers. [2]

Problem-based learning (PBL) was originally developed at McMaster University to counter the prevailing teacher-centered and discipline-based preclinical medical educational practices in the 1960s, where students received teacher-determined material by lectures for reproduction in factual tests. [3] Generally, this form of teaching method neither prepared students to solve clinical problems nor helped students to become self-directed lifelong learners. In contrast, PBL is a student-centered approach in medical education which facilitates conceptual and thorough understanding of the problem and then retaining the knowledge by exposing students to such skills as clinical reasoning, critical thinking and self-directed learning. [1],[3],[4]

In PBL, learners are presented with a problem and through discussion they reach a solution. Within groups, learners develop possible theories or hypotheses to explain the problem, identify issues to be researched and construct a shared primary model to explain the problem at hand. Facilitators provide a scaffold as a framework on which students can construct their knowledge relating to the problem. After the initial teamwork, students work independently in self-directed study to research the identified issues and ultimately students re-group to discuss their findings and refine their initial explanations based on what they have learned. [5] Thus, PBL addresses the need to promote lifelong learning through the process of inquiry and constructivist learning. [5]

At Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, problem-based learning was utilized for creating a virtual pharmacology curriculum. [6] In another study conducted among medical students from three different universities which apply PBL at different levels in their curricula researchers found that 64% of medical students were reasonably more satisfied with PBL. [7] PBL has also been found to be useful in improving patient outcomes as evidenced in a randomized study done in primary health care, conducted to evaluate the effect of problem-based learning in patient education after an event of coronary heart disease. The study revealed that the PBL-patient education intervention improved patients' beliefs, self-efficacy and empowered them to achieve self-care goals significantly more than standardized home-sent patient information. [8]

Overall, problem-based learning is a style of active and participatory learning designed to help students develop flexible knowledge, effective problem-solving skills, self-directed learning, effective collaboration skills and intrinsic motivation. PBL was originally utilized in medical education for small-group learning, but due to the range of benefits observed with its implementation, gradually PBL has found its application in different settings in various disciplines.

  References Top

1.Koh GC, Khoo HE, Wong ML, Koh D. The effects of problem-based learning during medical school on physician competency: A systematic review. CMAJ 2008;178:34-41.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Lubawy WC. Evaluating teaching using the best practices model. Am J Pharm Educ2003;67:87.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Neville AJ. Problem-based learning and medical education forty years on-A review of its effects on knowledge and clinical performance. Med PrincPract 2009;18:1-9.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Barrett T. In: Handbook of enquiry and problem-based learning. Barrett T, Labhrainn IM, Fallon H, editor. Galway: CELT; 2005. Understanding problem-based learning; pp. 13-25.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Schmidt HG, Rotgans JI, Yew EHJ. The process of problem-based learning: What works and why. Medical Education 2011;45:792-806.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Karpa KD, Vrana KE. Creating a virtual pharmacology curriculum in a problem-based learning environment: One medical school's experience. Acad Med 2013;88:198-205.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Gurpinar E, Kulac E, Tetik C, Akdogan I, Mamakli S. Do learning approaches of medical students affect their satisfaction with problem-based learning? Adv Physiol Educ 2013;37:85-8.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Karner A, Nilsson S, Jaarsma T, Andersson A, Wirehn AB, Wodlin P, et al. The effect of problem-based learning in patient education after an event of coronary heart disease-a randomized study in primary health care: Design and methodology of the COR-PRIM study. BMC FamPract 2012;13:110.  Back to cited text no. 8

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