Impact of problem-based learning on professional work practices

Connolly, Deirdre (2008) Impact of problem-based learning on professional work practices. [Conference Proceedings]


Problem-based learning (PBL) originated in medical education in the mid 1960’s and is now used across a wide range of third level educational programmes. Evidence of its increased use within higher education includes the range of published literature related to the learning processes and outcomes of PBL. Two of the prominent areas of debate in current PBL literature include the impact of different implementation models of PBL in third level institutions, such as, curriculum-wide PBL versus modular-based or hybrid PBL (Savin-Baden and Howell Major, 2004). The second area of discussion involves the effectiveness of PBL. Meta-analyses of PBL research have demonstrated no significant advantage for PBL in students’ acquisition of knowledge. But, in knowledge application, PBL showed a greater effect than traditional learning methods (Newman, 2003, Colliver, 2000, Albanese and Mitchell, 1993). However, it has been proposed that any research, which considers PBL as a single variable, is problematic and unlikely to demonstrate significant effects (Dolmans et al. 2005, Norman, 2003, Albanese, 2000). Albanese and Mitchell (1993) identified professional practice as the most appropriate environment in which to examine the impact of PBL, however, there is little published research in this area. This paper will present the findings of a study, which examined the impact of modular-based implementation of PBL, on the work practices of occupational therapy students. Students identified different categories of knowledge (Eraut, 2004) and a range of professional skills such as multidisciplinary team skills, group dynamic skills, and self-directed learning skills, applied in professional practice, which they acquired through PBL. This research challenges assumptions related to (i) implementation models of PBL and (ii) difficulties in researching the effectiveness of PBL. This paper will be of interest to those using PBL or considering its’ use, and for those involved in professional education both within academic and work-based contexts.

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