Problem-Based Learning

What is Problem-Based Learning and How Does it Work?

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a method of learning in which the student encounters a problem (typically in the case format), followed by a student-centered inquiry process. Basic to PBL is that the problem is presented first without advance readings, lectures, or preparation. The problem itself serves as a stimulus for the need to know. The students then determine what they already know and what they need to learn in order to advance their understanding of the problem(s). What the student needs to know serves as a foundation for the learning process.

The case problem often simulates the clinical setting. The tutor facilitates and guides learning without contributing directly to the solution of the problem or being the primary source of information. Self-directed study between sessions is a key part of the process.

A case most often begins with the reason for a person’s visit to the clinician or the health care setting. Students are asked to identify the problem/s and record them on the board. A list of ideas is then generated about what might be going on with the patient. For each hypothesis (a concept, not a diagnosis) generated, students are encouraged to explain their thinking and understanding to the group. This allows the students to develop existing individual and collective knowledge, reasoning, and communication skills.

The tutorial is an ideal setting to focus on what is needed for growth and development in competencies such as knowledge, reasoning, and communication (patient and peer). In PBL the student has a forum to show their ability to integrate knowledge across time and discipline while developing an understanding of the purpose of the various clinical skills. At the same time value is placed on the professional attitudes, values, and ethics of the health care provider. Self-assessment, peer and tutor feedback are used to enhance learning and development.

How Does PBL fit into the UNM PA Curriculum?

A typical week during Phase I and Phase II of the UNM PA program includes 8-10 hours of lecture & lab shared with the MD students. An average of 6 PBL hours is spent back in the PA classrooms in groups of 8 students. Afternoons are reserved for other classes required by the PA curriculum.

Lecture Integrated lectures and labs Integrated lectures and labs Lecture Integrated lectures and labs
PA Tutorial PA Tutorial
PA Classes PA Classes Clinical Skills PA Classes PA Classes

If you would like to experience a problem-based learning session, you can sign-up online. Sessions are offered at select times during the fall and spring semesters. The location of your registered PBL session will be emailed to you after your completed registration form is approved. Please cancel online if you cannot make your registered session. No-show students will be ineligible to attend a PBL session for the next six months. Remember this is a class for current students, please be on time, limit distractions and treat all individuals with respect as outlined in the UNM Student Code of Conduct.