Council on Medical Student Education in Pediatrics

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Combine great teaching methods!

Should we choose between problem-based learning and team-based learning? No, combine the best of both worlds! Dolmans D et al. Medical Teacher 2015; 37:354-359.


Reviewed by Rebecca Tenney-Soeiro

What was the study question?
This article describes similarities and differences between PBL and TBL, explores whether both approaches fit with current medical education curriculum design theory, and examines whether PBL and TBL could benefit from a merger of each method’s unique strengths.

How was the study done?
The authors analyze the literature and review PBL and TBL as instructional approaches to provide knowledge and build teamwork skills. PBL was developed in medical education in the 1960s as a student-centered approach in which problems are the stimulus for learning. TBL originated in business education in the 20th century and appeared in health sciences education in the last decade. TBL is learner centered and teacher directed around professionally relevant problems.

What were the results?
PBL and TBL share the important characteristics of 1) learning around professionally relevant problems and 2) learning in small groups or teams. Both fit well with current first principles of instructional design. There are differences: 1) in TBL one teacher runs various groups simultaneously, while in PBL there is one teacher per group, 2) knowledge acquisition is different as TBL students are given mandatory pre-class reading assignments while exposure to new content in PBL does not occur until after initial group discussion, 3) PBL students identify their own issues for self-study and in TBL the teacher decides what to focus on, 4) peer feedback is requirement in TBL and may not be in PBL.

What are the implications of these findings?
To optimize student learning, combine the best of both worlds. Construct PBL with structured peer feedback, PBL with study teams, TBL with initial group discussion before pre-reading assignments or testing, or TBL with students generating their own learning issues. Faculty resources, space, and curricular issues must all be considered.

Editor’s note: This is a great reminder to be creative, combine the best features of different educational approaches, and try new things (SLB).

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