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Med Teach. 2010 Jan;32(1):e5-11. doi: 10.3109/01421590903398232.

Verbal and nonverbal indices of learning during problem-based learning (PBL) among first year medical students and the threshold for tutor intervention.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey, UK. igukas@hotmail.com



During problem-based learning (PBL), students brainstorm on a problem, generate hypotheses and formulate learning objectives. Certain verbal and non-verbal expressions are used by students in response to specific learning issues.


This study examines the use of these expressions as indices of the learning taking place and the tutors' threshold to intervene.


Common verbal expressions used by students during PBL were identified and scored on a Likert scale to indicate the learning taking place. These expressions were categorised into the following groups of learning interactions: exploratory questioning, cumulative reasoning and handling conflicts relating to learning. The tutor's threshold for intervention was also scored on a Likert scale. Means for each learning interaction and observed non-verbal expressions were used to construct bar charts for comparison.


When the learning interactions involve exploratory questioning or cumulative reasoning, students tend to score high on learning and tutors have high threshold for intervention. When the learning interactions involve handling conflicts relating to knowledge, students score high on learning, but teachers have a low threshold for intervention.


Verbal and non-verbal expressions from students during PBL are useful indices of learning and can be used to help tutors decide when and when not to intervene.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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