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Phys Ther. 1998 Feb;78(2):195-207; discussion 207-11.

Problem-based learning in physical therapy: a review of the literature and overview of the McMaster University experience.

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  • 1School of Rehabilitation Science, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.


Problem-based learning (PBL), as implemented in the health sciences, is an educational method in which the focus of learning is a small-group tutorial in which students work through health care scenarios. The goals of the health care scenarios are to provide a context for learning, to activate prior knowledge, to motivate students, and to stimulate discussion. Learning is student-centered rather than faculty-centered, and self-directed learning is emphasized. The method was developed in the McMaster University medical school program and has since been adopted by many health care professional schools around the world. The theoretical basis and suggested advantages and disadvantages of PBL are outlined. Three approaches to PBL have been identified in the literature: completely integrated PBL curricula, transitional curricula, and a single-course approach. The advantages and disadvantages of each approach are addressed. The physical therapist (PT) program at McMaster University is a completely integrated problem-based curriculum. The history and process of PBL in general and in the PT program are reviewed. The implications of our experience for the development of other PBL courses and curricula are discussed. Evidence for proposed differences in students' performance and outcomes in PBL versus traditional curricula is critically reviewed. Recommendations are made for implementing PBL in PT curricula.

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