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Aust Dent J. 2007 Mar;52(1):2-9.

Problem-based learning in dental education: what's the evidence for and against...and is it worth the effort?

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School of Dentistry, The University of Adelaide, South Australia.


All Australian dental schools have introduced problem-based learning (PBL) approaches to their programmes over the past decade, although the nature of the innovations has varied from school to school. Before one can ask whether PBL is better than the conventional style of education, one needs to consider three key issues. Firstly, we need to agree on what is meant by the term PBL; secondly, we need to decide what "better" means when comparing educational approaches; and thirdly, we must look carefully at how PBL is implemented in given situations. It is argued that PBL fulfils, at least in theory, some important principles relating to the development of new knowledge. It also represents a change in focus from teachers and teaching in conventional programmes to learners and learning. Generally, students enjoy PBL programmes more than conventional programmes and feel they are more nurturing. There is also some evidence of an improvement in clinical and diagnostic reasoning ability associated with PBL curricula. The main negative points raised about PBL are the costs involved and mixed reports of insufficient grounding of students in the basic sciences. Financial restraints will probably preclude the introduction of pure or fully integrated PBL programmes in Australian dental schools. However, our research and experience, as well as other published literature, indicate that well-planned hybrid PBL programmes, with matching methods of assessment, can foster development of the types of knowledge, skills and attributes that oral health professionals will need in the future.

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