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Med Educ. 2009 Apr;43(4):377-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2009.03293.x.

Conducting the symphony: a qualitative study of facilitation in problem-based learning tutorials.

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Discipline of Medical Education, School of Medicine, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.



Tutors in problem-based learning (PBL) tutorials have a complex role to play in facilitating students' learning. This includes providing support for students' acquisition of content knowledge and skills in critical thinking, coaching of group processes and modelling of reflective practice. Few studies which investigate the key role of tutors in the PBL tutorial process are qualitative in design.


This study explores the nature and technique of facilitation provided by PBL tutors from the students' viewpoint. Data were obtained from written responses to an open-ended question asking students about the effectiveness of their PBL tutor(s) and from in-depth interviews carried out with two randomly selected students.


Three main themes arose from the inductive analysis of qualitative data: (i) role confusion by tutors; (ii) tutor management of sensitive issues, and (iii) facilitation 'style'. The theme of tutors' facilitation style was dominant and three sub-categories were apparent. These were: (i) managing the learning in PBL tutorials; (ii) facilitating group processes, and (iii) guiding group discussion.


Findings highlight the need for tutors to regularly review the PBL tutorial processes and group dynamics within the tutorial setting. These findings have implications for tutor training and programmes of ongoing professional development for PBL facilitators.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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