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Lecture versus problem-based learning of psychology

Lecture versus problem-based learning of psychology


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Studying psychology at a German university, the first two years of your curriculum will be almost entirely filled with lectures: students sit in an auditorium, listen to the professor talk for 90 minutes, they take notes, read a book or two, memorize as much of the content of lecture and books as they can, and at the end of the semester they take an exam. There are six to eight lectures per week, adding up to 12 to 14 hours, and there are an equal number of exams, adding up to the same number of hours.

From my experience and from talking to fellow students, I have the impression that we don't learn much in this way. We call it "bulimic learning": eating up huge amounts of information in a short span of time, barfing it up during the exams, and then immediately wiping our minds of it to hurriedly fill it up again for the next test. This feeling of not learning much is not wholly subjective: a large part of the early education is methodological, and the superficial and incomplete understanding of this area becomes painfully apparent once we have to apply it in more practical seminars. Most of us have to look up even basic statistical procedures that we had to know to pass our tests.

Talking to the professors that teach these courses, the replied to my critique of the current system with pointing out that there are a hundred to two hundred students visiting each lecture, and that it would be impossible to teach them in any other manner. I am not convinced of this. Other disciplines, for example in the humanities, manage the same ratio of students per professors only with seminars, none of which have more than 30 students, and completely without lectures.

Science - and I mean all science -, in my opinion, is a practically applied occupation. Even a practitioner of a more theoretical field, like metaphysics or theoretical mathematics, creates new ideas, "experiments" with them, and writes a paper about them. There is no creativity and nothing practical in learning for an exam, while there is no science that you cannot teach in an applied manner, if you are willing to be less normative about what students need to know: let them find their own problems, their own literature, their own ideas, and present them, discuss them, and revise them. Just as they would do as graduated scholars and researchers.

In a review of studies comparing problem-based learning, with learners "actively elaborating their conceptual frameworks", and traditional teaching through lectures, Reynolds (1997) found that problem-based learning "encourages deep rather than shallow strategies of learning", while "students who followed a traditional curriculum… manifested poorer learning strategies which favoured reproducing information, with less attention to personal comprehension". Additionally, "PBL courses tend to be associated with better attendance and less distress and depression". Results regarding the increase in knowledge appears to be contradictory, however.

I wonder if there is more (and more recent) research on different methods of teaching psychology, or on the relative merits of lecture versus seminar style teaching, in or outside of psychology.


Sources:

  • Reynolds, F. (1997). Studying psychology at degree level: Would problem-based learning enhance students' experience? Studies in Higher Education, 22, 263-275. doi:10.1080/03075079712331380886

There is a large amount of research of research that compares the effectiveness of problem based learning (PBL) with more traditional approaches such as lectures. Most of it stems from medical science education, and attests to the positive consequences of PBL (see the meta-analysis by Walker & Leary, 2009). However, some researchers have questioned how rigorous this research is and others have doubts whether the benefits of PBL are worth its costs - as it can be quite resource demanding (for a starting point into this discussion and literature, see e.g., Pease & Kuhn, 2011).

Furthermore, there seems to be much heterogeneity in the effectiveness of PBL (e.g., Walker & Leary, 2009). Several meta-analyses have been conducted in an effort to explain these differences. A good starting point into the subject may be Strobel and van Barneveld's (2009) meta-review of PBL-meta analyses. Quoting from their abstract:

Problem-based learning (PBL) has been utilized for over 40 years in a variety of different disciplines. Although extensively researched, there is heated debate about the effectiveness of PBL. Several meta-analyses were conducted that provided a synthesis of the effects of PBL in comparison to traditional forms of instruction. This study used a qualitative meta-synthesis approach to compare and contrast the assumptions and findings of the meta-analytical research on the effectiveness of PBL. Findings indicated that PBL was superior when it comes to long-term retention, skill development and satisfaction of students and teachers, while traditional approaches were more effective for short-term retention as measured by standardized board exams.

[emphasis added]

If you are looking for research on PBL in psychology, the journal Teaching in Psychology may be worth a look. The journal is more of an outlet for publications on specific exercises and teaching-related resources ("hands-on-approach"). However, the proposed teaching methods and exercises (which could be often regarded as PBL) are usually compared to traditional approaches in small evaluation studies. Other than that there doesn't seem to be much research that looks into the effectiveness of PBL in psychology on a broader level.

References

Pease, M. A., & Kuhn, D. (2011). Experimental analysis of the effective components of problem-based learning. Science Education, 95, 57-86. doi:10.1002/sce.20412

Strobel, J. , & van Barneveld, A. (2009). When is PBL More Effective? A Meta-synthesis of Meta-analyses Comparing PBL to Conventional Classrooms. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 3(1).

Walker, A. & Leary, H. (2009). A Problem Based Learning Meta Analysis: Differences Across Problem Types, Implementation Types, Disciplines, and Assessment Levels. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 3(1), 6-28.


I completely agree with you that psychology could be taught in much better ways. However, teaching just about any science in the way that you are wanting is a lot harder than you might think. It can't be compared to the humanities.

You are correct that all science is a practice and that you learn to be a practitioner through solving problems and receiving feedback. However, in science there is a massive overhead cost before one can actually work with the material. I got my undergraduate education in psychology by spending 10-20 hours/week in a lab for four years… THEN I was ready for graduate school. The courses were great to get my imagination going, but the lab was an absolute necessity. Learning any science means learning a lot of boring (and I mean REALLY boring) skills, most of which are entirely useless outside the field. Many times we learn a particular skill just to run a single study, then never use it again.

To do a single study in psychology takes a really long time. Participants have to be recruited, computer apps need to be programmed, teams of RAs need to be coordinated and trained, procedures need to be planned and tested and revised and tested… , etc.

To be clear, I'm not saying that the way we teach psychology at the undergraduate level is adequate. What I'm saying is that the optimal way to teach psychology would require a massive (read: expensive) overhaul to the system and ratios of students to professors that are not feasible. I think psychology is taught the way it is because it exposes people to the different topics with the hope that some of the useful information will be retained. For students who really like psychology, the assumption is that they will seek out their own education in psychology by finding a professor to work with. If your concern is just at the conceptual level, then I agree with you and I wish we could do more. However, if your concern is practical and you want an education in psychology, your only real option is to start devoting 40-80 hours per month working on 1-on-1 with a professor (or grad student) on a project.


Problem-based versus conventional curricula: influence on knowledge and attitudes of medical students towards health research

Background: Medical education curricula in developing countries should emphasize training in health research. This study compares the knowledge and attitudes towards health research between undergraduate medical students undertaking Problem Based Learning (PBL) versus conventional Lecture Based Learning (LBL).

Methods: Two groups comprising 66 (LBL) and 84 (PBL) 4(th) and 5(th) year students from the medical college of Aga Khan University were administered a structured and validated questionnaire. Knowledge and attitudes of the two groups were recorded on a scale (graduated in percentages) and compared for statistical difference.

Results: PBL students scored 54.0% while LBL students scored 55.5% on the knowledge scale [p-value 0.63]. On the attitudes scale, PBL students scored 75.5% against a 66.7% score of LBL students [p-value 0.021]. A higher proportion of PBL students (89%) had participated in research activities compared to LBL students (74%) and thus felt more confident in conducting research and writing a scientific paper.

Conclusion: The PBL students showed slightly healthier attitudes towards health research compared to LBL students. Both groups demonstrated a similar level of knowledge about health research. The positive impact of the PBL curriculum on attitudes of medical students towards health research may help in improving research output from developing countries in future.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Introduction

In 2009, Schmidt et al. (2009) acknowledged that there was not one but several types of problem-based learning curricula being used by medical schools in North America and beyond. Primarily, they distinguished between what they called Type 1 curricula, in which students are asked to generate a “mental model” of phenomena underlying a problem, and a Type 2, in which students “play doctor”, focusing on problem-solving and clinical reasoning skills. For the sake of simplicity, we shall refer to the former as the Knowledge Acquisition model, and the latter as the Problem-Solving Skills model. What Schmidt and colleagues did not explain is how, issued from a single source, namely McMaster University Medical School’s 1969 pioneering programme, the world of PBL came to be divided along this fault-line. The beginnings of PBL were recently the subject of extensive research and shall not be covered in detail here (Servant 2016). The story can be summarised as follows: in the period after the second World War, higher education experienced an unparalleled growth around the western world, which, combined with bountiful financial resources and a rising tide of anti-authoritarianism, contributed to the birth and development of many innovative higher education programmes in various disciplines. In Germany and Denmark, problem-oriented education grounded in critical theory emerged in social sciences and humanities, and later engineering, as a challenge to mainstream didactics (Servant-Miklos and Spliid 2017) in business education, the Harvard Case Method gained international traction (Garvin 2003) in medical education, Western Reserve University pioneered an organ systems-based approach, a direct ancestor to PBL (Williams 1980). Between 1966 and 1972 a group of creative Canadian medical educators assembled around McMaster Medical School’s founding Dean Dr. John Evans with the mission to start a new undergraduate medical education programme. They took the medical education world by storm when instead of opening a traditional school, they decided to develop a small-group, self-directed, problem-based learning curriculum (Spaulding 1991). Their students began their learning with biomedical problems under the guidance of a tutor who acted as a process guide rather than a lecturer, leaving students to do most of the studying in their own time (Spaulding 1968). By the time of Schmidt’s article, over 500 medical schools were using some form of PBL (Moust et al. 2007), the majority using the Problem-Solving Skills version, and a substantial minority the Knowledge Acquisition version. This division is interesting considering the substantial support that the latter position has gained in the scientific literature, often at the expense of the former—a support that this paper will surely reinforce. How did these two iterations emerge from the McMaster experiment? What is the difference between these two versions, and how does this play out in terms of the way PBL is conducted? Why does this difference matter for medical education? Using historical data from oral history interviews, archives from McMaster University and Maastricht University and contemporary publications, this paper will try to answer these questions and shed light on a little known but highly significant divide in medical education.

The research for this paper was done using an inductive and hermeneutic approach to historical data in provenance from three types of primary sources that were triangulated to make sense of the historical events and the meanings ascribed to them by those who experienced them. These three sources were oral history accounts from primary witnesses, who were interviewed in English on site at McMaster and Maastricht Universities archival records from McMaster University, Maastricht University, the Rijksarchief in Limburg and the private collections of former teachers, students and managers and both institutions, and contemporary publications and out-of-print books and journals that were acquired via the second-hand market or directly from the authors. Events, their meanings and interpretations were given weight according to how many independent sources could support the interpretation. Where a conflict emerged between the recollections of a witness in an oral history account and a written record, the written record was given precedence unless there was overwhelming oral historical evidence to the contrary. In writing this paper, the focus was on interpreting and analysing an important historical development rather than on providing a descriptive history of what happened at McMaster and Maastricht.

Why did two iterations of PBL emerge from the original McMaster model?

To understand how two different interpretation of PBL emerged from the original experiment at McMaster, it is important to understand that the 1969 McMaster programme was not designed as a realisation of educational theory principles, as has often been claimed. The five founding fathers of PBL at McMaster University were pioneers and innovators, but not education theorists. In 1966, Dr. John Evans drafted a one-page bullet-pointed list of ideas which became the founding principles of PBL, but he never wrote anything significant to justify his choice of items for the list (Evans 1966). The list read as follows:

“The Following is an outline of the objectives for the McMaster M.D. Programme as expressed in terms of knowledge, abilities and attitudes that McMaster would like a graduate of the programme to have acquired or developed:

The ability to identify and define health problems, and search for information to resolve or manage these problems.

Given a health problem, to examine the underlying physical or behavioural mechanisms. […]

The ability to recognize, maintain and develop personal characteristics and attitudes required for professional life […]

The clinical skills and methods required to define and manage health problems of patients, including their physical, emotional and social aspects.

The ability to become a self-directed learner, recognizing personal education needs, selecting appropriate learning resources and evaluating progress.

To assess professional activity, both personal and that of other health professionals

To function as a productive member of a small group, which is engaged in learning, research or healthcare.

To be aware of and able to work in a variety of health care settings.”

As far as we know, his main source of inspiration was the Flexner report (McAuley 1979), but extracting from this anything more than general statements about the outdatedness of lecture-based medical education would be a stretch. Evans’ right-hand man Bill Spaulding occasionally mused about the 16th Century humanist Johannes Comenius (Spaulding 1968), but Spaulding’s role as the Chair of McMaster’s Education Committee was more that of a nuts-and-bolt planner than an education philosopher. Jim Anderson, possibly the most creative of the founding fathers, may have been inspired by humanistic principles, but he was really an inspired anatomist, not an education psychologist (Barrows 1996a, b). Neither of the final two members of the Education Committee—Fraser Mustard and Bill Walsh—had read much beyond what was widely circulating in higher education circles at the time namely Mager’s Behaviour Objectives (Mager 1962) and the work of Knowles on self-directed learning (Knowles 1975). The lack of strong and coherent theoretical underpinnings for the programme meant that the McMaster experiment was more of a trial-and-error process in constant development than an application of cleverly crafted educational ideas. The fact that the term “problem-based learning” wasn’t coined in print until 1974 (Neufeld and Barrows 1974), and not by any of the founding fathers, goes to show just how uninterested the latter were in making grand jargonistic statements about what they were doing. A review of contemporary journal publications (Campbell 1973 Neufeld and Spaulding 1973 Spaulding and Neufeld 1973 Spaulding 1969) shows three things: firstly, that very little was published about PBL in its early years secondly, that what was written tended to be by faculty who were not part of the original education committee and thirdly, that the articles that were published tended to be descriptive rather than analytic. This meant that there was no definitive statement of what PBL was or what it was for, and when the founding fathers left the Education Committee—beginning with John Evans who resigned as Dean in 1972—the concept of PBL took on a life of its own under the pen of later prophets who filled the theoretical void with their own, often conflicting interpretations of what PBL was about.

The dispute at the heart of the division between the Problem-Solving Skills and the Knowledge Acquisition Approach is precisely the product of the theoretical chasm left by McMaster’s founders. This dispute played out in the late 1970s and 1980s between two of PBL’s most prolific theorists: Dr. Howard Barrows, a neurologist originally from California who came to McMaster on sabbatical in 1968 and joined the faculty roster from 1971 until 1981 and Henk Schmidt, a Dutch psychologist who was hired at the start of Maastricht University’s PBL programme in 1974 as part of the Department of Education Research and Development. The Maastricht programme was adapted from McMaster but sported some notable differences, such as the inclusion of systematic tutor and student training (Schmidt 1977a, b), the development of a “skills lab” for clinical skills training (Bartholomeus 1977), the codification of the PBL method into seven steps (Schmidt et al. 1979), the use of biomedical problems rather than (only) patient cases (Schmidt et al. 1979), and the allocation of research funds for a Department of Educational Research and Development (Rijksuniversiteit Limburg 1972). Although this department was officially run by the psychologist and assessment specialist Dr. Wynand Wijnen, in practice most of the early research on PBL was done by Henk Schmidt and his colleague Peter Bouhuijs. Howard Barrows was an occasional visitor and advisor to Maastricht, and Schmidt an occasional guest at McMaster, but their divergence of perspective on PBL played out mostly on paper. Both authors wrote their first major book on PBL in 1980 (Barrows and Tamblyn 1980 Schmidt and Bouhuijs 1980), and by that time their academic differences had already crystallised into an unbridgeable epistemological gulf. This means that Barrows and Schmidt’s understanding of what knowledge is, how it is constructed and how it is used in problem-solving was not only different, but fundamentally contradictory, such that the two positions could not be reconciled in the middle—one cannot take both positions at once, as the next section will explain.

What is the difference between the problem-solving skills and the knowledge acquisition approach?

The crux of the intellectual dispute behind the two versions of PBL lies in two differing interpretations of what happens to the learner who is engaged in problem-based learning. On the one hand, some, led by Barrows, believed that the learners in PBL were honing “clinical reasoning skills” (Barrows and Tamblyn 1980) through a process called “hypothetico-deduction” (Elstein et al. 1978). We refer to this as the Problem-Solving Skills approach to PBL. Others, led by Schmidt, believed that learners in PBL were triggered by context-bound problems to understand the phenomena underlying the situation described in therein. We refer to this as the Knowledge Acquisition approach to PBL.

Both approaches are the product of the Cognitive Revolution in psychology, which began in 1956. The ‘50s were the heyday of behaviourism, but at an MIT symposium which brought together figures such as Jerome Bruner, Allen Newell, Herbert Simon and Noam Chomsky, a new interpretation of psychology was born that was based not on the study of behaviours and conditioning, but of mental processes instead (Miller 2003). While Bruner and Millers’ early work on cognition proceeded in relative isolation, the straw that broke the behaviourist camel’s back was Chomsky’s 1956 paper on linguistics (Chomsky 1956, 1967) it demolished the behaviourist understanding of language acquisition by showing that a purely behavioural account could not explain grammar acquisition. Chomsky’s pioneering paper paved the way for what some regard as one of the first works of cognitive psychology: A Study of Thinking by Bruner, Goodnow and Austin, from 1956 (Bechtel et al. 2001 Bruner et al. 1956).

And yet, the very people who broke the hold of behaviourism on American psychology in 1956 were also the authors of a schism that divided cognitive psychology from its very beginnings until the 1990s. On the one hand, at the dawn of computer science, inspired by the workings of computer operating systems and refusing to believe that human problem-solving could be understood simply as trial-and-error, the two young computer scientists Newell and Simon (1972) produced a version of cognitive psychology that thought of people as general problem-solvers whose problem-solving skills were independent of their content knowledge it became known as information-processing psychology (IPP). On the other hand, inspired by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget and his Schema Theory (Piaget 2003), authors initially rallying under Jerome Bruner’s banner developed a branch of cognitive psychology concerned with the role of the activation of existing knowledge in knowledge acquisition this became known as constructivist psychology (Hergenhahn 2001). The division of the Cognitive Psychology movement into these two irreconcilable halves paved the way for the disagreement between Barrows and Schmidt.

Howard Barrows and the problem-solving skills approach to PBL

Although he may not have known it, Barrows owed the inspiration for his approach to PBL to the IPP school of thought. IPP was born in 1955, when Newell and Simon began their work in cognitive psychology from the premise that like computers, the human mind acts as a general problem-solving device (Newell et al. 1958). They believed that the process of solving a problem consisted in a collection of heuristic pathways that together formed a problem space and should be considered independently of the content of the problem. Newell and Simon’s research objective was to identify the invariant characteristics within the “Human Processing System” (Newell and Simon 1972).

While IPP was all the rage in the 1970s, by the 1980s it had hit an impasse. Firstly, from a methodological perspective, Newell and Simon’s trademark strategy for measuring the elusive “general problem-solving” capability was deeply flawed (Ohlsson 2012). It consisted in getting participants to voice their cognitive strategies out-loud while confronted with a sample problem. The experimenters recorded these verbal protocols, and then built computer programmes that mimicked the temporal order of the protocols in order to uncover the cognitive heuristics used by the human in this problem situation. However, there was a major problem with this approach: the verbal protocol was actually problem-specific rather than general—so much for their General Problem Solver. Secondly, from a theoretical perspective, the attempt to produce a general theory of problem solving didn’t work. Newell and Simon posited the existence of a problem-solving strategy that was context-free, but it became rapidly apparent that humans don’t generally engage in means-end analysis but use other cognitive strategies such as analogies, forward search etc., all of which are context-bound. And yet, perhaps because of psychology’s fascination with computers, the IPP model survived for decades longer than evidence should have allowed it to. Indeed, it survived long enough to spawn a model of medical problem-solving that ricocheted into the problem-based learning literature via Barrows: the hypothetico-deductive model.

The IPP methods were picked up by Arthur Elstein and Lee Shulman, working out of Michigan State University (Anderson 2003). In 1978, they attempted to demonstrate the existence of content-independent heuristics of medical problem-solving (Elstein et al. 1978). Clinicians, they conjectured, went through a process of hypothetico-deduction when faced with a medical problem. This meant that they would engage in the formulation of hypotheses for potential diagnoses, which would be either confirmed or disproved by new data from medical tests on the patient until the most likely hypothesis was left standing. The authors’ initial contention was that expert clinicians would fare better at hypothetico-deduction than novices, but their research found no evidence that expert clinicians were indeed better at generating hypotheses than novices. Instead, they were forced to acknowledge that the expert’s prior medical knowledge in the particular domain of the problem made a substantial difference in the expert clinicians’ ability to solve that problem, as compared with the novice. This indicated that the expertise was not one of deductive ability, but of content knowledge. However, the influence of IPP was such that they were not able to surrender the idea of the existence of content-independent heuristic processes. Instead of seeking a content-driven alternative explanation for the fact that some people appear to be better at problem-solving than others, they sought to explain this with the idea that some heuristics require extensive training.

The influence of the hypothetico-deductive model was then channelled into problem-based learning by Howard Barrows, particularly through his input into the McMaster curriculum in the 1970s and his 1980 book. Barrows began his research on hypothetico-deduction in the early 1970s, but his most developed argument in favour of content-independent reasoning processes can be found in Problem-based Learning: An Approach to Medical Education, the highly popular book on PBL which he co-authored with Robyn Tamblyn in 1980. In this book, the authors dismissed the idea that a physician’s clinical reasoning process was a mysterious intuitive “art”, and instead argued that these cognitive skills could and should be taught in medical education. The solution for this was to confront students with patient, health delivery, or research problems, since “by working with an unknown problem, the student is forced to develop problem-solving, diagnostic, or clinical reasoning skills” (p. 13).

Barrows argued that increased medical knowledge could even be detrimental to problem-solving skills as more precise knowledge might encourage students to tunnel-vision around what they had learned rather than consider a wider range of hypotheses. The distinction between content and process knowledge was cemented in Barrows’ call for process evaluations that are “concerned with the student’s ability to observe data, solve problems or show aspects of the clinical reasoning process, make clinical decisions and therapeutic decisions, and the like” (p. 113). Such aspects of the clinical reasoning process were made to include data perception and representation, problem formulation, hypothesis generation, inquiry strategy, diagnostic decisions, therapeutic decisions, time, cost, sequential management, and, finally, the medical information acquired. Therefore, while it would be unfair to claim that Barrows dismissed the importance of prior knowledge in problem-solving as Newell and Simon had, it is clear that the emphasis of his work was on the process of problem-solving via hypothesis generation. He believed that this process could be isolated enough from the specific problem content in which it was practiced to produce some general and teachable mechanisms by which medical problems should be approached a trait which places Barrows squarely within the information-processing tradition.

This had some deep consequences for McMaster’s PBL curriculum. Beginning in 1977, calls were being issued by faculty and students to reform the 1969 curriculum (Roy 1978), and the process of change was taken over by Victor Neufeld, supported by Barrows. The new curriculum, progressively rolled out between 1977 and 1984, did away with the strong biomedical nature of the first curriculum and instead focused on priority healthcare problems management (MacDonald et al. 1989). Evidence of this change can be seen through the year-by-year evolution of the education materials found in the McMaster archives between 1975 and 1982, and in the notes of the Education Committee meetings (Ali 1977 Neufeld 1977) In the new curriculum, the students mainly dealt with long descriptions of patient cases compiled on the basis of lists of most commonly experienced medical issues, with a focus on solving the medical problem at hand. The objectives of the Faculty of Medicine were thus revised to read in top position: “to identify and define health problems at both an individual and a community level and to search for information to resolve or manage these problems” (Educational Programme Committee 1978). In addition, the development of clinical skills became a central feature of the reform efforts. Under the influence of Barrows and Tamblyn, the McMaster clinical skills training programme was constructed to train the students’ skills in encounters with simulated patients (Sutton 1977). This curriculum lasted until 1993, when, in the face of the high student failure rates in the national medical exam, McMaster abandoned the IPP approach and adopted a curriculum with many content-oriented features resembling those of Maastricht University (Norman et al. 2010).

Henk Schmidt and the knowledge acquisition approach to PBL

The Knowledge Acquisition position owes a lot to the early works of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. Although Schmidt was most strongly influenced by the renaissance of constructivist ideas in the wake of the cognitive revolution, that renaissance would not have been possible without the groundwork laid out by Piaget’s Schema Theory (Piaget 1952, 1959, 2003). Piaget was the first to propose that knowledge is not stored as raw data but “constructed” through particular mental structuring processes called “schemas”. Schema Theory fell out of favour with the dominance of behaviourism in the 1960s, but by the late 1970s, a growing number of experimental psychologists, such as Andrew Ortony, Rand Spiro and David Ausubel, were looking into information encoding and retrieval in an attempt to explain the way knowledge is stored and reconstructed for recall. Even though they seldom explicitly referred to Piaget, they expanded on his notion of the schema by providing it with the scientific specificity that the Swiss psychologist was lacking. Under their pen, schemas were understood as mental “frames” or “scripts” that contained “slots” or “placeholders” that could be “instantiated” by elements in a situation (Anderson et al. 1978). Although all of these names made their way into Schmidt’s research on PBL in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the work of Richard Anderson returned with more consistency and force than the others. Schmidt recalled:

What (PBL) students were doing while discussing a problem was activating prior-knowledge in order to make sense of that problem. If the problem was sufficiently complex (but adapted to their level of knowledge) the need for new knowledge would arise and self-directed learning would satisfy that need. Since relevant prior knowledge was already activated, the new information would be more easily integrated. That this indeed leads to better learning is what I have shown in my PhD-thesis published in 1982 (personal communication).

In 1977, Anderson expanded on the concepts of “assimilation” and “accommodation” in Schema Theory (Anderson 1977). He posited that schemas could not be a simple aggregation of response components, perceptual features, semantic features, functional attributes and the like – instead, schemas could only be understood in terms of their emergent properties. This insight enabled Anderson to hypothesise how schemas are used (assimilation) and change (accommodation). He argued that accommodation happens as a gradual process whereby incongruent elements increasingly challenge an existing schema and make assimilation more and more difficult. Although people are extremely reluctant to accommodate their schemas, they also attempt to preserve cognitive consistency, and when the latter tendency wins over and a schema change is engaged, the acquisition of knowledge truthfully begins. Thus, Anderson saw accommodation as a sine-qua-non condition of learning:

I suspect that large-scale accommodation may be a dialectical process which entails a confrontation with difficulties in one’s current schema and coming to appreciate the power of an alternative (p. 429).

Anderson’s explanation paved the way for Schmidt’s idea that problems, by offering realistic situations for students to work with, could activate students’ existing schemas and thus provide the basis for sense-making that is essential to learning (Schmidt 1983a, b). The development of this theory was a slow process that began shortly after the opening of Maastricht Faculty of Medicine and ripened until 1983. We can see from archival evidence that the research efforts began in earnest in 1977, although at the time the education research group’s ideas on learning in PBL were a little haphazard. A note in the tutor training manual Het Tutorensysteem indicates that the researchers believed that the strength of PBL lay in the promotion of knowledge retention and transfer, but without further specification (Bouhuijs et al. 1977). In fact, the text indicates that the authors, including Schmidt and his colleague Peter Bouhuijs, were aware of the limitations of contemporary research in the field. By 1979, Schmidt had developed more precise ideas on this. He elaborated on his previous work with a paper entitled Leren met Problemen (1979) and for the first time referred to the activation of prior knowledge and Ausubel’s take on Schema Theory. At this point, Schmidt’s work was fully aligned with the constructivist credo that people do not passively ingest the outside world but instead constantly attempt to give meaning to it through personal interpretations of what their senses tell them. In a paper from 1983, he offered three connected explanations of the learning process that takes place in PBL: the activation of prior knowledge encoding specificity (the similarity between the situation in which knowledge is learned and the situation is which it is applied) and elaboration of knowledge (Schmidt 1983a, b). By this stage, his research had expanded well beyond the work of Anderson and Ausubel and was aggregating reports from all over the blooming field of cognitive psychology. Schmidt’s later article on the foundations of problem-based learning provided some elaborations of these three ideas, but the central themes remain the same to this day (Schmidt 1993).

How the dispute played out at Maastricht University

The story takes root in the early 1970s, when Howard Barrows took it upon himself to demonstrate that educational aids could be used to improve “clinical reasoning skills”, “problem-solving skills”, “diagnostic skills” and other variations thereof. The first apparent results of this research appeared in 1972, under the title The diagnostic (problem-solving) skill of the neurologist, in which it was claimed that hypothetico-deduction could be equated to a “cognitive hat rack” for organising the information acquired during the patient interview (Barrows and Bennett 1972). Barrows worked closely with Vic Neufeld on this research—neither of them having a prominent role in the curriculum development at McMaster at that time. Neufeld studied medical education at Michigan State University, where Elstein and Shulman were doing their work and according to their research assistant Geoffrey Norman, the Barrows-Neufeld duo “had a close relation” with the Elstein–Shulman team (personal communication). It is therefore unsurprising that Barrows borrowed so heavily from the theory of hypothetico-deduction to support his ideas. This research culminated in a paper written in 1977, in which not only was the “hat rack” idea alive and well, but prior knowledge was relegated to a secondary relevance (Feightner et al. 1977). They developed a model of medical problem solving which would be of crucial importance in the later debates on PBL (Fig. 1).

The hypothetico-deductive model of Feightner et al. (1977)

The McMaster team boldly concluded: “Family physicians do have identifiable legitimate problem solving skills which they can teach. We feel that the model outlined above can help student to develop their clinical problem solving skills” (p. 71). These are the ideas with which Barrows and Neufeld travelled to Maastricht to act as educational consultants to the new Faculty of Medicine. There is ample evidence from written correspondence between them that throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Schmidt held both Barrows and Neufeld in very high esteem (Schmidt 1983a, b). In Schmidt’s eyes, Barrows was one of the founders of PBL and therefore warranted listening to. It is therefore not surprising to find Barrows and Neufeld’s model of hypothetico-deduction in Schmidt’s early work. How did Schmidt move from one paradigm to the other? A comparison of his two major contributions between 1977 and 1979 may provide answers to this question. In 1977, Schmidt wrote Probleemgeoriënteerd onderwijs, a booklet designed to be used internally at the Faculty (Schmidt 1977a, b). In it, he wrote down for the first time his ideas on the cognitive mechanisms underlying learning through PBL. This manuscript was published 1 year later in the Dutch journal Metamedica (Schmidt 1978), and 1 year later re-written in a substantially amended format as Leren met Problemen (Schmidt 1979). The key lies in the changes made between the 1977 paper (and its identical reprint in 1978) and the 1979 paper. The table below indicates the most significant of these changes. It may seem strange that Schmidt offered argument from both paradigms in his work, even though they are not epistemologically compatible—but this incompatibility was not generally understood at the time, even among cognitive scientists (Table 1).

We see in the 1977 paper an extensive explanation of PBL in terms of Barrows, Elstein and Shulman’s hypothetico-deductive model, with diagrams that closely resemble those published by Barrows in his own work from 1977. And yet, already in 1977, Schmidt was intrigued by the experiments of a Dutch psychologist, De Groot (1965), on chess players. De Groot had tested chess players’ ability to solve a checkers problem, and found that chess masters made mediocre checkers players—indicating the absence of a general problem-solving ability among chess masters. The plausible explanation was that chess masters had a great prior knowledge of possible chess combinations to draw from when solving chess problems, that was of no use to them when solving a checkers problem. Schmidt concluded, as Elstein also did later, that prior knowledge must be a major factor in performance on problem-solving tasks. But these ideas could only be considered hunches at the time: aside from a passing mention of Bruner, in 1977, Schmidt’s reference list is remarkably devoid of constructivist literature. This was very much amended in the 1979 paper, which is replete with notes on Ausubel, Kelly, De Groot, as well as digressions on Bruner and Miller. Although Schmidt had used the term “prior knowledge” before, this was the first time that he framed it strongly in terms of the “activation of prior knowledge”—and therefore PBL as a learning method that could be used precisely for that purpose. By 1979, gone were the references to hypothetico-deduction, absent the diagrams of Barrows–Schmidt now saw hypothesis generation as an automatic process of the human cognitive architecture which therefore cannot not be trained, and he therefore saw little point in expending energy researching it.

Incompatible approaches to PBL

Barrows and Schmidt were in regular contact during the 1980s as consultants from McMaster flew to Maastricht and vice versa. In particular, in 1983, Schmidt organised a symposium on PBL for which he invited Barrows as a speaker. A series of letter exchanges leading up to this event sheds some light on their academic relationship. For instance, a letter written by Barrows to Schmidt in July 1982 indicates that the former believed PBL to be the acquisition of basic sciences knowledge and “medical problem solving as a cognitive skill” in equal measure (Barrows 1982). In response, Schmidt returned a letter to Barrows in January 1983, in which he voiced in the clearest way possible the rift between their approaches to PBL:

I think that the difference between your work and mine is more a difference of problem-solving in terms of encoding, storage and retrieval of knowledge for use in problem-solving situations (and, most important, in terms of the organization of knowledge in memory), while you focus on the process of problem-solving itself. My main interest lies in the role PBL plays in knowledge acquisition - that is why I refer with emphasis to theories of learning (role of knowledge, inference production, organization of knowledge, retrieval cues etc.) - while you are particularly interested in how the students use the knowledge acquired in clinical problem-solving situations (and therefore refer to theory and research in that area). In fact, I think that our approaches are complementary. We would make a good team! When you are in Maastricht, we certainly should sit down to discuss these matters and others (Schmidt 1983a, b).

In fact, it seems that the approaches were not so much complimentary as mutually exclusive as they relied on opposing understandings of the role of knowledge in problem-solving. The version of PBL supported by Barrows posited the primacy of heuristics and associations in medical problem-solving. That of Schmidt relied on problem-solving anchored in prior knowledge and experience. But problem-solving cannot be both content-independent and content-dependent—these two positions are therefore epistemologically incompatible with one another. Therefore either Barrows or Schmidt was right about PBL, but they could not both be. This incompatibility is not a matter of a historical clash of personalities: by all accounts, Schmidt and Barrows actually held each other in high regard. This is really a question of two interpretations of PBL, the underlying epistemological constructs of which are irreconcilable, and produced a very different type of problem in PBL. Whereas a PBL problem for Barrows could be “a written case, case vignette, standardized (also called simulated patient), computer simulation, video tape” (Barrows and Tamblyn 1980, p. 5), for Schmidt, a problem could also look like a description of a biomedical phenomenon with no “solution”. Schmidt’s problems required instead that the underlying phenomena or theory be understood by the students (Schmidt 1993). While this sort of problem could be and was translated to almost any academic discipline, problems based on the management of healthcare problems could not be. Perhaps this serves to explain the profusion of PBL programmes in the Netherlands in all manner of academic disciplines ranging from psychology to liberal arts.

Luckily, History has provided us with some answers as to which of the two versions of PBL fared the best in terms of helping students to solve medical problems by the mid-1980s, IPP was beginning to crumble as a psychological paradigm. In 1985, Christine McGuire lamented resilience of the idea of content-independent cognitive skills and abilities:

Professional evaluators (…) wanted to believe in the existence of some generalized kind of cognitive achievement – a related set of skills or developed abilities – that individuals could bring to bear in managing patient problems. They have been pursuing that chimera ever since, despite a mind-numbing torrent of studies that continue monotonously to report the same findings (McGuire, 1985).

McGuire also stated that she did not believe that the doctors reported in Barrows’ studies were actually engaging in hypothetico-deduction:

Doubts that these diagnostic labels are genuine hypotheses are considerably exacerbated if, as Barrows and Tamblyn say, they literally ‘pop’ into the clinician’s head within moments of the initial encounter. Such a process appears to be more akin to the act of pattern-matching or to the procedure involved in comparing group phenomena with various templates and selecting best fit (McGuire, 1985).

In what should have been a death blow to the Problem-Solving Skills approach to PBL, in 2002, Elstein became his own harshest critic when he acknowledged that the theory that medical problem-solving was based on hypothetico-deduction processes was in large part erroneous (Elstein and Schwarz 2002). Most problems, he realised, were actually resolved on the basis of pattern recognition or the construction of a mental model of the problem. Both of these processes were based on the extent of the clinician’s knowledge rather than the mastery of heuristics. This, he acknowledged, has such strong implications for problem-based learning that it led him to a re-evaluation of the purpose of the method:

The finding of case specificity showed the limits of teaching a general problem solving strategy. Expertise in problem solving can be separated from content analytically, but not in practice. This realisation shifted the emphasis towards helping students acquire a functional organisation of content with clinically usable schemas. This goal became the new rationale for problem based learning (p. 731).

This is not quite a full embrace of the constructivist paradigm, as Elstein struggled to let go of his embrace of IPP “analytically”. Yet ironically, “in practice”, Elstein turned to the alternative approach to PBL: constructivism and the Knowledge Acquisition approach championed by Henk Schmidt. And yet, despite these strong criticisms including from within the school of thought of hypothetico-deduction, Barrows refused to re-evaluate his approach to PBL. In the light of this, the divergence with Schmidt that had begun in the late 70s turned into a dispute in the late 1980s, culminating in an open confrontation during a review of the PBL curriculum of Sherbrooke University in Canada in 1992, as Schmidt recalls:

Howard Barrows, George Bordage, Charles Boelen (of the World Health Organization), and I were invited around 1992 to assess the then five-year old problem-based medical curriculum of the University of Sherbrooke in Canada. I had been one of this school’s consultants, had visited many times in the previous years, and had conducted teacher training workshops emphasizing PBL as a method to acquire knowledge and its embedding in cognitive constructivism. Barrows (perhaps not aware of my previous role) was highly critical about what had been accomplished, because the curriculum “was not a problem-solving curriculum”. Much more emphasis should be put on students acquiring the process of clinical reasoning, otherwise it was not really problem-based. I felt it necessary to object and eventually ended up in a heated argument with him (personal communication).

When asked, Georges Bordage and Charles Boelen could not remember the specifics of this particular event, but both agreed that Barrows, on different occasions, “was not too enthusiastic about knowledge-based PBL- too much about knowledge and not enough about the process of clinical reasoning, same issue” (Bordage, personal communication). Boelen recalled:

On another occasion at UNM in Albuquerque, I think in 1993, as we were considering with a dozen of colleagues PBL applied to public health problems, I remember him exposing very strongly the same arguments and the conversation became so heated that our friend Charles Engel [a PBL pioneer in Australia] who dared to argue was shocked and about to weep (personal communication).

If any doubt persists within the reader, an analysis of the later works of Barrows clearly show that he espoused information-processing to some degree until the end of his academic career, a claim also confirmed by his former research assistant Norman (personal communication). In 1996, Barrows produced a paper summarising his view of PBL in which he re-iterated the importance of clinical problem-solving skills, but also the importance of the acquisition of a medical knowledge-base that would be integrated, centred around the cues of patient problems, and enmeshed with the problem-solving process (Barrows 1996a, b).


Simulation-Based Learning Versus Didactic Lecture in Teaching Bronchial Asthma for Undergraduate Medical Students: a Step Toward Improvement of Clinical Competencies

Simulation-based learning (SBL), an effective teaching strategy, is still questionable on whether it can be an alternative to didactic lectures in medical education. Our study aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of SBL versus traditional lectures in retention of knowledge.

Methods

A randomized controlled trial was conducted among medical students who were divided in two groups (36 students each). Each group received the same information about diagnosis and management of bronchial asthma, but with a different teaching method: didactic lecture or simulation. Knowledge level was tested before, immediately after the teaching sessions and 3 months later using multiple-choice questions. Student’s satisfaction was evaluated using feedback questionnaire.

Results

The simulation group scored higher than the lecture group in the post-test and the late test. However, these differences were not significant. Additionally, students’ satisfaction scores were significantly higher in the simulation group than in the lecture group (p < 0.01). Students ranked simulation significantly better regarding motivation (71.9%), comfort (59.4%), understanding (59.4%), and effective communication (59.4%) (p < 0.01).

Conclusion

Simulation is as effective as lecture in retention of medical knowledge. Nonetheless, students agree that it is more satisfactory and interesting. SBL integration in medical programs is recommended to overcome obstacles in clinical training.


Problem-Based Learning: An Overview of its Process and Impact on Learning

In this review, we provide an overview of the process of problem-based learning (PBL) and the studies examining the effectiveness of PBL. We also discuss a number of naturalistic and empirical studies that have examined the process of PBL and how its various components impact students’ learning. We conclude that the studies comparing the relative effectiveness of PBL are generally consistent in demonstrating its superior efficacy for longer-term knowledge retention and in the application of knowledge. Studies on the process of PBL, however, are still inconclusive as to which component(s) of PBL most significantly impact students’ learning, although causal studies have demonstrated that all the phases of PBL are necessary in influencing students’ learning outcomes.


JITE v46n1 - Effects of the Problem Solving and Subject Matter Approaches on the Problem Solving Ability of Secondary School Agricultural Education

O.W. Olowa Department of Agricultural Education Federal College of Education (Technical) Akoka.Nigeria.

Abstract

The approach used by teachers is very important to the success of the teaching process. This is why this study seeks to determine which teaching approaches – problem solving and subject-matter, would best improve the problem solving ability of selected secondary agricultural education students in Ikorodu Local Government Area. Ten classes and 150 students, based on Hay’s (1973) cluster sampling formula for determining sample size, were selected. The classes were taught with instructional units prepared using the problem solving approach model presented in Newcomb, McCracken and Warmbrod (1993) and subject matter approach as described by Rosenshine and Steven (1986) . At the conclusion of all instruction, a problem solving ability posttest and Group Embedded Figures Test (GEFT) Instruments were administered to all participants. The scores obtained from the problem solving ability posttest was analyzed using the univariate analysis of covariance and it found, among other things, problem solving approaches scored significantly higher (P=0.046) on the posttest than scores of students assigned to classes using the subject matter approach. The implication of this figure is that the problem solving ability of secondary school students can be accelerated with instructional approaches, such as the problem solving technique.

Introduction

The approach used by teachers is very important to the success of the teaching process. Teachers should learn how to use several teaching methods. No one method of instruction will work all of the time and under every circumstance. Thus, the selection of a teaching method is critical to the learning style of those being served by instruction.

The problem solving approach is a student-centered approach to teaching where the central and essential characteristic is solving problems ( Binkley and Tulloch, 1981 ). Students participate in the learning process by contributing problems, analyzing the factors associated with the problems, developing possible solutions to the problems, placing the solution(s) into action, and evaluating the results of the solution. The subject matter approach is a teacher-centered approach to teaching where students are more passive participants in the learning process. Students listen to the information, participate in limited discussion, take notes, and retrieve or recall the information for evaluation purposes. With the subject matter approach the focus is more on acquisition of information than on group driven problem solving.

Odumosu (1999) explained the problem solving method as a form of the discussion and development methods in which the students set out with a wider problem to guide their study or discussion. The problems may be given by the teacher or it may be suggested through the children’s own experiences in that subject or in a life situation. It is their task to find the facts that will help in solving it. The problem solving approach has been widely accepted and recommended by agricultural educators as the best method of teaching agriculture ( Phipps and Osborne, 1988 ). Today, that approach remains the primary method of teaching offered to pre-service agriculture teachers in many teacher education programs. However, its actual use throughout the agricultural education profession is limited, with some educators questioning its validity as a superior approach to instruction. Many teachers view the problem solving approach as archaic, tied to the farm backgrounds and supervised agricultural experiences of the learners ( Moore and Moore, 1984 ). Critics of the problem solving approach also accuse that while the approach has a sound theoretical base, it has been accepted with little empirical evidence to either defend or reject its usefulness in the classroom.

Some students may possess a style of learning which is not complimentary to the use of problem solving. Their inability to solve problems interacts with their inability to use past knowledge and experiences to help in the solution. Research on learning and teaching styles serves as a basis for selecting teaching approaches. According to Barr and Tagg (1995) , two types of teaching behaviors and two different types of student learning strategies exist. They wrote that teachers educate from either an instructional paradigm that focuses on what the teacher does in the classroom, or from a learning paradigm that focuses on whether and how students learn. Most teachers teach from the instructional paradigm that is less concerned with how students learn and more about the teacher’s actions ( Lasley, 1998 ). Learning strategies refer to the different activities that students apply and by which learning is achieved ( Sankaran & Bui, 2000 ). Two types of learning strategies have been proposed: deep, to satisfy curiosity and to understand the meaning of a task by an in-depth study of a subject and surface, which is just to satisfy requirements by memorizing facts well enough to earn a good grade without fully mastering the material ( Sankaran & Bui, 2000 ). For teachers to foster the deep learning strategy they must teach outside of the instructional paradigm. In other words, teachers must present information in a way that encourages students to seek their own answers using their own strategies. Gallagher and Stepien (1996) wrote that instruction which fosters higher order thinking can result in learners who can construct meaningful connections between significant pieces of information, transfer information to new settings, and are motivated to learn. By teaching students how to think and learn independently, teachers increase their power to think and to learn outside of the classroom ( Kahler, Miller & Rollins, 1988 ). These statements support the need to determine the appropriate teaching approach different from the traditional methods of lecture and rote memorization still used today by teachers who view education from the instructional paradigm and by students who use surface learning strategies. The problem-oriented approach has been used as an educational tool for many years. Educators such as John Dewey proposed it nearly a century ago. According to Barrow (1996), problem based learning was reintroduced into medical education in the 1960s to better prepare physicians for the demands of professional practice. There is opposition to the use of the problem oriented approach as a method of education. Critics of the problem solving approach say that while the approach has a sound theoretical base, it has been accepted with very little empirical evidence to either defend or reject its usefulness in the classroom ( Dyer & Osborne, 1999 ). Additionally, Dyer and Osborne (1999) found that problem solving instruction may not fit the learning style of some students. In fact, abstract learners may not recognize problems as such when presented to them. Problem solving instruction may be an effective instructional alternative, but little empirical evidence from school settings currently exists concerning teaching for knowledge acquisition using this approach.

The theoretical framework for this study was founded in Mitzel’s Conceptual Model for the study of classroom teaching ( Dunkin and Biddle,1974 ). The Mitzel Model suggests that the effectiveness of a teaching approach (process variable) on the problem solving ability of students (product-variable) is moderated by the learning styles of the students (context variable), even though teacher effects (presage variables) are held constant. However, student learning styles shall not be considered or included in the analyses of this study.

Few studies have attempted to address the effects of the problem solving and the subject-matter approach on the problem solving ability of secondary agricultural education (mostly foreign authors) and reported. Whereas Dawson (1956) reported an increase in problem solving ability in favor of the problem solving approach Thompson and Tom (1957) found no difference. A study of agriculture students from Illinois which compared the effects of the problem solving approach to the subject matter approach found the problem solving approach to be no more or less effective in producing student achievement or knowledge retention ( Flowers & Osborne, 1988 ). Flowers (1986) reported no significant differences in the short-term retention of subject matter when the problem solving approach was compared to the subject matter approach. The problem solving approach was however, effective in reducing achievement loss when compared to the subject matter approach ( Dyer & Osborne, 1999 Lee, George and Donald, 2001 ).

PURPOSE OF THE STUDY

The primary purpose of this study was to compare the effectiveness of the problem solving approach to the subject matter approach in teaching given agricultural science problem areas to subjects. The specific objectives of the study are:

  • To analyze the descriptive statistics of sample students.
  • To determine the effects of the problem solving and subject matter approaches on the problem solving ability of secondary school agricultural education students in Ikorodu Local Government Area.

HYPOTHESES TESTED

There is no differences in the problem solving ability of students taught by the problem solving approach and the problem solving ability of students taught by the subject matter approach.

RESEARCH DESIGN

The study was conducted using a quasi-experimental design. Since random assignment of subjects to treatment groups was not possible, intact groups were used with random assignment of treatments to the groups. the study followed a variation of the nonequivalent control group design described by Campbell and Stanley (1963) , but differed in that the subject matter approach to instruction was used as the control.

POPULATION STUDIED

The population of this study consisted of all Ikorodu Local Government Area (Lagos, Nigeria) Secondary Agricultural Education Students.

SAMPLE AND SAMPLING TECHNIQUE

Ikorodu Local Government Area has about 50 Secondary Schools (both public and private together). Ten classes and 150 students taught by five teachers were selected. Cluster sampling based upon Hays (1973) formula for determining sample size was used in an attempt to ensure that instructors were capable of using each of the two teaching approaches properly.

RESEARCH INSTRUMENT: VALIDITY AND ADMINISTRATION

The instruments used for the study were instructional units, Group Embedded Figures Tests (GEFT) and questionnaires. GEFT enumerates the degree of abstractness concreteness on a scale of 0-18. The GEFT instrument is considered to be a standardized instrument. Its validity has been established and reported by Witkin, H.A., Oltman, P.K. Rosking, E and S.A. Karp (1971) . Instructional units were prepared using the problem solving approach model presented in Newcomb, McCracken, and Warmbrod (1993) and subject matter approach model as described by Rosenshine and Steven (1986) . To ensure that the proper teaching approach was used, instructors were provided in-service workshops of two hours in length concerning the proper use of both teaching approaches.

Face, content and construct validity of the researcher-constructed instruments were determined by an expert panel in agricultural education and research. All instruments were pilot tested and appropriately adjusted.

Students were administered a pretest designed to measure pre-treatment problem solving ability. Normal curve equivalent (NCE) scores were also obtained to statistically control for existing ability levels. One treatment group received instruction in classes taught by the problem solving approach, the other group received instruction in classes taught by the subject matter approach. Two units of instruction were taught to each group. At the conclusion of all instruction, a problem solving ability posttest and the GEFT instruments were administered to all participants. Data collection was carried out between May and July 2008.

PROCEDURE

The data for this study were collected using a quasi-experimental counterbalance design ( Campbell and Stanley, 1963 ). Teachers were purposefully selected for their ability to use the problem solving approach to teaching by a panel of experts consisting of three faculty members from The Federal College of Education’s (Technical) Agricultural Education Department and nine staff members from the Supervisors of the Lagos State Post-primary Teaching Service. The panel of experts was selected on the basis of their knowledge of the teaching ability of the Lagos agricultural science teachers. Fifteen teachers were identified by the panel of experts, five teachers agreed to participate in the study, and all five teachers provided usable data to the researcher. Four teachers provided audio tapes of their instruction. The sampled population was 150 students enrolled in agricultural science in ten comprehensive high schools. Each teacher taught two instructional units. One unit was taught using a problem solving approach and a second unit was taught using a subject matter approach. The unit plans contained an equal amount of instructional material the only differences were related to the two teaching approaches used in the study. The problem solving approach unit plans were prepared for each of the instructional units. Equivalent unit plans were prepared for the subject matter approach to teaching, including identical information used in the problem solving unit plans. The instructional unit plans were then submitted to a panel of experts consisting of four faculty members and six graduate students from The Federal College of Education’s (technical) Department of Agricultural Education to establish content validity and equality. The panel of experts was selected on the basis of their experience teaching high school agricultural science. The topic of the unit (Farm Implement and Mechanization), the timing of the unit (first or second in the instructional series), and the approach to teaching (subject matter or problem solving) were randomly assigned to each teacher. Instruction on all units was audio taped to verify the administration of the experimental levels of the treatment. Data were collected using a 40 question achievement test (Farm Implement and Mechanization unit test), a 15 item attitude toward instruction instrument (Farm Mechanization Attitude instrument ), and a 14 item teaching approach evaluation instrument (Teaching Approach Instrument) developed by the researchers. The 40 achievement test questions were arranged in different ways to produce three identical forms of the exam. The three forms were used as a pretest, posttest #1 and posttest #2.

Content validity of the instruments was established by a panel of experts consisting of four faculty members and six graduate students from The Federal College of Education’s (technical) Department of Agricultural Education with experience teaching high school agricultural science.

DATA ANALYSIS

Statistics such as the covariance analysis, mean and percentages were used for analyzing the data generated with the instruments.

RESULTS

Table 1.0. Numbers and Percentages of Students by Gender and Teaching Approach
GENDER TEACHING APPROACH
PSA
n=102
SMA
N=48
Male 66 (64.7) 34 (70.83)
Female 36 (35.3) 14 (29.17)
Note: Percentages are in parentheses.
PSA = Problem Solving Approach
SMA = Subject Matter Approach

Table 1.0 shows that 102 students (66 male and 36 females) were taught by problem solving approach while 48 (34 males and 14 females) were taught by subject matter approach. Majority of the students who completed the study were males.

Table 2.0. Mean Scores of Student Problem Solving Ability
GENDER Problem Solving Ability Pretest Problem Solving Ability Posttest
Mean SD Mean SD
Male 6.08 2.45 8.56 3.63
Female 3.68 1.32 6.30 2.25

Table 2.0 statistically the performance of students taught by problems solving teaching approach. The comparison revealed that male students scored significantly higher on the problem solving ability pretest than did female.

Hypothesis:- There is no difference in the problem solving ability of students taught by the problem solving approach and the problem solving ability of students taught by the subject matter approach.

Table 3.0. One–way Analysis of Variance for Problem Solving Ability.
Source Df Ms F
Pretest
Between groups 6 (24.10)
Within group. 143 (3.12) 8.84**
Post test
Between groups 6 (18.01) 1.98
Within groups 143 (8.35)
* P< .01

The problem solving ability of students was measured by the numerical score obtained from analysis of the problem solving ability posttest completed by each student. All tests were scored according to the problem solving analysis form developed by the researcher. Scores on the problem solving ability pretest were used as a covariate measure to adjust for pre-existing group differences.

A one-way analysis of variance revealed significant differences (P = 0.000) across the groups. The univariate analysis of covariance testing the effects of the treatment on the problem solving ability of students indicated that the scores of students in classes taught by the problem solving approach were significantly higher (P = 0.046) on the posttest than were scores of students assigned to classes using the subject matter approach. As a result, the null hypothesis of no difference between treatment groups was rejected in favor of the problem solving approach.

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The study shows that the problem solving approach is more effective than the subject matter approach in increasing the problem solving ability of students. This finding agreed with earlier studies reported by Dawson (1956) and Chuatong (1987) . The problem solving approach to teaching should be used whenever improved problem solving ability is a desired outcome of instruction. According to Witkin, et al (1997) students scoring less than 11.3 on the GEFT instrument possess little inherent ability to solve problems. They must acquire this skill. Based on the results of this study, the problem solving approach proved to be an effective tool and should therefore be used as an instructional approach to enhance problem-solving ability. In secondary schools, the ability to solve problems increases by class level. However, that ability can be accelerated with instructional approaches, such as the problem solving approach, which focuses on the solution of problems. Suffice it to say that this study, though clinical in nature, is severely limited in its ability to be generalized to other populations. Further studies should be conducted to increase the level of understanding and usability.

O.W. Olowa is at the Federal College of Education in Yaba Lagos State, Nigeria. He can be reached at [email protected]

References

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Barr, R.B., & Tagg, J. (1995, Nov./Dec.). From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Barrows, H. (1996). Problem-based learning in medicine and beyond: A brief overview. New Directions for Teaching and Learning.

Binkley, H. R., & Tulloch, R. W. (1981). Teaching vocational agriculture/agribusiness. Danville, IL: The Interstate Printers and Publishers, Inc.

Bracey, J.W. (1998). Minds of our own. Phi Delta Kappan 80(4).

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Campbell, D.T., & Stanby, J.C. (1963). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for Research. Chicago: Rand McNally.

Chuatong, P. (1987). Factor Associated with the problemsolving ability of High School Students enrolled in Vocational Horticulture. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, The Ohio State University: Columbus.

Dawson, M.D. (1956). Versus Problem-Solving Teaching elementary Soil Science. Science Education 40, 395-404. Michigan. USA

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Dyer, J.E., & Osborne, E. (1999). Effects of student learning style on short and long-term retention of subject matter using various teaching approaches. Journal of Agricultural Education. (40)2.

Flowers, J., & Osborne, E.W. (1988). The problem solving matter approach to teaching vocational agriculture: Effects on student achievement and retention. The Journal of the American Association of Teacher Educators in Agriculture. 29(1). 28 th Annual National Agricultural Education Research Conference, December 12, 2001 - Page 563

Gallagher, S.A., & Stepien, W.J. (1996). Content acquisition in problem-based learning: Depth versus breadth in American studies. Journal for the Education of the Gifted. 19(3).

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Johnson, D.M., Wardlow, G.W., & Franklin, T.D. (1997). Hands-on activities versus worksheets in reinforcing physical science principles: Effects on student achievement and attitude. Journal of Agricultural Education. 38(3), 9-17.

Kahler, A.A., Miller, W.W., & Rollins, T.J. (1988). Critical thinking skills of agriculture students. Proceedings of the Fifteenth National Agricultural Education Research Meeting, December 15th,1998.

Lasley, T.J. (1998). Paradigm shifts in the classroom. Phi Delta Kappan. 80(1).

Lee smith, Gorge.W.W., & Donald, M.J. (2001). A Problemoriented Approach to Teaching Agriscience Compared with Lecture and Study Questions: Effects on Achievement and Attitude of High School Students. 28 th National Agricultural Education Research Conference. December 12 th , 2001 Page 554

Lipman, M. (1991). Thinking in Education. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Purdue Research Foundation. (1986). Attitudes Toward Any School Subject. Lafayette, IN: Purdue Research Foundation.


Lecture versus problem-based learning of psychology - Psychology

Direct comparison of the effectiveness of problem-based learning and lecture-based instruction, as well as a hybrid approach.

Previous research shows that problem-based learning has a positive impact on the acquisition of problem-solving skills.

Previous research shows that lecture-based instruction has a positive impact on the acquisition of knowledge.

Present findings show differential impact of problem-based learning and lecture-based instruction in management classrooms.

Present findings show a hybrid approach lead to the development of both knowledge acquisition and problem-solving skills.

Implication for instruction and curriculum design in the management classroom are considered.


Method

Learning environment

The educational program of the School of Law of a Dutch university, in which the current study took place, consists of a 3-year bachelor program and a 1-year master program. At the start of the academic year in September 2012, a PBL curriculum was implemented. Students who enrolled in the School of Law before September 2012 were not taught according the principles of PBL, but in a traditional, lecture-based way. In this lecture-based program, the academic year consisted of four 8-week periods with a total of eight courses. During each period, two courses were offered parallel and, each week, multiple lectures were provided. Some courses offered a weekly workgroup, where a teacher discussed a particular law case. The number of contact hours was approximately 12 h per week. Four exam weeks took place during the academic year, in which the students were assessed on their knowledge and skills.

In the new PBL program, a total of eight courses are offered sequentially within one academic year, each lasting 5 weeks and all ending with a written examination. In PBL, the focus lies on tutorial meetings that occur twice a week. In these meetings, the pre-discussion (i.e., collaborative discussion of a realistic problem prior to self-study) and the reporting phase of the previous problem (i.e., discussion of the studied literature) take place and students have sufficient time for self-study in between these meetings. Lectures (i.e., one or two each week) and practical courses are offered next to the tutorial meetings and serve the purpose of extending students’ understanding of course material (i.e., lectures) and teaching students how to apply the learned material in real-life law cases (i.e., practical courses). The number of contact hours is approximately 8 h per week. The current study was conducted within one program, to control for particular variables such as course content and teaching faculty.

Design and participants

Third-year Dutch law students of a lecture-based program and a PBL program participated in this study. Students of the lecture-based cohort enrolled in their first year of the study program Dutch law in September 2011, a year before the switch to PBL. Students of the PBL cohort registered their first year of Dutch law in September 2012, after the switch. At the time of participating in this study, all students had entered their third year of the bachelor study program.

A total of 338 students participated voluntarily. In the PBL group, 158 third-year Dutch law students (36 % males) participated. Mean age was 21.54 years (SD = 1.82). Participants of the lecture-based group were 180 third-year Dutch law students (38 % males) with a mean age of 22.49 years (SD = 2.60). The participants were quite representative for the total number of third-year students. Around 80 % of the lecture-based students and around 70 % of the PBL students in the third year participated.

Students of the lecture-based group were significantly older than students of the PBL group, t(336) = 3.84, p < .001. This age difference can be explained by a higher number of students in the lecture-based group with a study delay (70 % compared to 30 % of the PBL students), and therefore a higher age. No differences in gender between both groups were present, χ 2 (1) = .16, p = .689. The gender distribution (i.e., percentage male and female) in both groups is common for law study programs in higher education in the Netherlands (Central Bureau for Statistics 2014).

Material

Learning strategies

The first part of the Inventory Learning Styles (ILS Vermunt 1998) was used to measure students’ learning strategies (i.e., processing strategies and regulatory strategies). The ILS is a self-report questionnaire in which students rate statements on a scale of 1 (“I never or hardly do this”) to 5 (“I (almost) always do this”). Items regarding processing strategies are distinguished in (a) deep processing, which focus on relating topics, structuring, and critical processing, (b) stepwise processing, in which the use of memorization, rehearsal, and analyzing is measured, and (c) concrete processing, which measures whether learning material is concretized and personalized by the student. Further, items on regulatory processes are divided into (d) self-regulation, which measures to what degree students control their own learning process, (e) external regulation, which measures to what degree students depend on external resources (e.g., a teacher) for steering and controlling their learning process, and (f) lack of regulation, which measures the inability of students to regulate the learning process. In total, the questionnaire contained 55 items. Table 1 provides an overview of the subscales with example items of the ILS and Cronbach’s alphas for each subscale. The Cronbach’s alphas can be considered acceptable, with the exception of the scale “external regulation” (α = .64), which has a rather low reliability. Results on the scale external regulation should therefore be interpreted with caution.

Self-study time

Students were asked to give an estimation of their weekly time investment on self-study (in hours) prior to the ILS, by asking the question, “How many hours, on average, do you spend each week on self-study?” Previous research has showed that there is a strong connection between self-reported study time and actual time spent on study in PBL (Moust 1993).

Procedure

In both groups, the teacher (i.e., in the lecture-based cohort) or tutor (i.e., in the PBL cohort) handed out the questionnaire on paper to students during a regular study week and students took about 15 min to fill it out. Students of the lecture-based cohort participated in the current study during the given course of the third academic year in January 2014. The course at the time was called “moot court,” in which students learn to plea in front of a judge. Students of the PBL cohort participated in the current study exactly 1 year later, in January 2015, when they were in their third academic year. Students of this cohort were enrolled in the course “criminal law” at the time of the study. All students were instructed to report on their learning strategies and self-study time in general, not in the specific course given at the time.

Statistical analyses

In order to compare students of both learning environments on their learning strategies, a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted with educational method as between-subjects factor (i.e., PBL vs. lecture-based) and scores on the three subscales of processing strategies (i.e., deep, surface, and concrete processing) and the three regulatory strategies (i.e., self, external, and lack of regulation) as dependent variables. In order to study the influence of the learning environment on the relation between learning strategies and self-study time, moderation analyses were conducted with PROCESS (Hayes 2012). Self-study time and educational method (i.e., PBL group vs. lecture-based group) served as predictors, and scores on the ILS subscales as outcome variables. Instructional method was considered a moderator variable, and a moderation effect was present when an interaction effect between self-study time and instructional method appeared for the different subscales (Field 2013). When an interaction effect is present, the relation between self-study time and the scores on learning strategies is different in both learning environments, indicating a moderator effect.


Professional education for psychologists using online problem-based learning methods: Experience at Charles Sturt University

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In: Australian Psychologist , Vol. 43, No. 4, 12.2008, p. 286-292.

Research output : Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review

T1 - Professional education for psychologists using online problem-based learning methods

T2 - Experience at Charles Sturt University

N1 - Imported on 12 Apr 2017 - DigiTool details were: month (773h) = Dec 2008 Journal title (773t) = Australian Psychologist. ISSNs: 0005-0067

N2 - Problem-based learning (PBL) is a pedagogical approach to professional training that emphasises the development of clinical reasoning skills and self-directed learning. In contrast to more traditional lecture-based approaches which focus upon the linear acquisition of course content, PBL is undertaken in the context of actual case presentations. Although PBL has been adopted widely in the professional training of medical practitioners and nurses, it is only just beginning to be employed in the professional education of psychologists. This paper examines the nature and benefits of PBL for education in clinical and forensic psychology by outlining its implementation and development at Charles Sturt University (CSU), located in a rural area of Australia. Although a full and independent evaluation of PBL for education in clinical or forensic psychology is yet to be undertaken, this paper argues that PBL can make a significant contribution to professional training in psychology.

AB - Problem-based learning (PBL) is a pedagogical approach to professional training that emphasises the development of clinical reasoning skills and self-directed learning. In contrast to more traditional lecture-based approaches which focus upon the linear acquisition of course content, PBL is undertaken in the context of actual case presentations. Although PBL has been adopted widely in the professional training of medical practitioners and nurses, it is only just beginning to be employed in the professional education of psychologists. This paper examines the nature and benefits of PBL for education in clinical and forensic psychology by outlining its implementation and development at Charles Sturt University (CSU), located in a rural area of Australia. Although a full and independent evaluation of PBL for education in clinical or forensic psychology is yet to be undertaken, this paper argues that PBL can make a significant contribution to professional training in psychology.


Ding Xiaojie and Zhao Liping contributed equally to this work.

Affiliations

Department of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, School of Public Health, Nanjing Medical University, Nanjing, China

Xiaojie Ding, Haiyan Chu, Na Tong, Chunhui Ni, Zhengdong Zhang & Meilin Wang

Teaching and Research Administration Office, School of Public Health, Nanjing Medical University, Nanjing, China

Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, Nanjing Medical University, Nanjing, China


Introduction

In 2009, Schmidt et al. (2009) acknowledged that there was not one but several types of problem-based learning curricula being used by medical schools in North America and beyond. Primarily, they distinguished between what they called Type 1 curricula, in which students are asked to generate a “mental model” of phenomena underlying a problem, and a Type 2, in which students “play doctor”, focusing on problem-solving and clinical reasoning skills. For the sake of simplicity, we shall refer to the former as the Knowledge Acquisition model, and the latter as the Problem-Solving Skills model. What Schmidt and colleagues did not explain is how, issued from a single source, namely McMaster University Medical School’s 1969 pioneering programme, the world of PBL came to be divided along this fault-line. The beginnings of PBL were recently the subject of extensive research and shall not be covered in detail here (Servant 2016). The story can be summarised as follows: in the period after the second World War, higher education experienced an unparalleled growth around the western world, which, combined with bountiful financial resources and a rising tide of anti-authoritarianism, contributed to the birth and development of many innovative higher education programmes in various disciplines. In Germany and Denmark, problem-oriented education grounded in critical theory emerged in social sciences and humanities, and later engineering, as a challenge to mainstream didactics (Servant-Miklos and Spliid 2017) in business education, the Harvard Case Method gained international traction (Garvin 2003) in medical education, Western Reserve University pioneered an organ systems-based approach, a direct ancestor to PBL (Williams 1980). Between 1966 and 1972 a group of creative Canadian medical educators assembled around McMaster Medical School’s founding Dean Dr. John Evans with the mission to start a new undergraduate medical education programme. They took the medical education world by storm when instead of opening a traditional school, they decided to develop a small-group, self-directed, problem-based learning curriculum (Spaulding 1991). Their students began their learning with biomedical problems under the guidance of a tutor who acted as a process guide rather than a lecturer, leaving students to do most of the studying in their own time (Spaulding 1968). By the time of Schmidt’s article, over 500 medical schools were using some form of PBL (Moust et al. 2007), the majority using the Problem-Solving Skills version, and a substantial minority the Knowledge Acquisition version. This division is interesting considering the substantial support that the latter position has gained in the scientific literature, often at the expense of the former—a support that this paper will surely reinforce. How did these two iterations emerge from the McMaster experiment? What is the difference between these two versions, and how does this play out in terms of the way PBL is conducted? Why does this difference matter for medical education? Using historical data from oral history interviews, archives from McMaster University and Maastricht University and contemporary publications, this paper will try to answer these questions and shed light on a little known but highly significant divide in medical education.

The research for this paper was done using an inductive and hermeneutic approach to historical data in provenance from three types of primary sources that were triangulated to make sense of the historical events and the meanings ascribed to them by those who experienced them. These three sources were oral history accounts from primary witnesses, who were interviewed in English on site at McMaster and Maastricht Universities archival records from McMaster University, Maastricht University, the Rijksarchief in Limburg and the private collections of former teachers, students and managers and both institutions, and contemporary publications and out-of-print books and journals that were acquired via the second-hand market or directly from the authors. Events, their meanings and interpretations were given weight according to how many independent sources could support the interpretation. Where a conflict emerged between the recollections of a witness in an oral history account and a written record, the written record was given precedence unless there was overwhelming oral historical evidence to the contrary. In writing this paper, the focus was on interpreting and analysing an important historical development rather than on providing a descriptive history of what happened at McMaster and Maastricht.

Why did two iterations of PBL emerge from the original McMaster model?

To understand how two different interpretation of PBL emerged from the original experiment at McMaster, it is important to understand that the 1969 McMaster programme was not designed as a realisation of educational theory principles, as has often been claimed. The five founding fathers of PBL at McMaster University were pioneers and innovators, but not education theorists. In 1966, Dr. John Evans drafted a one-page bullet-pointed list of ideas which became the founding principles of PBL, but he never wrote anything significant to justify his choice of items for the list (Evans 1966). The list read as follows:

“The Following is an outline of the objectives for the McMaster M.D. Programme as expressed in terms of knowledge, abilities and attitudes that McMaster would like a graduate of the programme to have acquired or developed:

The ability to identify and define health problems, and search for information to resolve or manage these problems.

Given a health problem, to examine the underlying physical or behavioural mechanisms. […]

The ability to recognize, maintain and develop personal characteristics and attitudes required for professional life […]

The clinical skills and methods required to define and manage health problems of patients, including their physical, emotional and social aspects.

The ability to become a self-directed learner, recognizing personal education needs, selecting appropriate learning resources and evaluating progress.

To assess professional activity, both personal and that of other health professionals

To function as a productive member of a small group, which is engaged in learning, research or healthcare.

To be aware of and able to work in a variety of health care settings.”

As far as we know, his main source of inspiration was the Flexner report (McAuley 1979), but extracting from this anything more than general statements about the outdatedness of lecture-based medical education would be a stretch. Evans’ right-hand man Bill Spaulding occasionally mused about the 16th Century humanist Johannes Comenius (Spaulding 1968), but Spaulding’s role as the Chair of McMaster’s Education Committee was more that of a nuts-and-bolt planner than an education philosopher. Jim Anderson, possibly the most creative of the founding fathers, may have been inspired by humanistic principles, but he was really an inspired anatomist, not an education psychologist (Barrows 1996a, b). Neither of the final two members of the Education Committee—Fraser Mustard and Bill Walsh—had read much beyond what was widely circulating in higher education circles at the time namely Mager’s Behaviour Objectives (Mager 1962) and the work of Knowles on self-directed learning (Knowles 1975). The lack of strong and coherent theoretical underpinnings for the programme meant that the McMaster experiment was more of a trial-and-error process in constant development than an application of cleverly crafted educational ideas. The fact that the term “problem-based learning” wasn’t coined in print until 1974 (Neufeld and Barrows 1974), and not by any of the founding fathers, goes to show just how uninterested the latter were in making grand jargonistic statements about what they were doing. A review of contemporary journal publications (Campbell 1973 Neufeld and Spaulding 1973 Spaulding and Neufeld 1973 Spaulding 1969) shows three things: firstly, that very little was published about PBL in its early years secondly, that what was written tended to be by faculty who were not part of the original education committee and thirdly, that the articles that were published tended to be descriptive rather than analytic. This meant that there was no definitive statement of what PBL was or what it was for, and when the founding fathers left the Education Committee—beginning with John Evans who resigned as Dean in 1972—the concept of PBL took on a life of its own under the pen of later prophets who filled the theoretical void with their own, often conflicting interpretations of what PBL was about.

The dispute at the heart of the division between the Problem-Solving Skills and the Knowledge Acquisition Approach is precisely the product of the theoretical chasm left by McMaster’s founders. This dispute played out in the late 1970s and 1980s between two of PBL’s most prolific theorists: Dr. Howard Barrows, a neurologist originally from California who came to McMaster on sabbatical in 1968 and joined the faculty roster from 1971 until 1981 and Henk Schmidt, a Dutch psychologist who was hired at the start of Maastricht University’s PBL programme in 1974 as part of the Department of Education Research and Development. The Maastricht programme was adapted from McMaster but sported some notable differences, such as the inclusion of systematic tutor and student training (Schmidt 1977a, b), the development of a “skills lab” for clinical skills training (Bartholomeus 1977), the codification of the PBL method into seven steps (Schmidt et al. 1979), the use of biomedical problems rather than (only) patient cases (Schmidt et al. 1979), and the allocation of research funds for a Department of Educational Research and Development (Rijksuniversiteit Limburg 1972). Although this department was officially run by the psychologist and assessment specialist Dr. Wynand Wijnen, in practice most of the early research on PBL was done by Henk Schmidt and his colleague Peter Bouhuijs. Howard Barrows was an occasional visitor and advisor to Maastricht, and Schmidt an occasional guest at McMaster, but their divergence of perspective on PBL played out mostly on paper. Both authors wrote their first major book on PBL in 1980 (Barrows and Tamblyn 1980 Schmidt and Bouhuijs 1980), and by that time their academic differences had already crystallised into an unbridgeable epistemological gulf. This means that Barrows and Schmidt’s understanding of what knowledge is, how it is constructed and how it is used in problem-solving was not only different, but fundamentally contradictory, such that the two positions could not be reconciled in the middle—one cannot take both positions at once, as the next section will explain.

What is the difference between the problem-solving skills and the knowledge acquisition approach?

The crux of the intellectual dispute behind the two versions of PBL lies in two differing interpretations of what happens to the learner who is engaged in problem-based learning. On the one hand, some, led by Barrows, believed that the learners in PBL were honing “clinical reasoning skills” (Barrows and Tamblyn 1980) through a process called “hypothetico-deduction” (Elstein et al. 1978). We refer to this as the Problem-Solving Skills approach to PBL. Others, led by Schmidt, believed that learners in PBL were triggered by context-bound problems to understand the phenomena underlying the situation described in therein. We refer to this as the Knowledge Acquisition approach to PBL.

Both approaches are the product of the Cognitive Revolution in psychology, which began in 1956. The ‘50s were the heyday of behaviourism, but at an MIT symposium which brought together figures such as Jerome Bruner, Allen Newell, Herbert Simon and Noam Chomsky, a new interpretation of psychology was born that was based not on the study of behaviours and conditioning, but of mental processes instead (Miller 2003). While Bruner and Millers’ early work on cognition proceeded in relative isolation, the straw that broke the behaviourist camel’s back was Chomsky’s 1956 paper on linguistics (Chomsky 1956, 1967) it demolished the behaviourist understanding of language acquisition by showing that a purely behavioural account could not explain grammar acquisition. Chomsky’s pioneering paper paved the way for what some regard as one of the first works of cognitive psychology: A Study of Thinking by Bruner, Goodnow and Austin, from 1956 (Bechtel et al. 2001 Bruner et al. 1956).

And yet, the very people who broke the hold of behaviourism on American psychology in 1956 were also the authors of a schism that divided cognitive psychology from its very beginnings until the 1990s. On the one hand, at the dawn of computer science, inspired by the workings of computer operating systems and refusing to believe that human problem-solving could be understood simply as trial-and-error, the two young computer scientists Newell and Simon (1972) produced a version of cognitive psychology that thought of people as general problem-solvers whose problem-solving skills were independent of their content knowledge it became known as information-processing psychology (IPP). On the other hand, inspired by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget and his Schema Theory (Piaget 2003), authors initially rallying under Jerome Bruner’s banner developed a branch of cognitive psychology concerned with the role of the activation of existing knowledge in knowledge acquisition this became known as constructivist psychology (Hergenhahn 2001). The division of the Cognitive Psychology movement into these two irreconcilable halves paved the way for the disagreement between Barrows and Schmidt.

Howard Barrows and the problem-solving skills approach to PBL

Although he may not have known it, Barrows owed the inspiration for his approach to PBL to the IPP school of thought. IPP was born in 1955, when Newell and Simon began their work in cognitive psychology from the premise that like computers, the human mind acts as a general problem-solving device (Newell et al. 1958). They believed that the process of solving a problem consisted in a collection of heuristic pathways that together formed a problem space and should be considered independently of the content of the problem. Newell and Simon’s research objective was to identify the invariant characteristics within the “Human Processing System” (Newell and Simon 1972).

While IPP was all the rage in the 1970s, by the 1980s it had hit an impasse. Firstly, from a methodological perspective, Newell and Simon’s trademark strategy for measuring the elusive “general problem-solving” capability was deeply flawed (Ohlsson 2012). It consisted in getting participants to voice their cognitive strategies out-loud while confronted with a sample problem. The experimenters recorded these verbal protocols, and then built computer programmes that mimicked the temporal order of the protocols in order to uncover the cognitive heuristics used by the human in this problem situation. However, there was a major problem with this approach: the verbal protocol was actually problem-specific rather than general—so much for their General Problem Solver. Secondly, from a theoretical perspective, the attempt to produce a general theory of problem solving didn’t work. Newell and Simon posited the existence of a problem-solving strategy that was context-free, but it became rapidly apparent that humans don’t generally engage in means-end analysis but use other cognitive strategies such as analogies, forward search etc., all of which are context-bound. And yet, perhaps because of psychology’s fascination with computers, the IPP model survived for decades longer than evidence should have allowed it to. Indeed, it survived long enough to spawn a model of medical problem-solving that ricocheted into the problem-based learning literature via Barrows: the hypothetico-deductive model.

The IPP methods were picked up by Arthur Elstein and Lee Shulman, working out of Michigan State University (Anderson 2003). In 1978, they attempted to demonstrate the existence of content-independent heuristics of medical problem-solving (Elstein et al. 1978). Clinicians, they conjectured, went through a process of hypothetico-deduction when faced with a medical problem. This meant that they would engage in the formulation of hypotheses for potential diagnoses, which would be either confirmed or disproved by new data from medical tests on the patient until the most likely hypothesis was left standing. The authors’ initial contention was that expert clinicians would fare better at hypothetico-deduction than novices, but their research found no evidence that expert clinicians were indeed better at generating hypotheses than novices. Instead, they were forced to acknowledge that the expert’s prior medical knowledge in the particular domain of the problem made a substantial difference in the expert clinicians’ ability to solve that problem, as compared with the novice. This indicated that the expertise was not one of deductive ability, but of content knowledge. However, the influence of IPP was such that they were not able to surrender the idea of the existence of content-independent heuristic processes. Instead of seeking a content-driven alternative explanation for the fact that some people appear to be better at problem-solving than others, they sought to explain this with the idea that some heuristics require extensive training.

The influence of the hypothetico-deductive model was then channelled into problem-based learning by Howard Barrows, particularly through his input into the McMaster curriculum in the 1970s and his 1980 book. Barrows began his research on hypothetico-deduction in the early 1970s, but his most developed argument in favour of content-independent reasoning processes can be found in Problem-based Learning: An Approach to Medical Education, the highly popular book on PBL which he co-authored with Robyn Tamblyn in 1980. In this book, the authors dismissed the idea that a physician’s clinical reasoning process was a mysterious intuitive “art”, and instead argued that these cognitive skills could and should be taught in medical education. The solution for this was to confront students with patient, health delivery, or research problems, since “by working with an unknown problem, the student is forced to develop problem-solving, diagnostic, or clinical reasoning skills” (p. 13).

Barrows argued that increased medical knowledge could even be detrimental to problem-solving skills as more precise knowledge might encourage students to tunnel-vision around what they had learned rather than consider a wider range of hypotheses. The distinction between content and process knowledge was cemented in Barrows’ call for process evaluations that are “concerned with the student’s ability to observe data, solve problems or show aspects of the clinical reasoning process, make clinical decisions and therapeutic decisions, and the like” (p. 113). Such aspects of the clinical reasoning process were made to include data perception and representation, problem formulation, hypothesis generation, inquiry strategy, diagnostic decisions, therapeutic decisions, time, cost, sequential management, and, finally, the medical information acquired. Therefore, while it would be unfair to claim that Barrows dismissed the importance of prior knowledge in problem-solving as Newell and Simon had, it is clear that the emphasis of his work was on the process of problem-solving via hypothesis generation. He believed that this process could be isolated enough from the specific problem content in which it was practiced to produce some general and teachable mechanisms by which medical problems should be approached a trait which places Barrows squarely within the information-processing tradition.

This had some deep consequences for McMaster’s PBL curriculum. Beginning in 1977, calls were being issued by faculty and students to reform the 1969 curriculum (Roy 1978), and the process of change was taken over by Victor Neufeld, supported by Barrows. The new curriculum, progressively rolled out between 1977 and 1984, did away with the strong biomedical nature of the first curriculum and instead focused on priority healthcare problems management (MacDonald et al. 1989). Evidence of this change can be seen through the year-by-year evolution of the education materials found in the McMaster archives between 1975 and 1982, and in the notes of the Education Committee meetings (Ali 1977 Neufeld 1977) In the new curriculum, the students mainly dealt with long descriptions of patient cases compiled on the basis of lists of most commonly experienced medical issues, with a focus on solving the medical problem at hand. The objectives of the Faculty of Medicine were thus revised to read in top position: “to identify and define health problems at both an individual and a community level and to search for information to resolve or manage these problems” (Educational Programme Committee 1978). In addition, the development of clinical skills became a central feature of the reform efforts. Under the influence of Barrows and Tamblyn, the McMaster clinical skills training programme was constructed to train the students’ skills in encounters with simulated patients (Sutton 1977). This curriculum lasted until 1993, when, in the face of the high student failure rates in the national medical exam, McMaster abandoned the IPP approach and adopted a curriculum with many content-oriented features resembling those of Maastricht University (Norman et al. 2010).

Henk Schmidt and the knowledge acquisition approach to PBL

The Knowledge Acquisition position owes a lot to the early works of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. Although Schmidt was most strongly influenced by the renaissance of constructivist ideas in the wake of the cognitive revolution, that renaissance would not have been possible without the groundwork laid out by Piaget’s Schema Theory (Piaget 1952, 1959, 2003). Piaget was the first to propose that knowledge is not stored as raw data but “constructed” through particular mental structuring processes called “schemas”. Schema Theory fell out of favour with the dominance of behaviourism in the 1960s, but by the late 1970s, a growing number of experimental psychologists, such as Andrew Ortony, Rand Spiro and David Ausubel, were looking into information encoding and retrieval in an attempt to explain the way knowledge is stored and reconstructed for recall. Even though they seldom explicitly referred to Piaget, they expanded on his notion of the schema by providing it with the scientific specificity that the Swiss psychologist was lacking. Under their pen, schemas were understood as mental “frames” or “scripts” that contained “slots” or “placeholders” that could be “instantiated” by elements in a situation (Anderson et al. 1978). Although all of these names made their way into Schmidt’s research on PBL in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the work of Richard Anderson returned with more consistency and force than the others. Schmidt recalled:

What (PBL) students were doing while discussing a problem was activating prior-knowledge in order to make sense of that problem. If the problem was sufficiently complex (but adapted to their level of knowledge) the need for new knowledge would arise and self-directed learning would satisfy that need. Since relevant prior knowledge was already activated, the new information would be more easily integrated. That this indeed leads to better learning is what I have shown in my PhD-thesis published in 1982 (personal communication).

In 1977, Anderson expanded on the concepts of “assimilation” and “accommodation” in Schema Theory (Anderson 1977). He posited that schemas could not be a simple aggregation of response components, perceptual features, semantic features, functional attributes and the like – instead, schemas could only be understood in terms of their emergent properties. This insight enabled Anderson to hypothesise how schemas are used (assimilation) and change (accommodation). He argued that accommodation happens as a gradual process whereby incongruent elements increasingly challenge an existing schema and make assimilation more and more difficult. Although people are extremely reluctant to accommodate their schemas, they also attempt to preserve cognitive consistency, and when the latter tendency wins over and a schema change is engaged, the acquisition of knowledge truthfully begins. Thus, Anderson saw accommodation as a sine-qua-non condition of learning:

I suspect that large-scale accommodation may be a dialectical process which entails a confrontation with difficulties in one’s current schema and coming to appreciate the power of an alternative (p. 429).

Anderson’s explanation paved the way for Schmidt’s idea that problems, by offering realistic situations for students to work with, could activate students’ existing schemas and thus provide the basis for sense-making that is essential to learning (Schmidt 1983a, b). The development of this theory was a slow process that began shortly after the opening of Maastricht Faculty of Medicine and ripened until 1983. We can see from archival evidence that the research efforts began in earnest in 1977, although at the time the education research group’s ideas on learning in PBL were a little haphazard. A note in the tutor training manual Het Tutorensysteem indicates that the researchers believed that the strength of PBL lay in the promotion of knowledge retention and transfer, but without further specification (Bouhuijs et al. 1977). In fact, the text indicates that the authors, including Schmidt and his colleague Peter Bouhuijs, were aware of the limitations of contemporary research in the field. By 1979, Schmidt had developed more precise ideas on this. He elaborated on his previous work with a paper entitled Leren met Problemen (1979) and for the first time referred to the activation of prior knowledge and Ausubel’s take on Schema Theory. At this point, Schmidt’s work was fully aligned with the constructivist credo that people do not passively ingest the outside world but instead constantly attempt to give meaning to it through personal interpretations of what their senses tell them. In a paper from 1983, he offered three connected explanations of the learning process that takes place in PBL: the activation of prior knowledge encoding specificity (the similarity between the situation in which knowledge is learned and the situation is which it is applied) and elaboration of knowledge (Schmidt 1983a, b). By this stage, his research had expanded well beyond the work of Anderson and Ausubel and was aggregating reports from all over the blooming field of cognitive psychology. Schmidt’s later article on the foundations of problem-based learning provided some elaborations of these three ideas, but the central themes remain the same to this day (Schmidt 1993).

How the dispute played out at Maastricht University

The story takes root in the early 1970s, when Howard Barrows took it upon himself to demonstrate that educational aids could be used to improve “clinical reasoning skills”, “problem-solving skills”, “diagnostic skills” and other variations thereof. The first apparent results of this research appeared in 1972, under the title The diagnostic (problem-solving) skill of the neurologist, in which it was claimed that hypothetico-deduction could be equated to a “cognitive hat rack” for organising the information acquired during the patient interview (Barrows and Bennett 1972). Barrows worked closely with Vic Neufeld on this research—neither of them having a prominent role in the curriculum development at McMaster at that time. Neufeld studied medical education at Michigan State University, where Elstein and Shulman were doing their work and according to their research assistant Geoffrey Norman, the Barrows-Neufeld duo “had a close relation” with the Elstein–Shulman team (personal communication). It is therefore unsurprising that Barrows borrowed so heavily from the theory of hypothetico-deduction to support his ideas. This research culminated in a paper written in 1977, in which not only was the “hat rack” idea alive and well, but prior knowledge was relegated to a secondary relevance (Feightner et al. 1977). They developed a model of medical problem solving which would be of crucial importance in the later debates on PBL (Fig. 1).

The hypothetico-deductive model of Feightner et al. (1977)

The McMaster team boldly concluded: “Family physicians do have identifiable legitimate problem solving skills which they can teach. We feel that the model outlined above can help student to develop their clinical problem solving skills” (p. 71). These are the ideas with which Barrows and Neufeld travelled to Maastricht to act as educational consultants to the new Faculty of Medicine. There is ample evidence from written correspondence between them that throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Schmidt held both Barrows and Neufeld in very high esteem (Schmidt 1983a, b). In Schmidt’s eyes, Barrows was one of the founders of PBL and therefore warranted listening to. It is therefore not surprising to find Barrows and Neufeld’s model of hypothetico-deduction in Schmidt’s early work. How did Schmidt move from one paradigm to the other? A comparison of his two major contributions between 1977 and 1979 may provide answers to this question. In 1977, Schmidt wrote Probleemgeoriënteerd onderwijs, a booklet designed to be used internally at the Faculty (Schmidt 1977a, b). In it, he wrote down for the first time his ideas on the cognitive mechanisms underlying learning through PBL. This manuscript was published 1 year later in the Dutch journal Metamedica (Schmidt 1978), and 1 year later re-written in a substantially amended format as Leren met Problemen (Schmidt 1979). The key lies in the changes made between the 1977 paper (and its identical reprint in 1978) and the 1979 paper. The table below indicates the most significant of these changes. It may seem strange that Schmidt offered argument from both paradigms in his work, even though they are not epistemologically compatible—but this incompatibility was not generally understood at the time, even among cognitive scientists (Table 1).

We see in the 1977 paper an extensive explanation of PBL in terms of Barrows, Elstein and Shulman’s hypothetico-deductive model, with diagrams that closely resemble those published by Barrows in his own work from 1977. And yet, already in 1977, Schmidt was intrigued by the experiments of a Dutch psychologist, De Groot (1965), on chess players. De Groot had tested chess players’ ability to solve a checkers problem, and found that chess masters made mediocre checkers players—indicating the absence of a general problem-solving ability among chess masters. The plausible explanation was that chess masters had a great prior knowledge of possible chess combinations to draw from when solving chess problems, that was of no use to them when solving a checkers problem. Schmidt concluded, as Elstein also did later, that prior knowledge must be a major factor in performance on problem-solving tasks. But these ideas could only be considered hunches at the time: aside from a passing mention of Bruner, in 1977, Schmidt’s reference list is remarkably devoid of constructivist literature. This was very much amended in the 1979 paper, which is replete with notes on Ausubel, Kelly, De Groot, as well as digressions on Bruner and Miller. Although Schmidt had used the term “prior knowledge” before, this was the first time that he framed it strongly in terms of the “activation of prior knowledge”—and therefore PBL as a learning method that could be used precisely for that purpose. By 1979, gone were the references to hypothetico-deduction, absent the diagrams of Barrows–Schmidt now saw hypothesis generation as an automatic process of the human cognitive architecture which therefore cannot not be trained, and he therefore saw little point in expending energy researching it.

Incompatible approaches to PBL

Barrows and Schmidt were in regular contact during the 1980s as consultants from McMaster flew to Maastricht and vice versa. In particular, in 1983, Schmidt organised a symposium on PBL for which he invited Barrows as a speaker. A series of letter exchanges leading up to this event sheds some light on their academic relationship. For instance, a letter written by Barrows to Schmidt in July 1982 indicates that the former believed PBL to be the acquisition of basic sciences knowledge and “medical problem solving as a cognitive skill” in equal measure (Barrows 1982). In response, Schmidt returned a letter to Barrows in January 1983, in which he voiced in the clearest way possible the rift between their approaches to PBL:

I think that the difference between your work and mine is more a difference of problem-solving in terms of encoding, storage and retrieval of knowledge for use in problem-solving situations (and, most important, in terms of the organization of knowledge in memory), while you focus on the process of problem-solving itself. My main interest lies in the role PBL plays in knowledge acquisition - that is why I refer with emphasis to theories of learning (role of knowledge, inference production, organization of knowledge, retrieval cues etc.) - while you are particularly interested in how the students use the knowledge acquired in clinical problem-solving situations (and therefore refer to theory and research in that area). In fact, I think that our approaches are complementary. We would make a good team! When you are in Maastricht, we certainly should sit down to discuss these matters and others (Schmidt 1983a, b).

In fact, it seems that the approaches were not so much complimentary as mutually exclusive as they relied on opposing understandings of the role of knowledge in problem-solving. The version of PBL supported by Barrows posited the primacy of heuristics and associations in medical problem-solving. That of Schmidt relied on problem-solving anchored in prior knowledge and experience. But problem-solving cannot be both content-independent and content-dependent—these two positions are therefore epistemologically incompatible with one another. Therefore either Barrows or Schmidt was right about PBL, but they could not both be. This incompatibility is not a matter of a historical clash of personalities: by all accounts, Schmidt and Barrows actually held each other in high regard. This is really a question of two interpretations of PBL, the underlying epistemological constructs of which are irreconcilable, and produced a very different type of problem in PBL. Whereas a PBL problem for Barrows could be “a written case, case vignette, standardized (also called simulated patient), computer simulation, video tape” (Barrows and Tamblyn 1980, p. 5), for Schmidt, a problem could also look like a description of a biomedical phenomenon with no “solution”. Schmidt’s problems required instead that the underlying phenomena or theory be understood by the students (Schmidt 1993). While this sort of problem could be and was translated to almost any academic discipline, problems based on the management of healthcare problems could not be. Perhaps this serves to explain the profusion of PBL programmes in the Netherlands in all manner of academic disciplines ranging from psychology to liberal arts.

Luckily, History has provided us with some answers as to which of the two versions of PBL fared the best in terms of helping students to solve medical problems by the mid-1980s, IPP was beginning to crumble as a psychological paradigm. In 1985, Christine McGuire lamented resilience of the idea of content-independent cognitive skills and abilities:

Professional evaluators (…) wanted to believe in the existence of some generalized kind of cognitive achievement – a related set of skills or developed abilities – that individuals could bring to bear in managing patient problems. They have been pursuing that chimera ever since, despite a mind-numbing torrent of studies that continue monotonously to report the same findings (McGuire, 1985).

McGuire also stated that she did not believe that the doctors reported in Barrows’ studies were actually engaging in hypothetico-deduction:

Doubts that these diagnostic labels are genuine hypotheses are considerably exacerbated if, as Barrows and Tamblyn say, they literally ‘pop’ into the clinician’s head within moments of the initial encounter. Such a process appears to be more akin to the act of pattern-matching or to the procedure involved in comparing group phenomena with various templates and selecting best fit (McGuire, 1985).

In what should have been a death blow to the Problem-Solving Skills approach to PBL, in 2002, Elstein became his own harshest critic when he acknowledged that the theory that medical problem-solving was based on hypothetico-deduction processes was in large part erroneous (Elstein and Schwarz 2002). Most problems, he realised, were actually resolved on the basis of pattern recognition or the construction of a mental model of the problem. Both of these processes were based on the extent of the clinician’s knowledge rather than the mastery of heuristics. This, he acknowledged, has such strong implications for problem-based learning that it led him to a re-evaluation of the purpose of the method:

The finding of case specificity showed the limits of teaching a general problem solving strategy. Expertise in problem solving can be separated from content analytically, but not in practice. This realisation shifted the emphasis towards helping students acquire a functional organisation of content with clinically usable schemas. This goal became the new rationale for problem based learning (p. 731).

This is not quite a full embrace of the constructivist paradigm, as Elstein struggled to let go of his embrace of IPP “analytically”. Yet ironically, “in practice”, Elstein turned to the alternative approach to PBL: constructivism and the Knowledge Acquisition approach championed by Henk Schmidt. And yet, despite these strong criticisms including from within the school of thought of hypothetico-deduction, Barrows refused to re-evaluate his approach to PBL. In the light of this, the divergence with Schmidt that had begun in the late 70s turned into a dispute in the late 1980s, culminating in an open confrontation during a review of the PBL curriculum of Sherbrooke University in Canada in 1992, as Schmidt recalls:

Howard Barrows, George Bordage, Charles Boelen (of the World Health Organization), and I were invited around 1992 to assess the then five-year old problem-based medical curriculum of the University of Sherbrooke in Canada. I had been one of this school’s consultants, had visited many times in the previous years, and had conducted teacher training workshops emphasizing PBL as a method to acquire knowledge and its embedding in cognitive constructivism. Barrows (perhaps not aware of my previous role) was highly critical about what had been accomplished, because the curriculum “was not a problem-solving curriculum”. Much more emphasis should be put on students acquiring the process of clinical reasoning, otherwise it was not really problem-based. I felt it necessary to object and eventually ended up in a heated argument with him (personal communication).

When asked, Georges Bordage and Charles Boelen could not remember the specifics of this particular event, but both agreed that Barrows, on different occasions, “was not too enthusiastic about knowledge-based PBL- too much about knowledge and not enough about the process of clinical reasoning, same issue” (Bordage, personal communication). Boelen recalled:

On another occasion at UNM in Albuquerque, I think in 1993, as we were considering with a dozen of colleagues PBL applied to public health problems, I remember him exposing very strongly the same arguments and the conversation became so heated that our friend Charles Engel [a PBL pioneer in Australia] who dared to argue was shocked and about to weep (personal communication).

If any doubt persists within the reader, an analysis of the later works of Barrows clearly show that he espoused information-processing to some degree until the end of his academic career, a claim also confirmed by his former research assistant Norman (personal communication). In 1996, Barrows produced a paper summarising his view of PBL in which he re-iterated the importance of clinical problem-solving skills, but also the importance of the acquisition of a medical knowledge-base that would be integrated, centred around the cues of patient problems, and enmeshed with the problem-solving process (Barrows 1996a, b).


Problem-based versus conventional curricula: influence on knowledge and attitudes of medical students towards health research

Background: Medical education curricula in developing countries should emphasize training in health research. This study compares the knowledge and attitudes towards health research between undergraduate medical students undertaking Problem Based Learning (PBL) versus conventional Lecture Based Learning (LBL).

Methods: Two groups comprising 66 (LBL) and 84 (PBL) 4(th) and 5(th) year students from the medical college of Aga Khan University were administered a structured and validated questionnaire. Knowledge and attitudes of the two groups were recorded on a scale (graduated in percentages) and compared for statistical difference.

Results: PBL students scored 54.0% while LBL students scored 55.5% on the knowledge scale [p-value 0.63]. On the attitudes scale, PBL students scored 75.5% against a 66.7% score of LBL students [p-value 0.021]. A higher proportion of PBL students (89%) had participated in research activities compared to LBL students (74%) and thus felt more confident in conducting research and writing a scientific paper.

Conclusion: The PBL students showed slightly healthier attitudes towards health research compared to LBL students. Both groups demonstrated a similar level of knowledge about health research. The positive impact of the PBL curriculum on attitudes of medical students towards health research may help in improving research output from developing countries in future.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Ding Xiaojie and Zhao Liping contributed equally to this work.

Affiliations

Department of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, School of Public Health, Nanjing Medical University, Nanjing, China

Xiaojie Ding, Haiyan Chu, Na Tong, Chunhui Ni, Zhengdong Zhang & Meilin Wang

Teaching and Research Administration Office, School of Public Health, Nanjing Medical University, Nanjing, China

Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, Nanjing Medical University, Nanjing, China


Lecture versus problem-based learning of psychology - Psychology

Direct comparison of the effectiveness of problem-based learning and lecture-based instruction, as well as a hybrid approach.

Previous research shows that problem-based learning has a positive impact on the acquisition of problem-solving skills.

Previous research shows that lecture-based instruction has a positive impact on the acquisition of knowledge.

Present findings show differential impact of problem-based learning and lecture-based instruction in management classrooms.

Present findings show a hybrid approach lead to the development of both knowledge acquisition and problem-solving skills.

Implication for instruction and curriculum design in the management classroom are considered.


Professional education for psychologists using online problem-based learning methods: Experience at Charles Sturt University

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In: Australian Psychologist , Vol. 43, No. 4, 12.2008, p. 286-292.

Research output : Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review

T1 - Professional education for psychologists using online problem-based learning methods

T2 - Experience at Charles Sturt University

N1 - Imported on 12 Apr 2017 - DigiTool details were: month (773h) = Dec 2008 Journal title (773t) = Australian Psychologist. ISSNs: 0005-0067

N2 - Problem-based learning (PBL) is a pedagogical approach to professional training that emphasises the development of clinical reasoning skills and self-directed learning. In contrast to more traditional lecture-based approaches which focus upon the linear acquisition of course content, PBL is undertaken in the context of actual case presentations. Although PBL has been adopted widely in the professional training of medical practitioners and nurses, it is only just beginning to be employed in the professional education of psychologists. This paper examines the nature and benefits of PBL for education in clinical and forensic psychology by outlining its implementation and development at Charles Sturt University (CSU), located in a rural area of Australia. Although a full and independent evaluation of PBL for education in clinical or forensic psychology is yet to be undertaken, this paper argues that PBL can make a significant contribution to professional training in psychology.

AB - Problem-based learning (PBL) is a pedagogical approach to professional training that emphasises the development of clinical reasoning skills and self-directed learning. In contrast to more traditional lecture-based approaches which focus upon the linear acquisition of course content, PBL is undertaken in the context of actual case presentations. Although PBL has been adopted widely in the professional training of medical practitioners and nurses, it is only just beginning to be employed in the professional education of psychologists. This paper examines the nature and benefits of PBL for education in clinical and forensic psychology by outlining its implementation and development at Charles Sturt University (CSU), located in a rural area of Australia. Although a full and independent evaluation of PBL for education in clinical or forensic psychology is yet to be undertaken, this paper argues that PBL can make a significant contribution to professional training in psychology.


Problem-Based Learning: An Overview of its Process and Impact on Learning

In this review, we provide an overview of the process of problem-based learning (PBL) and the studies examining the effectiveness of PBL. We also discuss a number of naturalistic and empirical studies that have examined the process of PBL and how its various components impact students’ learning. We conclude that the studies comparing the relative effectiveness of PBL are generally consistent in demonstrating its superior efficacy for longer-term knowledge retention and in the application of knowledge. Studies on the process of PBL, however, are still inconclusive as to which component(s) of PBL most significantly impact students’ learning, although causal studies have demonstrated that all the phases of PBL are necessary in influencing students’ learning outcomes.


JITE v46n1 - Effects of the Problem Solving and Subject Matter Approaches on the Problem Solving Ability of Secondary School Agricultural Education

O.W. Olowa Department of Agricultural Education Federal College of Education (Technical) Akoka.Nigeria.

Abstract

The approach used by teachers is very important to the success of the teaching process. This is why this study seeks to determine which teaching approaches – problem solving and subject-matter, would best improve the problem solving ability of selected secondary agricultural education students in Ikorodu Local Government Area. Ten classes and 150 students, based on Hay’s (1973) cluster sampling formula for determining sample size, were selected. The classes were taught with instructional units prepared using the problem solving approach model presented in Newcomb, McCracken and Warmbrod (1993) and subject matter approach as described by Rosenshine and Steven (1986) . At the conclusion of all instruction, a problem solving ability posttest and Group Embedded Figures Test (GEFT) Instruments were administered to all participants. The scores obtained from the problem solving ability posttest was analyzed using the univariate analysis of covariance and it found, among other things, problem solving approaches scored significantly higher (P=0.046) on the posttest than scores of students assigned to classes using the subject matter approach. The implication of this figure is that the problem solving ability of secondary school students can be accelerated with instructional approaches, such as the problem solving technique.

Introduction

The approach used by teachers is very important to the success of the teaching process. Teachers should learn how to use several teaching methods. No one method of instruction will work all of the time and under every circumstance. Thus, the selection of a teaching method is critical to the learning style of those being served by instruction.

The problem solving approach is a student-centered approach to teaching where the central and essential characteristic is solving problems ( Binkley and Tulloch, 1981 ). Students participate in the learning process by contributing problems, analyzing the factors associated with the problems, developing possible solutions to the problems, placing the solution(s) into action, and evaluating the results of the solution. The subject matter approach is a teacher-centered approach to teaching where students are more passive participants in the learning process. Students listen to the information, participate in limited discussion, take notes, and retrieve or recall the information for evaluation purposes. With the subject matter approach the focus is more on acquisition of information than on group driven problem solving.

Odumosu (1999) explained the problem solving method as a form of the discussion and development methods in which the students set out with a wider problem to guide their study or discussion. The problems may be given by the teacher or it may be suggested through the children’s own experiences in that subject or in a life situation. It is their task to find the facts that will help in solving it. The problem solving approach has been widely accepted and recommended by agricultural educators as the best method of teaching agriculture ( Phipps and Osborne, 1988 ). Today, that approach remains the primary method of teaching offered to pre-service agriculture teachers in many teacher education programs. However, its actual use throughout the agricultural education profession is limited, with some educators questioning its validity as a superior approach to instruction. Many teachers view the problem solving approach as archaic, tied to the farm backgrounds and supervised agricultural experiences of the learners ( Moore and Moore, 1984 ). Critics of the problem solving approach also accuse that while the approach has a sound theoretical base, it has been accepted with little empirical evidence to either defend or reject its usefulness in the classroom.

Some students may possess a style of learning which is not complimentary to the use of problem solving. Their inability to solve problems interacts with their inability to use past knowledge and experiences to help in the solution. Research on learning and teaching styles serves as a basis for selecting teaching approaches. According to Barr and Tagg (1995) , two types of teaching behaviors and two different types of student learning strategies exist. They wrote that teachers educate from either an instructional paradigm that focuses on what the teacher does in the classroom, or from a learning paradigm that focuses on whether and how students learn. Most teachers teach from the instructional paradigm that is less concerned with how students learn and more about the teacher’s actions ( Lasley, 1998 ). Learning strategies refer to the different activities that students apply and by which learning is achieved ( Sankaran & Bui, 2000 ). Two types of learning strategies have been proposed: deep, to satisfy curiosity and to understand the meaning of a task by an in-depth study of a subject and surface, which is just to satisfy requirements by memorizing facts well enough to earn a good grade without fully mastering the material ( Sankaran & Bui, 2000 ). For teachers to foster the deep learning strategy they must teach outside of the instructional paradigm. In other words, teachers must present information in a way that encourages students to seek their own answers using their own strategies. Gallagher and Stepien (1996) wrote that instruction which fosters higher order thinking can result in learners who can construct meaningful connections between significant pieces of information, transfer information to new settings, and are motivated to learn. By teaching students how to think and learn independently, teachers increase their power to think and to learn outside of the classroom ( Kahler, Miller & Rollins, 1988 ). These statements support the need to determine the appropriate teaching approach different from the traditional methods of lecture and rote memorization still used today by teachers who view education from the instructional paradigm and by students who use surface learning strategies. The problem-oriented approach has been used as an educational tool for many years. Educators such as John Dewey proposed it nearly a century ago. According to Barrow (1996), problem based learning was reintroduced into medical education in the 1960s to better prepare physicians for the demands of professional practice. There is opposition to the use of the problem oriented approach as a method of education. Critics of the problem solving approach say that while the approach has a sound theoretical base, it has been accepted with very little empirical evidence to either defend or reject its usefulness in the classroom ( Dyer & Osborne, 1999 ). Additionally, Dyer and Osborne (1999) found that problem solving instruction may not fit the learning style of some students. In fact, abstract learners may not recognize problems as such when presented to them. Problem solving instruction may be an effective instructional alternative, but little empirical evidence from school settings currently exists concerning teaching for knowledge acquisition using this approach.

The theoretical framework for this study was founded in Mitzel’s Conceptual Model for the study of classroom teaching ( Dunkin and Biddle,1974 ). The Mitzel Model suggests that the effectiveness of a teaching approach (process variable) on the problem solving ability of students (product-variable) is moderated by the learning styles of the students (context variable), even though teacher effects (presage variables) are held constant. However, student learning styles shall not be considered or included in the analyses of this study.

Few studies have attempted to address the effects of the problem solving and the subject-matter approach on the problem solving ability of secondary agricultural education (mostly foreign authors) and reported. Whereas Dawson (1956) reported an increase in problem solving ability in favor of the problem solving approach Thompson and Tom (1957) found no difference. A study of agriculture students from Illinois which compared the effects of the problem solving approach to the subject matter approach found the problem solving approach to be no more or less effective in producing student achievement or knowledge retention ( Flowers & Osborne, 1988 ). Flowers (1986) reported no significant differences in the short-term retention of subject matter when the problem solving approach was compared to the subject matter approach. The problem solving approach was however, effective in reducing achievement loss when compared to the subject matter approach ( Dyer & Osborne, 1999 Lee, George and Donald, 2001 ).

PURPOSE OF THE STUDY

The primary purpose of this study was to compare the effectiveness of the problem solving approach to the subject matter approach in teaching given agricultural science problem areas to subjects. The specific objectives of the study are:

  • To analyze the descriptive statistics of sample students.
  • To determine the effects of the problem solving and subject matter approaches on the problem solving ability of secondary school agricultural education students in Ikorodu Local Government Area.

HYPOTHESES TESTED

There is no differences in the problem solving ability of students taught by the problem solving approach and the problem solving ability of students taught by the subject matter approach.

RESEARCH DESIGN

The study was conducted using a quasi-experimental design. Since random assignment of subjects to treatment groups was not possible, intact groups were used with random assignment of treatments to the groups. the study followed a variation of the nonequivalent control group design described by Campbell and Stanley (1963) , but differed in that the subject matter approach to instruction was used as the control.

POPULATION STUDIED

The population of this study consisted of all Ikorodu Local Government Area (Lagos, Nigeria) Secondary Agricultural Education Students.

SAMPLE AND SAMPLING TECHNIQUE

Ikorodu Local Government Area has about 50 Secondary Schools (both public and private together). Ten classes and 150 students taught by five teachers were selected. Cluster sampling based upon Hays (1973) formula for determining sample size was used in an attempt to ensure that instructors were capable of using each of the two teaching approaches properly.

RESEARCH INSTRUMENT: VALIDITY AND ADMINISTRATION

The instruments used for the study were instructional units, Group Embedded Figures Tests (GEFT) and questionnaires. GEFT enumerates the degree of abstractness concreteness on a scale of 0-18. The GEFT instrument is considered to be a standardized instrument. Its validity has been established and reported by Witkin, H.A., Oltman, P.K. Rosking, E and S.A. Karp (1971) . Instructional units were prepared using the problem solving approach model presented in Newcomb, McCracken, and Warmbrod (1993) and subject matter approach model as described by Rosenshine and Steven (1986) . To ensure that the proper teaching approach was used, instructors were provided in-service workshops of two hours in length concerning the proper use of both teaching approaches.

Face, content and construct validity of the researcher-constructed instruments were determined by an expert panel in agricultural education and research. All instruments were pilot tested and appropriately adjusted.

Students were administered a pretest designed to measure pre-treatment problem solving ability. Normal curve equivalent (NCE) scores were also obtained to statistically control for existing ability levels. One treatment group received instruction in classes taught by the problem solving approach, the other group received instruction in classes taught by the subject matter approach. Two units of instruction were taught to each group. At the conclusion of all instruction, a problem solving ability posttest and the GEFT instruments were administered to all participants. Data collection was carried out between May and July 2008.

PROCEDURE

The data for this study were collected using a quasi-experimental counterbalance design ( Campbell and Stanley, 1963 ). Teachers were purposefully selected for their ability to use the problem solving approach to teaching by a panel of experts consisting of three faculty members from The Federal College of Education’s (Technical) Agricultural Education Department and nine staff members from the Supervisors of the Lagos State Post-primary Teaching Service. The panel of experts was selected on the basis of their knowledge of the teaching ability of the Lagos agricultural science teachers. Fifteen teachers were identified by the panel of experts, five teachers agreed to participate in the study, and all five teachers provided usable data to the researcher. Four teachers provided audio tapes of their instruction. The sampled population was 150 students enrolled in agricultural science in ten comprehensive high schools. Each teacher taught two instructional units. One unit was taught using a problem solving approach and a second unit was taught using a subject matter approach. The unit plans contained an equal amount of instructional material the only differences were related to the two teaching approaches used in the study. The problem solving approach unit plans were prepared for each of the instructional units. Equivalent unit plans were prepared for the subject matter approach to teaching, including identical information used in the problem solving unit plans. The instructional unit plans were then submitted to a panel of experts consisting of four faculty members and six graduate students from The Federal College of Education’s (technical) Department of Agricultural Education to establish content validity and equality. The panel of experts was selected on the basis of their experience teaching high school agricultural science. The topic of the unit (Farm Implement and Mechanization), the timing of the unit (first or second in the instructional series), and the approach to teaching (subject matter or problem solving) were randomly assigned to each teacher. Instruction on all units was audio taped to verify the administration of the experimental levels of the treatment. Data were collected using a 40 question achievement test (Farm Implement and Mechanization unit test), a 15 item attitude toward instruction instrument (Farm Mechanization Attitude instrument ), and a 14 item teaching approach evaluation instrument (Teaching Approach Instrument) developed by the researchers. The 40 achievement test questions were arranged in different ways to produce three identical forms of the exam. The three forms were used as a pretest, posttest #1 and posttest #2.

Content validity of the instruments was established by a panel of experts consisting of four faculty members and six graduate students from The Federal College of Education’s (technical) Department of Agricultural Education with experience teaching high school agricultural science.

DATA ANALYSIS

Statistics such as the covariance analysis, mean and percentages were used for analyzing the data generated with the instruments.

RESULTS

Table 1.0. Numbers and Percentages of Students by Gender and Teaching Approach
GENDER TEACHING APPROACH
PSA
n=102
SMA
N=48
Male 66 (64.7) 34 (70.83)
Female 36 (35.3) 14 (29.17)
Note: Percentages are in parentheses.
PSA = Problem Solving Approach
SMA = Subject Matter Approach

Table 1.0 shows that 102 students (66 male and 36 females) were taught by problem solving approach while 48 (34 males and 14 females) were taught by subject matter approach. Majority of the students who completed the study were males.

Table 2.0. Mean Scores of Student Problem Solving Ability
GENDER Problem Solving Ability Pretest Problem Solving Ability Posttest
Mean SD Mean SD
Male 6.08 2.45 8.56 3.63
Female 3.68 1.32 6.30 2.25

Table 2.0 statistically the performance of students taught by problems solving teaching approach. The comparison revealed that male students scored significantly higher on the problem solving ability pretest than did female.

Hypothesis:- There is no difference in the problem solving ability of students taught by the problem solving approach and the problem solving ability of students taught by the subject matter approach.

Table 3.0. One–way Analysis of Variance for Problem Solving Ability.
Source Df Ms F
Pretest
Between groups 6 (24.10)
Within group. 143 (3.12) 8.84**
Post test
Between groups 6 (18.01) 1.98
Within groups 143 (8.35)
* P< .01

The problem solving ability of students was measured by the numerical score obtained from analysis of the problem solving ability posttest completed by each student. All tests were scored according to the problem solving analysis form developed by the researcher. Scores on the problem solving ability pretest were used as a covariate measure to adjust for pre-existing group differences.

A one-way analysis of variance revealed significant differences (P = 0.000) across the groups. The univariate analysis of covariance testing the effects of the treatment on the problem solving ability of students indicated that the scores of students in classes taught by the problem solving approach were significantly higher (P = 0.046) on the posttest than were scores of students assigned to classes using the subject matter approach. As a result, the null hypothesis of no difference between treatment groups was rejected in favor of the problem solving approach.

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The study shows that the problem solving approach is more effective than the subject matter approach in increasing the problem solving ability of students. This finding agreed with earlier studies reported by Dawson (1956) and Chuatong (1987) . The problem solving approach to teaching should be used whenever improved problem solving ability is a desired outcome of instruction. According to Witkin, et al (1997) students scoring less than 11.3 on the GEFT instrument possess little inherent ability to solve problems. They must acquire this skill. Based on the results of this study, the problem solving approach proved to be an effective tool and should therefore be used as an instructional approach to enhance problem-solving ability. In secondary schools, the ability to solve problems increases by class level. However, that ability can be accelerated with instructional approaches, such as the problem solving approach, which focuses on the solution of problems. Suffice it to say that this study, though clinical in nature, is severely limited in its ability to be generalized to other populations. Further studies should be conducted to increase the level of understanding and usability.

O.W. Olowa is at the Federal College of Education in Yaba Lagos State, Nigeria. He can be reached at [email protected]

References

Allen, D.E., Duch, B.J., & Groh, S.E. (1996). The power of problem-based learning in teaching introductory science courses. New Directions for Teaching and Learning.

Barr, R.B., & Tagg, J. (1995, Nov./Dec.). From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Barrows, H. (1996). Problem-based learning in medicine and beyond: A brief overview. New Directions for Teaching and Learning.

Binkley, H. R., & Tulloch, R. W. (1981). Teaching vocational agriculture/agribusiness. Danville, IL: The Interstate Printers and Publishers, Inc.

Bracey, J.W. (1998). Minds of our own. Phi Delta Kappan 80(4).

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Method

Learning environment

The educational program of the School of Law of a Dutch university, in which the current study took place, consists of a 3-year bachelor program and a 1-year master program. At the start of the academic year in September 2012, a PBL curriculum was implemented. Students who enrolled in the School of Law before September 2012 were not taught according the principles of PBL, but in a traditional, lecture-based way. In this lecture-based program, the academic year consisted of four 8-week periods with a total of eight courses. During each period, two courses were offered parallel and, each week, multiple lectures were provided. Some courses offered a weekly workgroup, where a teacher discussed a particular law case. The number of contact hours was approximately 12 h per week. Four exam weeks took place during the academic year, in which the students were assessed on their knowledge and skills.

In the new PBL program, a total of eight courses are offered sequentially within one academic year, each lasting 5 weeks and all ending with a written examination. In PBL, the focus lies on tutorial meetings that occur twice a week. In these meetings, the pre-discussion (i.e., collaborative discussion of a realistic problem prior to self-study) and the reporting phase of the previous problem (i.e., discussion of the studied literature) take place and students have sufficient time for self-study in between these meetings. Lectures (i.e., one or two each week) and practical courses are offered next to the tutorial meetings and serve the purpose of extending students’ understanding of course material (i.e., lectures) and teaching students how to apply the learned material in real-life law cases (i.e., practical courses). The number of contact hours is approximately 8 h per week. The current study was conducted within one program, to control for particular variables such as course content and teaching faculty.

Design and participants

Third-year Dutch law students of a lecture-based program and a PBL program participated in this study. Students of the lecture-based cohort enrolled in their first year of the study program Dutch law in September 2011, a year before the switch to PBL. Students of the PBL cohort registered their first year of Dutch law in September 2012, after the switch. At the time of participating in this study, all students had entered their third year of the bachelor study program.

A total of 338 students participated voluntarily. In the PBL group, 158 third-year Dutch law students (36 % males) participated. Mean age was 21.54 years (SD = 1.82). Participants of the lecture-based group were 180 third-year Dutch law students (38 % males) with a mean age of 22.49 years (SD = 2.60). The participants were quite representative for the total number of third-year students. Around 80 % of the lecture-based students and around 70 % of the PBL students in the third year participated.

Students of the lecture-based group were significantly older than students of the PBL group, t(336) = 3.84, p < .001. This age difference can be explained by a higher number of students in the lecture-based group with a study delay (70 % compared to 30 % of the PBL students), and therefore a higher age. No differences in gender between both groups were present, χ 2 (1) = .16, p = .689. The gender distribution (i.e., percentage male and female) in both groups is common for law study programs in higher education in the Netherlands (Central Bureau for Statistics 2014).

Material

Learning strategies

The first part of the Inventory Learning Styles (ILS Vermunt 1998) was used to measure students’ learning strategies (i.e., processing strategies and regulatory strategies). The ILS is a self-report questionnaire in which students rate statements on a scale of 1 (“I never or hardly do this”) to 5 (“I (almost) always do this”). Items regarding processing strategies are distinguished in (a) deep processing, which focus on relating topics, structuring, and critical processing, (b) stepwise processing, in which the use of memorization, rehearsal, and analyzing is measured, and (c) concrete processing, which measures whether learning material is concretized and personalized by the student. Further, items on regulatory processes are divided into (d) self-regulation, which measures to what degree students control their own learning process, (e) external regulation, which measures to what degree students depend on external resources (e.g., a teacher) for steering and controlling their learning process, and (f) lack of regulation, which measures the inability of students to regulate the learning process. In total, the questionnaire contained 55 items. Table 1 provides an overview of the subscales with example items of the ILS and Cronbach’s alphas for each subscale. The Cronbach’s alphas can be considered acceptable, with the exception of the scale “external regulation” (α = .64), which has a rather low reliability. Results on the scale external regulation should therefore be interpreted with caution.

Self-study time

Students were asked to give an estimation of their weekly time investment on self-study (in hours) prior to the ILS, by asking the question, “How many hours, on average, do you spend each week on self-study?” Previous research has showed that there is a strong connection between self-reported study time and actual time spent on study in PBL (Moust 1993).

Procedure

In both groups, the teacher (i.e., in the lecture-based cohort) or tutor (i.e., in the PBL cohort) handed out the questionnaire on paper to students during a regular study week and students took about 15 min to fill it out. Students of the lecture-based cohort participated in the current study during the given course of the third academic year in January 2014. The course at the time was called “moot court,” in which students learn to plea in front of a judge. Students of the PBL cohort participated in the current study exactly 1 year later, in January 2015, when they were in their third academic year. Students of this cohort were enrolled in the course “criminal law” at the time of the study. All students were instructed to report on their learning strategies and self-study time in general, not in the specific course given at the time.

Statistical analyses

In order to compare students of both learning environments on their learning strategies, a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted with educational method as between-subjects factor (i.e., PBL vs. lecture-based) and scores on the three subscales of processing strategies (i.e., deep, surface, and concrete processing) and the three regulatory strategies (i.e., self, external, and lack of regulation) as dependent variables. In order to study the influence of the learning environment on the relation between learning strategies and self-study time, moderation analyses were conducted with PROCESS (Hayes 2012). Self-study time and educational method (i.e., PBL group vs. lecture-based group) served as predictors, and scores on the ILS subscales as outcome variables. Instructional method was considered a moderator variable, and a moderation effect was present when an interaction effect between self-study time and instructional method appeared for the different subscales (Field 2013). When an interaction effect is present, the relation between self-study time and the scores on learning strategies is different in both learning environments, indicating a moderator effect.


Simulation-Based Learning Versus Didactic Lecture in Teaching Bronchial Asthma for Undergraduate Medical Students: a Step Toward Improvement of Clinical Competencies

Simulation-based learning (SBL), an effective teaching strategy, is still questionable on whether it can be an alternative to didactic lectures in medical education. Our study aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of SBL versus traditional lectures in retention of knowledge.

Methods

A randomized controlled trial was conducted among medical students who were divided in two groups (36 students each). Each group received the same information about diagnosis and management of bronchial asthma, but with a different teaching method: didactic lecture or simulation. Knowledge level was tested before, immediately after the teaching sessions and 3 months later using multiple-choice questions. Student’s satisfaction was evaluated using feedback questionnaire.

Results

The simulation group scored higher than the lecture group in the post-test and the late test. However, these differences were not significant. Additionally, students’ satisfaction scores were significantly higher in the simulation group than in the lecture group (p < 0.01). Students ranked simulation significantly better regarding motivation (71.9%), comfort (59.4%), understanding (59.4%), and effective communication (59.4%) (p < 0.01).

Conclusion

Simulation is as effective as lecture in retention of medical knowledge. Nonetheless, students agree that it is more satisfactory and interesting. SBL integration in medical programs is recommended to overcome obstacles in clinical training.


Watch the video: #30 Μεθοδολογία της Έρευνας στην Ψυχολογία. Μαθήματα Ψυχολογίας (June 2022).


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