Purpose: Problem-based learning (PBL) is now used at many medical schools to promote lifelong learning, open inquiry, teamwork, and critical thinking. PBL has not been compared with other forms of discussion-based small-group learning. Case-based learning (CBL) uses a guided inquiry method and provides more structure during small-group sessions. In this study, we compared faculty and medical students’ perceptions of traditional PBL with CBL after a curricular shift at two institutions.
Method: Over periods of three years, the medical schools at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of California, Davis (UCD) changed first-, second-, and third-year Doctoring courses from PBL to CBL formats. Ten months after the shift (2001 at UCLA and 2004 at UCD), students and faculty who had participated in both curricula completed a 24-item questionnaire about their PBL and CBL perceptions and the perceived advantages of each format
Results: A total of 286 students (86%–97%) and 31 faculty (92%–100%) completed questionnaires. CBL was preferred by students (255; 89%) and faculty (26; 84%) across schools and learner levels.
The few students preferring PBL (11%) felt it encouraged self-directed learning (26%) and valued its greater opportunities for participation (32%). From logistic regression, students preferred CBL because of fewer unfocused tangents (59%, odds ration [OR] 4.10, P = .01), less busy-work (80%, OR 3.97, P = .01), and more opportunities for clinical skills application (52%, OR 25.6, P = .002).
Conclusions: Learners and faculty at two major academic medical centers overwhelmingly preferred CBL (guided inquiry) over PBL (open inquiry). Given the dense medical curriculum and need for efficient use of student and faculty time, CBL offers an alternative model to traditional PBL small-group teaching. This study could not assess which method produces better practicing physicians.