The effects of problem-based learning (PBL) were examined by conducting a meta-analysis-type review of the English-language international literature from 1972 to 1992. Compared with conventional instruction, PBL, as suggested by the findings, is more nurturing and enjoyable; PBL graduates perform as well, and sometimes better, on clinical examinations and faculty evaluations; and they are more likely to enter family medicine. Further, faculty tend to enjoy teaching using PBL. However, PBL students in a few instances scored lower on basic sciences examinations and viewed themselves as less well prepared in the basic sciences than were their conventionally trained counterparts. PBL graduates tended to engage in back-ward reasoning rather than the forward reasoning experts engage in, and there appeared to be gaps in their cognitive knowl-edge base that could affect practice outcomes. The costs of PBL may slow its implementation in schools with class sizes larger than 100. While weaknesses in the criteria used to assess the outcomes of PBL and general weaknesses in study design limit the confidence one can give conclusions drawn from the literature, the authors recommend that caution be exercised in making comprehensive, curriculum-wide conversions to PBL until more is learned about (1) the extent to which faculty should direct students throughout medical training, (2) PBL methods that are less costly, (3) cognitive-processing weaknesses shown by PBL students, and (4) the apparent high resource utilization by PBL graduates. Academic Medicine 68(1993):52–81.
This paper was funded in part by the Society of Directors of Research in Medical Education. The conclusions do not necessarily reflect the views of members of the society as a whole.
Dr. Albanese is director and Ms. Mitchell is education consultant, Office of Consultation and Research in Medical Education, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City.
Correspondence and requests for reprints should be addressed to Dr. Albanese, Office of Consultation and Research in Medical Education, University of Iowa College of Medicine, 2351 Steindler Building, Iowa City, IA 52242.
© 1993 by the Association of American Medical Colleges