PBL versus traditional learning – Which is best?

PBL versus traditional learning methods: Which works better? Medical schools operate largely in two camps: Problem-based learning (PBL) versus traditional learning. The question of choosing PBL versus traditional learning is a difficult one, and in this blog post we will discuss the advantages of both approaches.

Author: Zayra Morales

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PBL Versus Tradtional Learning Methods: Which works best?

Medical schools operate largely in two camps : Problem based learning (PBL) versus traditional learning.

The schools that focus on traditional syllabus emphasises the scientific basis behind medicine as taught by lectures and seminars.

Other universities opt for a problem based learning (PBL) approach. This involves a less didactic style where, instead, student groups are given a clinical problem or case, come up with learning objectives and then teach each other in a subsequent session. All of which is observed by a facilitator.

Some medical schools also have an integrated course, where clinical content is mixed with the preclinical material over the first couple of years. The question of choosing PBL versus traditional learning is a difficult one, and in this blog post we will discuss the advantages of either approach.


Advantages of traditional learning

When deciding between PBL versus traditional learning, the amount of content delivered through each approach is an important factor. Generally, it is thought that traditional learning offers a more comprehensive way of learning content. The reasoning behind this is that lectures are packed full of information, which may be sparser in PBL tutorials that are driven by the students themselves.

Traditional learning may be more similar to the style of learning in A-level, where information is largely delivered to you. This makes the transition to university easier. In PBL teaching, an individual student will teach a particular topic to the group meaning the content of information taught will be dependent on the motivation of the individual students.

Traditional courses tend to emphasise the foundations in biomedical knowledge required in medicine earlier on. Areas of medicine that are very information-dense such as anatomy may be harder to learn through PBL format. This may be helpful when it comes to applying this in the clinical context as students move into hospitals during the later years of their medical courses.

Advantages of PBL

In the question of PBL versus traditional learning, PBL encourages students to develop their research skills. Given that the style of each tutorial involves a particular student gathering and preparing information to teach the rest of the group, it encourages a self-motivational approach. These skills are essential for the continual learning required as a doctor, and this method of teaching equips students with the ability to drive their own learning.

The style of PBL involves a patient case being proposed to the group, before the theory is researched in more detail. This means that more dry, academic parts of the course are directly linked to clinical issues, meaning they can feel more engaging.

Indeed, PBL was pioneered in an attempt to translate academic teaching into a form where students could more easily see the applications of this in medical work.  Learning the scientific basis of medicine can seem more interesting when it comes to PBL versus traditional learning, because theory is directly linked to work in the hospital environment.

PBL fosters group work and collaboration which are essential skills to improve as doctors working in medial and multidisciplinary healthcare teams. Presenting information to a group might seem scary at first but gaining confidence in this through PBL is very important for future work as doctors where presentations regarding patients, research and peer-to-peer teaching are commonplace.

Once you’ve decided on what type of teaching would best suit you, you need to learn the top strategies of getting into medical school.



How to choose a medical school is hard enough, but choosing between PBL versus traditional learning should ultimately depend on what kind of teaching suits you as a person. If you prefer to have a comprehensive and thorough review of topics on the medical school syllabus, then traditional methods may suit you more. However, if you are the kind of person who needs to see the clinical context behind the theory and who learns best from teamwork and discussion, then it is PBL that may suit you.

Book Yourself onto a Medicine Course

Getting into a medical school is a scary process. There are a lot of aspects to consider within your application and it’s often hard to tackle this all on your own. With a non-Oxbridge medicine programme for 2020 entry, you won’t be on your own. Our team of skills tutors are here to guide you through every step of the admissions process. Practice the MMI interviews or take a mock exam. Whatever it is that you’re struggling to get to grips with, we can help.

Which Schools Offer PBL?

PBL is largely a unique form of learning provided by medical schools. There are only a few medical schools across the UK that provide this as an option in their medical course. To save you the time of trying to find them yourselves, we’ve listed the schools that offer problem-based learning.

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UniAdmissions students placed at Oxford And Cambridge

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