Answer to "What is the evidence that PBL is better than the conventional subject-based curriculum?"

It took more than 40 years for evidence to emerge in terms of whether PBL had met its stated aims (i.e. developing self-directed learners who have a deep discipline knowledge and who are better prepared to apply the science of what they had learnt to patient care). As alluded to earlier, PBL has been extensively customised and sometimes inappropriately. In the first meaningful meta-analysis, Koh and colleagues’ (2008) concluded that PBL was superior with respect to several competencies. These included team work, appreciation of emotional and social aspects of health, appreciation of ethical and legal aspects of health care and appropriate attitudes towards personal health and well-being. There was also moderate support for PBL in terms of communication and interpersonal skills, coping with uncertainty, continuity of care, use of information resources and understanding the evidence base of medicine. A year later, Strobel and van Barneveldt (2009), using a qualitative meta-synthesis approach to compare the assumptions and findings of meta-analytic research, concluded that “PBL is significantly more effective than traditional instruction to train competent and skilled practitioners and to promote long-term retention of knowledge and skills acquired during the learning experience or training sessions” (p. 55).  For a discussion of the historic and more recent PBL reviews (and their limitations), readers are referred to Albanese and Dast’s (2014) article. Yew and Goh (2016) provide an overview of the research into the PBL process and concluded that “the studies reviewed … suggest that PBL is an effective teaching and learning approach, particularly when it is evaluated for long-term retention and applications….” (p. 78).



ALBANESE, M.A., and DAST, L. (2014). Problem-based learning: Outcomes evidence from the health professions. (J Excel Coll Teach. 25(3&4):239-252.

KOH, G.C., KHOO, H.E., WONG, M.E., and KOH, D. (2008). The effects of problem-based learning during medical school on physician competency: A systematic review. (Can Med Assoc J. 178(1):34-41.

STROBEL, J., and VAN BARNEVELD, A. (2009). When is PBL more effective? A meta-analysis of meta-analyses comparing PBL to conventional classrooms. (Interdisc J PBL. 3(1):

MIFLIN, B. (2004). Small groups and problem-based learning: are we singing from the same hymn sheet? (Med Teach. 26(5):444-450).

NEVILLE, A.J. (2009). Problem-based learning and medical education forty years on. (Med Princ Pract. 18:1-9).

TAYLOR, D., and MIFLIN, B. (2008). AMEE Guide No. 36. Problem-based learning: Where are we now? (Med Teach. 30:742-763).

YEW, E.H.J., and GOH, K. (2016). Problem-based learning: An overview of its process and impact on learning. (Health Prof Educ. 2:75-79).