PBL is an educational technique originally applied to medicine in the 1960s by Howard Barrows at the McMaster University medical school in Ontario. It involves the description of a problem, or in medical education, a “case”, which is discussed by a group of students who decide upon a variety of learning objectives having brainstormed ideas based on their prior knowledge on the pertinent subjects. The learning objectives set may include basic sciences, differential diagnoses and management plans, as well as social issues for the patients. The students then would study throughout the week, and reconvene to discuss what they have learnt.
Barrows described this as “the learning that results from the process of working towards the understanding of a resolution of a problem. In the beginning, problem will be encountered first in case of learning process” . PBL has the aim of promoting independent and reflective knowledge building, by a guided experience of problem solving. It therefore aims to provide a motivation for self-directed learning, and can allow students to develop an adaptable knowledge base which can be applied in various circumstances in the future.