21 July 2017
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A Guide to Problem Based Learning – Part 1 of 2

A Guide to Problem Based Learning – Part 1 of 2

In this two-part series of articles, we hope to outline exactly how PBL works and provide an example of  a PBL ‘scenario’. We will then work through how to answer/progress through a typical PBL scenario.

The articles have been written to benefit the students that study via PBL in their earlier years of learning. If you are currently applying to dental school, click here* to find out why you should know a little bit about PBL, too.

Introduction to PBL

What is PBL?

Problem based learning, or PBL, is a method of learning adopted by certain dental and medical schools. The majority of the learning as a part of this approach occurs in the PBL tutorials and in private study, guided by a few lectures on subjects related to each PBL scenario.

How many students does each PBL group comprise of?

Each group comprises of 8 – 10 students and is facilitated by a member of staff belonging to the university (PBL tutor).

What is the role of the PBL tutor?

The PBL tutor does not teach nor tell the students what to study but is there to guide the group in the right direction.

How do things work in a PBL setting?

Each PBL session is approximately 2 hours long. For each scenario there is one student who is the chair and another student who is the scribe. The job of the chair is to lead the group and make sure everyone is involved in the discussion. The scribe draws the spider diagram and writes out the Learning objectives on the board.

What are the advantages of PBL?

PBL ensures team work and improves your problem analysing skills. It also makes you integrate information from different sources such as textbooks, journals, personal experiences. It mainly helps with communication skills as you communicate your findings within the group.

An example of scenarios will be given in Part 2 – along with a step by step guide of how to tackle PBL scenarios.


 *Why may it be important for prospective students to know about PBL?

Many of you thinking of applying to dental school will have come across the terms ‘Problem based learning’ or ‘enquiry based learning’. If this is a method of teaching adopted by a dental school (particularly in the UK) you are applying to, you may be asked how much you know about PBL. It is fair for dental schools to expect you to have done your homework concerning what this form of teaching entails, beyond what is said in the prospectus or website. This is because it may form a very substantial part of your learning experience and you should know if your learning style is compatible with this form of teaching.

You may be probed in an interview about your knowledge about PBL and whether you believe your learning style is compatible. It will be your chance to dazzle the interviewers with a sound insight in to this discipline of learning.

Which dental schools adopt PBL as a core learning system?

  • University of Liverpool
  • University of Manchester
  • Some others but to a lesser degree.

Article by Simranjeet Kaur – Liverpool Dental Student