Problem based versus traditional teaching, a reflection

I often try to incorporate problem based learning into all my teaching activities, not just a scenario. At least this is an intention. I believe in it as a pedagogical philosophy and it inspires me as a teacher to encourage my students that they are fully capable in discovering and learning if they only get the right tools from me. I even try my best to change the way I hold a lecture. For me these are not separate entities. It just requires determination, rhetoric’s and tools. Read an article that compares problem-based learning with lecture-based learning in the education of medical students (Khoshnevisasl, et al, 2014). The study concluded that there were no significant differences in learning outcomes in the two different study groups. The median score of the exam was higher in the intervention group (PBL) compare to the control group for both topics. However, the difference was not statistically significant. Students preferred problem-based learning over lecture-based learning because of motivation boost, a higher quality of education, knowledge retention, class attractiveness, and practical use.

The results vary as (McParland M, 2004) showed that the PBL curriculum resulted in significantly better examination performance than did the traditional teaching curriculum. Students were significantly more successful in the examinations if they had received the PBL curriculum, were female, and used strategic learning.

Some intervention studies show that the group that received problem-based was less satisfied with the course, but despite that both programs, however, were equally effective in improving knowledge levels (Smits PB, 2003). Reading these studies makes me even more confused but determines me to stick to what I believe in. To try my best to incorporate my philosophy of teaching into every activity that I undertake. Meaning that just because I’m in a group setting working with PBL does not make me less traditional as a teacher. That the student still needs me to stimulate elaboration of information and ideas, direct the learning process, stimulate integration of knowledge and stimulate student interaction and individual accountability (de Grave, Dolmans & van der Vleuten 1999). I still can do this in some forms or shapes during a lecture but of course it’s more of a challenge. I believe that we as teachers can be and should be a role model for our students that they need to find inspiration from us and also motivation. To want to know more, to want to listen during a lecture and to understand that they are there to get the preparations and skills that they need in order to be a nurse. Because at the end of the day that is what all this is for. To be able to “produce” competent nurses that with the help of their theoretical and practical knowledge are able to care for a patient no matter in what context. For that I would like to believe that problem based learning is a great contribution.


McParland M, Noble LM, Livingston G. The effectiveness of problem-based learning compared to traditional teaching in undergraduate psychiatry. Medical Education. 2004; 38(8):859–67.

Smits PB, de Buisonje CD, Verbeek JH, van Dijk FJ, Metz JC, ten Cate OJ. Problem-based learning versus lecture-based learning in postgraduate medical education. Scandinavian Journal of Work Environ Health.2003;29(4):280–7.

Khoshnevisasl P., Sadeghzadeh M.,  Mazloomzadeh S., Feshareki R., Ahmadiafshar A. Comparison of Problem-based Learning With Lecture-based Learning. Iran Red Crescent Medical Journal. 2014 May; 16(5): e5186.

De Grave WS, Dolmans DH, van der Vleuten CP. Profiles of effective tutors in problem-based learning: scaffolding student learning. Medical Education. 1999 Dec;33(12):901-6.