It has been recognized internationally that undergraduate medical education must adapt to changing needs, as illustrated by the Tomorrow's Doctors recommendations from the General Medical Council. This paper aims to relate contemporary educational theory to under-graduate medical educational requirements, specifically highlighting conditions (e.g. experiential learning) for: professional knowledge acquisition; critical thinking, problem-solving and clinical problem-solving; and lifelong professional learning. Furthermore, problem-based learning (PBL) is highlighted as potentially providing such conditions. There are lessons from contemporary educational theory for the reform of undergraduate medical education. These include valuing prior knowledge and experience; promoting learner responsibility through facilitating rather than directing learning; encouraging learners to test out and apply new knowledge, and using small-group work to foster explicitly the elusive skills of critical thinking and reflection. Contemporary educational theory contributes valuable insights, but cannot dictate the ultimate 'mix'; at best it provides some principles for reflective analysis of the learning experiences created for tomorrow's doctors.