Problem-solving skills, solving problems and problem-based learning

Med Educ. 1988 Jul;22(4):279-86. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.1988.tb00754.x.


This paper reviews the empirical evidence in support of the three concepts in the title. To the extent that a skill should be a general strategy, applicable in a variety of situations, and independent of the specific knowledge of the situation, there is little evidence that problem-solving skills, as described and measured in medical education, possess these characteristics. Instead there is an accumulation of evidence that expert problem-solving in medicine is dependent on (I) a wealth of prior specific experiences which can be used in routine solution of problems by pattern recognition processes, and (2) elaborated conceptual knowledge applicable to the occasional problematic situation. The use of problem-based learning (PBL) as an educational strategy is explored. In particular, the evidence suggesting the compatibility of PBL with this theory of expertise is discussed. Finally, I review some issues in the design of PBL curricula from the perspective of the proposed model of expertise.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Problem Solving*