Problem-based learning: a review of literature on its outcomes and implementation issues

Acad Med. 1993 Jan;68(1):52-81. doi: 10.1097/00001888-199301000-00012.


The effects of problem-based learning (PBL) were examined by conducting a meta-analysis-type review of the English-language international literature from 1972 to 1992. Compared with conventional instruction, PBL, as suggested by the findings, is more nurturing and enjoyable; PBL graduates perform as well, and sometimes better, on clinical examinations and faculty evaluations; and they are more likely to enter family medicine. Further, faculty tend to enjoy teaching using PBL. However, PBL students in a few instances scored lower on basic sciences examinations and viewed themselves as less well prepared in the basic sciences than were their conventionally trained counterparts. PBL graduates tended to engage in backward reasoning rather than the forward reasoning experts engage in, and there appeared to be gaps in their cognitive knowledge base that could affect practice outcomes. The costs of PBL may slow its implementation in schools with class sizes larger than 100. While weaknesses in the criteria used to assess the outcomes of PBL and general weaknesses in study design limit the confidence one can give conclusions drawn from the literature, the authors recommend that caution be exercised in making comprehensive, curriculum-wide conversions to PBL until more is learned about (1) the extent to which faculty should direct students throughout medical training, (2) PBL methods that are less costly, (3) cognitive-processing weaknesses shown by PBL students, and (4) the apparent high resource utilization by PBL graduates.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Career Choice
  • Clinical Competence
  • Curriculum*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate* / economics
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate* / standards
  • Educational Measurement
  • Faculty, Medical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Problem Solving*
  • Students, Medical / psychology
  • United States