Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
MD Education

Problem-Based Learning

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) uses clinical cases to stimulate inquiry, critical thinking and knowledge application and integration related to biological, behavioral and social sciences. Through this active, collaborative, case-based learning process, students acquire a deeper understanding of the principles of medicine and, more importantly, acquire the skills necessary for lifelong learning.

The goal is for students to:

  • Acquire, synthesize and apply basic science knowledge in a clinical context
  • Engage in critical thinking and problem-solving
  • Develop the ability to evaluate their own learning and collaborate with peers
  • Effectively use information technology and identify the most appropriate resources for knowledge acquisition and hypothesis testing
  • Contextualize and communicate their knowledge to others
  • Ask for, provide and incorporate feedback in order to improve performance

Each PBL group has six to nine students and a faculty facilitator. Case information is disclosed progressively across two or more sessions for each case. This process mimics the manner in which a practicing physician obtains data from a patient. PBL allows students to develop hypotheses and identify learning issues as the additional pieces of information about a patient are disclosed to the student.

The students identify learning issues and information needs and assign learning tasks among the group. The students discuss their findings at the next session and review the case in light of their learning. At the conclusion of a case, the students create a concept map synthesizing the knowledge garnered over the course of their discussions to demonstrate their understanding of how the elements of the case integrate with and relate to one another.

Faculty Development Modules

Faculty interested in learning more about PBL should review these online learning modules.

Welcome to PBL: A Guide for Tutors

This module is required for new tutors and optional for experienced tutors who are interested in a refresher course. It is intended to serve as an introduction to facilitating small-group sessions in the PBL course. This video will show you what a PBL session looks like and demonstrates some tutor behaviors. Open the module and use password fsmpbl for access.

PBL New Tutor Training Module

This module is required for new tutors and optional for experienced tutors who are interested in a refresher course. It discusses the theory and method of PBL as an introduction to facilitating small-group sessions in the PBL course. Open the module and use password fsmpbl for access.

PBL Tutor Feedback Module

All tutors (new and experienced) must go through this brief training module to help you provide students with feedback in the context of the PBL course. Open the module (Safari or Firefox recommended) and sign in when prompted with your NetID and password. Completing the module will count toward CME credit.

Faculty Leaders and Coordinator

Robyn Bockrath, MD, MEd
Co-Director

Aneesha Shetty, MBBS, MPH
Co-Director

Jessica Voth
Coordinator

Teaching

Learn more about teaching opportunities in this area.