A Model for Self-Directed Problem-Based Learning for Renal Therapeutics

By Strohfeldt, Katja; Grant, Daniel T. | American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, November 2010 | Go to article overview

A Model for Self-Directed Problem-Based Learning for Renal Therapeutics


Strohfeldt, Katja, Grant, Daniel T., American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education


INTRODUCTION

Problem-based learning, an important teaching tool within colleges and schools of pharmacy, has been expanded over the last 2 decades in America and Europe. (1,2) Problem-solving capabilities, together with critical-thinking and decision-making skills, are crucial for pharmacists. Instructors within colleges and schools of pharmacy have an obligation to prepare students for this constantly evolving professional career, and PBL is 1 of the most widely recognized teaching models used to encourage the development of these skills and values. (3,4)

The philosophy of problem-based learning was developed for medical students at McMaster University and is based on the analysis of health care problems as a process used to acquire and apply knowledge. (5) Self-directed learning is the central element of the PBL-based learning approach, in which small groups of 5 or 6 students work together with the support of a facilitator. (6-9) Students are required to gather and interpret information, and apply it to the scenario being investigated, helping them develop the problem-solving skills important for health care professionals.

Problem-based learning has gained wide-spread recognition, and several medical schools and some colleges and schools of pharmacy have embraced it within their curriculum. (10-12) In general, colleges and schools of pharmacy implementing PBL as a teaching method follow a combined approach with traditional educational techniques, where PBL is used for specific topics, such as pharmacy practice, (13,14) therapeutics, (15,16) and pharmaceutics, (17) whereas the remaining topics, particularly basic scientific subjects, are taught using traditional methods.

The use of problem-based learning as a central instrument of teaching has advantages and disadvantages. Advantages include: (1) presenting students with a more natural format for learning; (2) confronting many different resources to encourage critical thinking; and (3) promoting improvement of the student-tutor relationship. (18,19) Students in a PBL environment spend, on average, 5 to 8 hours preparing each tutorial session. In contrast, students generally do not spend time preparing for a traditional lecture, with any related further learning usually carried out at a later time. Problem-based learning therefore is thought to provide a more natural format for the learning process. Development of critical thinking in students is 1 of the main desired outcomes of PBL which can be achieved in the right environment. Small group learning and the high staff-to-student ratio develops an intensive student-tutor relationship, assuring that learners receive the support they require.

Nevertheless, there are also disadvantages connected to problem-based learning. These are based generally around administrative problems, rather than problems relating to the learning experience, and involve high costs and a high staff workload. PBL is a staff-intensive process, resulting in high staffing costs. Furthermore, it is difficult to assure that standardized, high quality tutoring is provided to each problem-based learning group, as the expertise of facilitators may vary. (18,19)

This paper specifically addresses the curricular goal of designing a problem-based learning course in renal therapeutics for 100 students, which minimizes the impact on staffing resources, but still provides students with the experience of small-group problem-based learning. PBL is the teaching medium for all therapeutics courses within the school of pharmacy at the University of Reading, and the described renal therapeutics course is the first of a series which spans over nearly 3 years of undergraduate studies. A good introduction to PBL is therefore important to the students' experience.

Within this paper we report the implementation of problem-based learning as the central teaching element in our renal therapeutics course. Furthermore, we describe the introduction of an alternative method of providing problem-based learning, which attempts to overcome the disadvantages described previously without losing the main advantages of the traditional problem-based learning approach. …

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