The student experience of problem-based learning in medical education in different national contexts

Man Yuen Daniel Sze

PhD, conferred 2015

One of the important goals of society is to keep the population healthy. At the basis of this is the preparation of well-trained doctors who keep the health of members of our societies in check. From 1970 onwards, in response to comprehensive reviews of existing medical programmes an international transition commenced with a change of approach in medical education to problem-based learning (PBL) medical programs.

Some research into PBL suggests that certain context-specific learning stereotypes exist which may account for the lack of evidence-based success of PBL programs in different national contexts. This thesis argues that the reasons why PBL medical education may or may not be successful in different national contexts is a more complex and sophisticated set of associations and relationships than the country in which it occurs. Student learning research in the last four decades has provided evidence that qualitatively better learning outcomes are closely related to a number of key variables including student conceptions of learning, how they approach learning and their awareness and perceptions of key aspects of the learning context.

These variables will be investigated in the two PBL research sites in this thesis. Two similar undergraduate PBL medical programs, at The University of Hong Kong and at The University of Newcastle in Australia, were investigated both qualitatively and quantitatively by employing research methodologies from seminal research into student learning in higher education. This thesis provides significant discussion and evidence about those aspects of the student experience of PBL which seem to transcend national boundaries, and those aspects which appear to be more embedded in the contexts in which the programmes are run. The implications from the results of the thesis will be relevant for educators responsible for designing and improving the teaching and learning of new and existing problem-based medical education in different contexts.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Robert Ellis