The problem is the tool to achieve knowledge and problem-solving skills.
Gijbels then described a meta-analysis conducted to examine the effects of problem-based learning on students’ knowledge and their application of knowledge, and to identify factors that mediated those effects (Dochy et al., 2003). The meta-analysis focused on empirical studies that compared problem-based learning with lecture-based education in postsecondary classrooms in Europe, and almost all of the studies that met the criteria focused on medical education.2 Through the analysis, Gijbels and his colleagues found the following:
Students’ content knowledge was slightly lower in problem-based learning courses than in traditional lecture courses.
Although students in problem-based learning environments demonstrated less knowledge in the short term, they retained more knowledge over the long term.
Students in problem-based learning settings were better able to apply their knowledge than students in traditional courses.
These findings prompted Gijbels and his colleagues to undertake a deeper analysis of the assessment of problem-based learning (Gijbels et al., 2005). That analysis focused on three levels of knowledge that were assessed in the selected studies: (1) knowledge of concepts, (2) understanding of principles that link concepts, and (3) the application of knowledge. Gijbels noted that of the 56 studies in the analysis, 31 focused on concepts, 17 focused on principles, and 8 focused on the application of knowledge. The analysis revealed the following:
Students in problem-based learning environments and traditional lecture-based learning environments exhibited no differences in the understanding of concepts.
Students in problem-based learning environments had a deeper understanding of principles that link concepts together.
Students in problem-based learning environments demonstrated a slightly better ability to apply their knowledge than students in lecture-based classes.
The study is described in the workshop paper by Gijbels (see http://www.nationalacademies.org/bose/Gijbels_CommissionedPaper.pdf).