Problem-Based Learning in Professional Entry-Level Therapy Education: A Review of Controlled Evaluation Studies

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Grainne O'Donoghue
Sinead McMahon
Catherine Doody
Kathyrn Smith
Tara Cusack

Abstract

Although there has been growing interest in Problem Based Learning (PBL) by professional entry-level therapy educators, its effectiveness is as yet unclear. Existing overviews of the field do not provide high quality evidence in terms of the effectiveness or otherwise of PBL in professional therapy education. The purposes of this article is to systematically review the current literature on PBL and determine its effectiveness when compared to other didactic approaches in physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy, dietetics, podiatry, orthoptics and therapeutic radiography entry-level education. Eight databases were searched for controlled evaluation studies investigating the effectiveness of PBL in the seven therapy professions. Four competencies were analysed; students’ knowledge, performance, approaches to learning and satisfaction. Data were extracted and risk of bias assessed by independent reviewers. One scoring system was used to assess the quality of the studies and another determined the level of evidence for each competency. The search yielded 3885 articles, of which six met inclusion criteria after full text review; three in physiotherapy, one each in occupational therapy, dietetics and podiatry. Three of the six studies were categorised as high quality. No study measured all four competencies. When compared to other didactic approaches, there is no evidence that PBL has a more positive effect on students’ knowledge and performance and satisfaction levels and limited evidence that it improves students’ approaches to learning. Currently available literature revealed no convincing evidence that PBL is more effective than traditional didactic education for entry level therapy professions.

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