How realist reviews might be helpful to further insights in Problem-Based Learning from theoretical grounding to practical application

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Guy Bendermacher
Diana Dolmans
Mirjam oude Egbrink


Problem-Based Learning (PBL) can take many different shapes but has as a common denominator that it builds on the theoretical principles of collaborative, constructive, contextual, and self-directed learning. Systematic review approaches that aim to provide insight in what features  make PBL ‘work’ generally fall short, as they tend to disregard the  impact of specific implementation contexts. The realist review approach seems to be promising in this respect, as this type of review aims to address the comprehensive question ‘what works for whom, in what circumstances, in what respects, and how?’ This article elaborates on the theoretical foundation of the realist review approach, provides examples and a step-by step description of how realist reviews can be conducted, and sketches a promising perspective on these reviews can contribute to further PBL theory building.

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Special Issue: Research Methodologies for studying PBL