What can we learn from problem-based learning tutors at a graduate entry medical school? A mixed method approach

O Doherty, Diane, Mc Keague, Helena, Harney, Sarah, Browne, Gerard and McGrath, Deirdre (2018) What can we learn from problem-based learning tutors at a graduate entry medical school? A mixed method approach. BMC Medical Education, 18 (96). ISSN 1472-6920

[thumbnail of Version of Record]
PDF (Version of Record) - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.


Digital ID: http://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-018-1214-2


Problem-based learning (PBL) has been adopted by many medical schools as an innovative method to deliver an integrated medical curriculum since its inception at McMaster University (Dornan et al., Med Educ 39(2):163-170, 2005; Finucane et al., Med Educ 35(1):56-61, 2001; Barrows, Tutorials in problem-based learning: A new direction in teaching the health professions, 1984). The student experience in PBL has been explored in detail (Merriam, New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 89: 3-13, 2001; Azer, Kaohsiung J Med Sci 25(5): 240-249, 2009; Boelens et al., BMC Med Ed 15(1): 84, 2015; Dolmans et al., Med Teach 24(2):173-180, 2002; Lee et al., Med Teach 35(2): e935-e942, 2013) but the tutors who facilitate PBL have valuable insight into how PBL functions and this aspect has not been extensively researched. The integrated curriculum for years 1 and 2 at the Graduate Entry Medical School at the University of Limerick is delivered though problem-based learning (PBL). This programme requires collaborative teamwork between students and the tutors who facilitate small-group tutorial sessions. All PBL tutors at GEMS are medically qualified, with the majority (68%) currently working in clinical practice. A mixed-methods approach was adopted, utilising two surveys and follow-up focus groups to fully understand the tutor experience. Thirty-three tutors took part in two online surveys with a response rate of 89%. Thirteen tutors participated in two focus groups. Descriptive analysis was completed on survey data and thematic analysis on focus group discussions which highlighted five main themes. Tutors reported challenges with managing group dynamics, development of confidence in tutoring with experience and a willingness to learn from peers to improve practice. Findings are in keeping with previously published work. Results also identified several less commonly discussed issues impacting student engagement in PBL including the use of mobile device technology, unauthorised access to learning objectives and PBL cases, and the importance and need for professional development amongst tutors, including the impact of tutoring on clinical practice. This study revealed that experienced tutors spend considerable time preparing for PBL tutorials in the basic sciences and that this input is rewarded by the benefits it brings to their clinical practice. Understanding PBL from the tutor's perspective reveals valuable insights which can inform ongoing tutor development and support. Limited research exists in the area of PBL tutor's experiences which may be of interest to medical educators, clinicians and the wider medical community. Findings highlight the value of shared tutor experiences as a resource that can be capitalised on to benefit both novice and experienced tutors.

Repository Staff Only: item control page