Problem based learning (PBL) has been the subject of considerable interest and debate in medical undergraduate and, increasingly, postgraduate education in recent years. Its supporters maintain that PBL enhances learning by providing a highly motivational environment for acquisition of knowledge, which is well received by those who take part in it. Critics argue that PBL is a time consuming exercise, often undertaken by people with a limited appreciation of its complexities, and the lack of evidence that PBL translates into better clinical competence brings into question the relevance of such intensive learning methods in everyday practice. This article outlines the background to PBL, explains its mechanics in action, and considers the potential disadvantages of its use as a clinical learning tool in the emergency department.
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