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Development of a Problem-based learning (PBL) approach to facilitate the acquisition of statistics knowledge by non-statistics undergraduates: a case study in medical education


  • Research & Development

Document Type

Published Date

  • 2011


  • Doctors need statistical skills. These skills matter for interpreting research data critically and for understanding and explaining statistical information to patients. However, historically statistical teaching and learning has been poorly integrated into medical training. The discipline is not popular with many students, and it is sometimes poorly understood and retained. One commonly cited reason is that it seems irrelevant to medicine. This report details the development of a problem-based learning (PBL) strategy for teaching and learning statistics. PBL is a method that facilitates learning through problem solving activities. Before teaching commences students are given a clinical scenario to study and then through a process of investigation and reflection, they decide what it is that they need to know in order to investigate the scenario; seek out these skills and knowledge; apply them; and arrive at an informed conclusion. It is active rather than passive learning, as through this process of investigation and critical reflection they learn about their subject. It helps develop more independent learners. Furthermore, the learning is driven more by the students than the tutors as it is focused more on what the students themselves feel they need to know. Given how central the problem-solving cycle is to statistics, PBL would seem to offer a solution to the issues outlined above. The project began by surveying both current students and practicing doctors in order to design a core curriculum that addressed their needs. This was then used to develop PBL objects to deal with these, such that statistical skills could be learnt through addressing medical problems requiring statistical solutions. Clearly articulated statistical learning outcomes underpinned the development of each problem. These PBL objects were tested for both usability and acceptability, with a particular focus on how well they worked as a means of learning key statistical concepts. The understanding produced provides valuable knowledge for both medical education and other disciplines where learning statistics is an essential component.
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