Problem based learning in undergraduate education: A new era of curriculum design


The key skills of a 21st century graduate are changing with physiotherapy graduates being required to adopt a problem solving approach, especially in the management of neurological patients who are becoming more complex in their presentation (CSP 2011, NGCS 2018). Research, emphasizes the need for students to adopt a questioning, critical stance (Sackett et al, 2000). The aim of this project was to redevelop our undergraduate curriculum and assessment to reflect a problem based approach. Our key objectives were ; 1. To deliver education using a flipped classroom approach, 2. To develop live patient narrated videos to enhance student learning and examination, 3. To develop an online multi media based exam using patient case studies


Students, clinicians and academics were involved in the design of the online multi media exam which aligned to the Ulster University Learning and Teaching Strategy. The exam was pilot tested with a group of 3 students before being refined and used with year 2 undergraduate students. The online multi media exam uses a problem-based approach to primarily assess students clinical reasoning. Both still shots and video clips of live patients are embedded alongside questions based on these, for example to identify key problems and explain the rationale for these. This included questions on neurological impairments e.g. abnormal tone/ weakness in visual and audible mediums as well as narrative descriptor


Results: Students reported high satisfaction with use of the exam. Technical issues occurred on the day, which have been addressed for the next iteration. 87% of students were satisfied with the quality of the module and 77% reported assessment requirements were made clear. It became evident the students were not familiar with problem based learning approach in an examination situation (regardless of the practice placed on this throughout the module). Staff reported that information seeking skills and group working are experiences needed when using Problem Based Learning methods. Staff reported being able to more accurately test clinical reasoning and critical thinking through student's responses to the problem solving required in management of the problems of the live patient videos in this exam format.

Conclusion(s): Students recognize that problem base learning methods are a new way of learning. There are however significant challenges in implementing approaches that involve both collaborative working and feedback based on performance rather than results. Some students resist new approaches to assessment that involve an element (including technology) of the unknown for the student. The newly designed module and subsequent multi media exam facilitates this learning by practicing methods of problem based learning that are directly aligned in the exam.

Cost and savings

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The success of both the curriculum redesign and the exam has encouraged others within the undergraduate education team to use a similar format for their module. This experience has also encouraged a change of thinking in terms of development of being a professional physiotherapist and development of the problem solver. It is hoped these new approaches will be continued to be adapted in undergraduate and postgraduate courses to better equip our physiotherapists of the future.

Top three learning points

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Funding acknowledgements

No funding sources supported this work.