Skip to Main Content

Active Learning

At FIU HW COM, we want to make our students responsible for their own learning. Why? Because physicians must become life-long learners—individuals that pursue knowledge and understanding autonomously in seeking excellence in patient care. To that end, we must make every effort to provide classroom learning experiences that actively engage and involve our students in critical thinking and relevant, meaningful interaction with their peers.

Our accrediting body, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), supports this and, in fact, requires medical schools to use active learning strategies in the curriculum.

What is active learning?  (…the LCME definition….)

Active learning is the process by which a medical student 1)independently, or collaboratively with his or her peers, identifies his or her learning objectives and seeks the information necessary to meet the objectives and/or 2)contributes to the learning of a group with information that he or she prepares and discusses. In active learning, the learner has a role defining his or her own learning outcomes or those of his or her peers.

There are two learning formats that consist entirely of active learning: PBL and TBL. These learning formats are currently being used in some of our courses (BMS 7810—Core Concepts in Medicine, BMS 6001—Genes, Cells, and Molecules, BMS 6633—Cardiovascular and Respiratory, to name a few).

Do you want to try these formats in your course? We encourage you to do so! Our office will be glad to assist you in locating and/or developing appropriate teaching material and tailoring these formats to fit your course content.

About Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and Case-Based Learning (CBL)

Case Based Learning, long used in a variety of educational settings, is any instruction which is centered in a real-life, simulated or paper case. Indeed, learning from caring for patients during clinical education is case based learning. The teacher in CBL may choose to carefully define what the student from learns from the case. In medicine, this direction might take the form of “describe the differential diagnosis of this patient with shortness of breath” or “outline the mechanism of dyspnea in this case.” A common set of objectives in medical case based learning is “review the clinical presentation, differential diagnosis, work-up and treatment of this disease.” The teacher may provide all the information in a lecture or try to elicit it through discussion. CBL may take the form of a lecture in which the teacher provides all the information, or any small or large group setting where questioning and discussion are used toward learning.

Problem Based Learning is a subset of case-based learning. PBL is conducted only in small group formats. In its purest form, the teacher does not direct the students toward predetermined learning objectives but uses questioning when necessary to stimulate students to identify their own learning goals arising from the case. In pure PBL, the instructor is entirely a “guide on the side” and not a “sage on the stage,” i.e. s/he does not answer students’ questions or provide didactics. Students themselves must seek the answers to their learning needs from each other and/or independent research. When successful, it develops both problem solving strategies, disciplinary knowledge bases, and teaching and group work skills by placing students in the active role of confronting problems in patient care.

Early developments of problem-based case education originated from a curriculum reform by medical faculty at McMaster University in Canada in the early 1970s. Innovative and forward-looking medical school programs considered the intensive pattern of basic science lectures followed by an equally exhausting clinical teaching program to be an ineffective and dehumanizing way to prepare future physicians. Given the explosion of medical information and new technology, as well as the rapidly changing demands of future medical practice, a new mode and strategy of learning was developed that would better prepare students for professional practice. PBL has spread to over 50 medical schools, and has diffused into many other professional fields including law, economics, architecture, mechanical and civil engineering, as well as in K-12 curricula.

Educational research has shown that PBL is especially effective in producing self-directed learners.

About Team-Based Learning (TBL)

Team-Based Learning has been described as a special form of collaborative learning using a specific sequence of individual work, group work and immediate feedback to create a motivational framework in which students increasingly hold each other accountable for coming to class prepared and contributing to discussion. TBL dramatically shifts the focus of classroom time from conveying course concepts by the instructor to the application of course concepts by student teams. In the TBL process, students acquire their initial exposure to the content through readings and are held accountable for their preparation using a Readiness Assurance Process (RAP). The RAP process is essential, and may be fulfilled by preparatory instruction such as lecture, reading or other independent study. Following the RAP, the bulk of class time is used to practice applying content in a series of team application exercises. The components of TBL are very adaptable to many situations, disciplines and classroom types.

Team-Based Learning Workshop with Dr. Michael Sweet

As part of the goal to advance interdisciplinary, problem-centered global learning at FIU, the Office of Global Learning hosted a day-long workshop on Team Based Learning on May 18, 2012. The workshop, attended by 20 faculty, staff, and graduate students from across the university, was facilitated by Dr. Michael Sweet, Director of Instructional Development in the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Texas at Austin.

Full video of this workshop is available on YouTube, courtesy of the Office of Global Learning Initiatives and UTS Broadcast Video Production.