A comparison of learning outcomes and attitudes in student- versus faculty-led problem-based learning: An experimental study

David J. Steele, Jim D. Medder, Paul Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Objectives: To compare learning outcomes and perceptions of facilitator behaviours and small-group process in problem-based learning (PBL) groups led by students and those led by faculty. Design: A prospective, Latin-square cross-over design was employed. Second-year medical students participated in 11 PBL cases over the course of the academic year. For each case, half the student groups were led by faculty and the other half by a student group member selected randomly to serve in the facilitator role. Learning outcomes were assessed by performance on objective examinations covering factual materials pertinent to the case. Perceptions of facilitator behaviours and of group functioning were assessed with a questionnaire completed at the end of each individual case. Focus-group discussions were held to gain more in-depth information about student perceptions and experience. Student-led sessions were observed at random by the investigators. Setting: A state-supported, US medical school with a hybrid lecture-based and problem-based curriculum. Subjects: One hundred and twenty-seven second-year medical students and 30 basic science and clinical faculty. Results: No differences were detected in student performance on the objective evaluation based on whether the facilitator was a faculty member or peer group member, nor were there any differences in the perceptions of group process. Students gave peer facilitators slightly higher ratings in the second semester of the experiment. In the focus-group discussions, students voiced a general preference for student-led groups because they felt they were more efficient. Observation and focus-group reports suggest that groups led by students sometimes took short cuts in the PBL process. Conclusion: In a hybrid lecture- and PBL-based curriculum, student performance on objective examinations covering PBL materials is unaffected by the status of the facilitator (student vs. faculty). However, in peer-facilitated groups, students sometimes took short cuts in the PBL process that may undermine some of the intended goals of PBL.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-29
Number of pages7
JournalMedical Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2000


  • Attitude of health personnel
  • Curriculum
  • Education
  • Health care
  • Medical
  • Methods
  • Outcome assessment
  • Problem-based learning
  • Undergraduate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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