Journal of Professional Nursing

A Critique Of Problem-Based Learning In  Nursing Education And The Contribution It  Can Make Toward Beginning Professional  Practice - Part One   

Esther Vallance, MA, BN, RCpN, Senior Lecturer, School of Nursing  Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, Christchurch   

Sue Scott, MA, BA, RGON, RM, Senior Lecturer/BN Programme Co-ordinator  Wellington Campus, Massey University, Wellington 

Vallance, E., & Scott, S. (2003). A critique of  problem-based learning in nursing education and  the contribution it can make toward beginning  professional practice - Part one. Nursing Praxis in  New Zealand, 19(2), 41-51.      



Within New Zealand nursing education there appears to be a widespread acceptance  of problem-based learning (PBL) and an assumption that the strategies it uses are  unproblematic. A review of the literature however, reveals that PBL has drawbacks  that may inhibit the achievement of desired graduate outcomes. It seems timely  for nurse educators to exercise caution in uncritically accepting PBL approaches  and using them as the predominant approach to teaching and learning. To this  end, a two-part critique of this teaching and learning method will be presented.  Part one critiques the methods of PBL and Part two explores the philosophical  underpinnings of PBL, and the so-called ‘fit’ within nursing.   

Key Words: Problem-based learning, self-directed learning, nursing education,  group process.     


Learning approaches labelled as  problem-based are being promoted  within nursing education in New  Zealand as preferred ways to prepare  nursing graduates for competent  beginning practice. This promotion is  largely being driven by the Nursing  Council of New Zealand’s (NCNZ)  acceptance of the recommendations  from their recently commissioned  report on undergraduate nursing  education, that implementation of PBL  approaches in both undergraduate  and post graduate nursing  programmes should be promoted  (KPMG Consulting, 2001). This report  on undergraduate nursing identified  concerns within the nursing profession  about graduates’ ability to meet  employers’ expectations (Ministerial  Taskforce on Nursing, 1998; KPMG  Consulting, 2001). PBL emerged from  the report as a key solution to these  concerns. The report suggests that  using PBL in nursing education will  ensure graduates are competent. It is  claimed that by using the strategies  inherent in PBL students of nursing  will learn how to solve real-life  problems before graduation and be  ready to apply these skills on  graduation (NCNZ, 2000). 

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