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 

Reference:  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.   

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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