Advances in Health Sciences Education

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 349-363

First online:

Using Clinical Experience in Discussion within Problem-Based Learning Groups

  • Paul O’NeillAffiliated withThe Medical School, The University of Manchester Email author 
  • , Amanda DuplockAffiliated withThe Medical School, The University of Manchester
  • , Sarah WillisAffiliated withThe Medical School, The University of Manchester

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A key principle in problem-based learning (PBL) is the student linking learning from different sources to enrich understanding. We have explored how medical students based in a clinical environment use clinical experience within PBL groups. We recorded the discussion of 12 third-year groups, which were meeting for the second time on a PBL case, where students report back on the learning objectives. Discussions covering five separate PBL paper cases were recorded. Analysis of the transcripts was based on constant comparative method using a coding framework. The range of discussion segments of clinical experience was 2–15, with 9 of 12 groups having at least five separate segments. Our initial coding framework covered 10 categories, of which the most common were: a specific patient encounter (19%); an experience in the community (15%); and a personal health experience (15%). Students often used emotive phrases with 37 examples in the clinical experience segments compared with 9 from the longer non-clinical discussion. Most clinical descriptions triggered further discussion with almost half leading to some related medical topic. The discussion segments were subsequently coded into; ‘confirming’ (40); ‘extending’ (40); and ‘disconfirming’ (16) the understanding of the group for that topic. Discussion of clinical experience encouraged students to connect to the affective aspects of learning. It helped students to bridge between the tutorial and real clinical contexts. A clinical experience was often a powerful pivotal point, which confirmed, extended or refuted what was being discussed.


clinical experience group discussions problem-based learning