Problem-based learning at McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine

Looking back on 50 years


  • Jonathan Sherbino
  • Geoffrey Norman
  • Robert Whyte
  • Virginie Servant-Miklos



This chapter describes how problem-based learning (PBL) was developed and implemented at the McMaster Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine. Key leaders in its development, the basic educational design and philosophy of PBL, the dissemination and adoption of PBL outside of McMaster, and the four curricular models of PBL over the ensuing 5 decades at McMaster are explored. The chapter ends by considering the evidence of effectiveness of PBL, which is mixed. Despite several program evaluations, the impact of PBL on clinical performance is equivocal. While self-assessment of the utility of PBL suggests a benefit, this finding is not supported by supervisor assessments or objective assessments such as licensing examinations. The complexity of PBL, as an educational intervention, requires program evaluations that measure what works, where, and how.






The long view: Early days of instructional development and teaching innovation