Problem-based Learning: Nursing students’ attitude, self-reported competence, tutorial performance and self-directed learning readiness

Judith C. Bruce, Melanie Lack, Nthabiseng M. Bomvana, Nomawethu Qamata-Mtshali


Background and objectives: Problem-based learning (PBL) is widely recognized as progressive pedagogy for the preparation of a range of health professionals. Despite the prominence of PBL in contemporary discussions about the education of future health professionals, its value is increasingly being contested in light of shrinking resources and increasing student enrolments in universities.  The objectives were to ascertain Bachelor of Nursing (BN) students’ attitude towards the value of PBL as a learning strategy; to determine BN students’ degree of certainty about their competence in PBL processes; to determine whether student performance in PBL tutorials improve over four years of study; and to compare the self-directed learning readiness of PBL students to those who are not exposed to PBL.

Methods: The study followed a descriptive and comparative survey design to collect the data. Participants were BN students who were invited to participate in the descriptive survey (n = 92), and purposively selected (n = 159) for comparison between PBL (n = 54) and non-PBL (n = 105) groups.

Results: The majority of students found PBL a stimulating (59.8%; n = 55), useful (65.2%; n = 60), empowering (70.6%; n = 65) and enlightening (60.8%; n = 56) learning strategy; most students (53.2%; n = 49) expressed certainty about their competence in “accessing relevant literature/evidence” but more (56.3%; n = 52) were less certain about their ability to “integrate information into nursing care”. First year students performed poorly in PBL tutorials but showed a significant improvement in the final year of study in problem-solving (p = .0001), contribution to the group (p = .000), communication (p = .000), critical thinking (p = .001), learning skills (p = .001), personal growth (p = .000) and leadership skills (p = .041). There was no significant difference between PBL and non-PBL students’ overall readiness for self-directed learning (p = .69).

Conclusions: The findings suggest that BN students generally have a positive attitude towards PBL, finding it stimulating, useful, empowering and enlightening in a transformative learning environment. However, fewer students feel that they are competent in the majority of the PBL processes. The biggest learning gains for students during PBL tutorials are in problem-solving, contributions to the group, communication, learning skills, critical thinking, personal growth and leadership. PBL and non-PBL students are similar in their self-directed learning readiness regardless of the learning strategy used.

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Journal of Nursing Education and Practice

ISSN 1925-4040 (Print)   ISSN 1925-4059 (Online)

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