Deep and surface learning in problem-based learning : a review of the literature
Faculty of Social Sciences. Instructional and Educational Sciences
Advances in health sciences education
, p. 1087-1112
University of Antwerp
In problem-based learning (PBL), implemented worldwide, students learn by discussing professionally relevant problems enhancing application and integration of knowledge, which is assumed to encourage students towards a deep learning approach in which students are intrinsically interested and try to understand what is being studied. This review investigates: (1) the effects of PBL on students deep and surface approaches to learning, (2) whether and why these effects do differ across (a) the context of the learning environment (single vs. curriculum wide implementation), and (b) study quality. Studies were searched dealing with PBL and students approaches to learning. Twenty-one studies were included. The results indicate that PBL does enhance deep learning with a small positive average effect size of .11 and a positive effect in eleven of the 21 studies. Four studies show a decrease in deep learning and six studies show no effect. PBL does not seem to have an effect on surface learning as indicated by a very small average effect size (.08) and eleven studies showing no increase in the surface approach. Six studies demonstrate a decrease and four an increase in surface learning. It is concluded that PBL does seem to enhance deep learning and has little effect on surface learning, although more longitudinal research using high quality measurement instruments is needed to support this conclusion with stronger evidence. Differences cannot be explained by the study quality but a curriculum wide implementation of PBL has a more positive impact on the deep approach (effect size .18) compared to an implementation within a single course (effect size of-.05). PBLis assumed to enhance active learning and students intrinsic motivation, which enhances deep learning. A high perceived workload and assessment that is perceived as not rewarding deep learning are assumed to enhance surface learning.