The case for plural PBL: an analysis of dominant and marginalized perspectives in the globalization of problem-based learning

Janneke M. Frambach*, Wagdy Talaat, Stella Wasenitz, Maria Athina (Tina) Martimianakis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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The globalization of problem-based learning (PBL) in health professions education has been both celebrated and criticized. Using a critical narrative review approach, underpinned by our archive of global PBL literature and a targeted literature search, we analyze these dominant global discourses of PBL in health professions education. More precisely, we explore what is missed when the globalization of PBL is theorized either as a positive consequence of standardization, or a problematic spread of Western educational ideals and values around the world. We make visible how two dominant global discourses, a universalist and culturalist discourse, have emerged in the global proliferation of PBL. We also discuss the limitations of the two discourses by demonstrating how they either ignore contextual and cultural diversity or see it as problematic. We then turn to a perspective that has been marginalized in the PBL literature that emphasizes the global origins of PBL, transcending the dichotomy between West and non-West. We make a case for relating to PBL as a plural construct in order to learn from the cultural and situational nuances of educational activities labeled PBL around the world. We argue that PBL as a singular and universal concept has no global future, yet versions of PBL may continue to thrive locally. Finally, we propose avenues for future research that may help elucidate the global and local values that underpin our curricula, as well as the socio-political factors that perpetuate neo-colonialist views and practices in the uptake and implementation of PBL approaches across the globe.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)931-942
Number of pages12
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
Issue number5
Early online date17 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Problem-based learning
  • Globalization
  • Contextualization
  • Culture
  • Universalism
  • Neo-colonialism
  • Health professions education
  • Medical education
  • Discourse
  • Critical narrative review

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