The replacement of 'paper' cases by interactive online virtual patients in problem-based learning

Terry Poulton, Emily Conradi, Sheetal Kavia, Jonathan Round, Sean Hilton
Medical Teacher 2009, 31 (8): 752-8
St George's University of London (SGUL) has a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) curriculum for its undergraduate medicine course, using traditional paper-based patient cases. To counter the limitation that paper cases are linear and do not allow students to explore the consequences of decisions, interactive online virtual patients (VPs) were developed which allowed students to consider options as the cases unfold, and allow students to explore the consequences of their actions. A PBL module was converted to VPs, and delivered to 72 students in 10 tutorial groups, with 5 groups each week receiving VPs with options and consequences, and 5 groups receiving online VPs but without options. A comprehensive evaluation was carried out, using questionnaires, and interviews.Both tutors and students believed that the ability to explore options and consequences created a more engaging experience and encouraged students to explore their learning. They regretted the loss of paper and neither group could see any value in putting cases online without the options. SGUL is now adapting its transitional year between the early campus years and the clinical attachment years. This will include the integration of all technology-based resources with face-to-face learning and create a more adaptive, personalised, competency-based style of learning.

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