Problem-Based Learning

Two students practicing in lab

To complement and support the objectives of the curriculum, the Faculty of the Department of Physical Therapy of the University of North Georgia elected to employ within the curriculum the teaching methodology of Problem-Based Learning.The program became the first in the United States to be accredited with a Problem-Based Learning curriculum. PBL methodology is consistent with both the stated programmatic educational philosophy and with the development of students as novice clinical scholars. PBL emphasizes several educational principles we believe will result in graduates who are learners-for-life, able to integrate science and clinical practice, and work in a variety of settings. The principles embodied by PBL are:

  • learning in context

  • employing verbal repetition, expansion and correction of information within tutorial group

  • incorporating prior knowledge from many sources

  • learning a process of information acquisition and critical appraisal to be used throughout one’s professional career

  • integration of basic science, clinical research, and clinical practice

  • developing skills in self- and peer-assessment        

The University of North Georgia has adopted a modified PBL system that employs small-group tutorials (ten students and a faculty tutor per group) and transitions from a traditional lecture based approach to a PBL model across the first year of the curriculum.

Tutorial groups work through sets of carefully constructed clinical scenarios (the "problem") and develop learning issuesrelated to the scenarios (more specifically, a list of things a clinician would need to know in order to function in the described scenario). After the list of learning issues is developed, students go independently to the available learning resources to find answers to the previously developed learning issues and bring their discoveries back to the group to share and discuss.  Learning occurs during discussion in tutorial groups as well as through independent study. Students are expected to use a wide variety of resources, including textbooks, people (including clinicians, faculty, and occasionally other students), and literature search in peer-reviewed journals.  The role of the tutor is to serve as content expert, develop students’ group learning skills, and ensure that problem and course objectives are met.

In the first year of the physical therapy program, concepts of problem-based learning are gradually introduced through activities such as group projects, development of literature search and critical appraisal skills, student debates and modules, and sources done in problem-based, small group formats. The second and third years of the program are primarily PBL through the clinical professional courses. Students work through clinical scenarios in small tutorial groups as the main focus of their learning. During these years, clinical skills laboratories and other educational events are linked to tutorial problems. During the third year of the program, students are required to be self-directed, responsible learners, and be able to clearly display these attributes during the final phase of the program, their 16-week (and final) clinical education experience.

Student Spotlight


Congratulations to Cassie Palma, Lauren Ring, Lisel Jones, and faculty members Dr. Millard, Dr. Palma, and Dr. Welch for winning first place recognition for student research project at PTAG. 


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