Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is fast becoming the preferred method of teaching students in medical-related fields, and I was struck by the similarity between PBL and innovation. I had the opportunity to talk with Susan Hawkins (MSEd., PA-C) and Mark Hertweck (M.A., PA-C) of Chatham University about how their PBL program works and how it relates to innovation.
PBL was implemented in the late 1960s for use in the medical school program at McMaster University in Canada. The approach was created to address the traditional medical school teaching methods which many perceived as being of little benefit in the practice of medicine. Instead of teaching chapters from a book, and forcing lots of rote memorization, PBL was centered around “real-life” case studies in which a typical patient aliment was presented. Students would work to solve the patient case–a more realistic scenario.
The consensus on PBL is that compared with traditional teaching methods, it’s more effective, and students are more likely to come away better prepared for the rigors of their profession. The traditional learning method is very similar to the way innovation has been addressed for decades. Groups would get together to brainstorm ideas around a wide topic, such as, “How to increase sales revenue.” The ideas were vaguely directed at the goal, but were oftentimes so unrelated or outlandish that it was difficult to see the value to the organization. Learning, like innovation, is much harder without a goal.
From an innovation perspective, the most interesting facet is that students in PBL start with a problem. Specifically, a real world problem–exactly the kind of situation facing many organizations and their innovation programs. Challenges, like PBL cases, are focused problem statements that are important to the organization. A challenge should be important to the organization, and it should have real benefits to being solved. This is similar to a PBL case in which the patient and his/her ailment are important (potentially life-threatening) with the benefit being a cure/treatment.
Problem-Based Learning is just another example of how the innovation challenge paradigm is being employed in other disciplines for similar improvements and value-add. So, when you begin to think about organizational innovation, consider including some of the elements of both challenges and problem based learning, such as focusing on an important problem, encouraging collaboration, using a transparent evaluation process, and providing rewards–it really works!
Comparison of Innovation Challenges and Problem Based Learning:
|Innovation Challenge||PBL Case|
|Presentation||Focused challenge that the organization is facing||Patient with a complaint/ailment|
|Time Limit||Set by Organization, typically 3-5 days||Set by School, typically several days|
|Rewards||Recognition, Promotion, Money||Recognition, Good Grade|
|Evaluation||According to analytics determined by organization, usually based on ROI||According to specifics of patient presentation, usually based on correctly identifying and treating problem|
Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.–Karl Popper