Objectives. Problem-based learning (PBL) is increasingly being used within health care professional educational programs to develop critical thinking skills via a learner-centered approach. However, few studies have evaluated the effect of participation in a PBL-centered curriculum on occupational therapy knowledge and skill development over time from the perspective of the students involved. This study examined student evaluations of the first three class cohorts participating in a PBL-based curriculum.
Method. A participatory action design study involving qualitative, student-led focus groups was conducted with 154 students across 2 years of the education program. Fourteen focus groups were audiotaped, and those audiotapes were transcribed by an outside expert, followed by two levels of analysis by program faculty members and a member check by student participants.
Results. Themes that emerged from the data analysis related to (a) defining elements of PBL, (b) the role of students and faculty members, (c) learning strategies used by students in a PBL versus traditional education program, (d) the challenges of a PBL approach, and (e) PBL’s relationship to clinical reasoning and occupational therapy practice.
Conclusions. Students perceived that a PBL approach adopted consistently across the curriculum contributed to the development of information management, critical reasoning, communication, and team-building skills; however, identified challenges were time and role management, information access, instructor versus PBL expectations and practices, and coping with the ambiguity of knowledge and reasoning.