Online Program

A tale of two programs: Problem-based and case-based learning in MPH education

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mark Speechley, PhD, Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics and Schulich Interfaculty Program in Public Health, Western University, London, ON, Canada
Amy Hagopian, PhD, Department of Health Services and Dept. of Global Health; Director, Community Oriented Public Health Practice MPH program, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Amardeep Thind, MD, PhD, Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Department of Family Medicine, Interfaculty Program in Public Health, Western University, London, ON, Canada
Background.  Public health practice frequently requires decision-making with incomplete information and complex risk-benefit tradeoffs.  While didactic lecturing is efficient for transfer of factual knowledge, experiential learning is designed for the higher-order competencies required for informed decision-making amidst uncertainty.   

 Methods.  Two MPH programs have embraced distinct but complementary experiential curricula. The University of Washington uses problem-based learning, with a focus on social determinants. Western University uses case-based learning, with a focus on leadership, policy and sustainability.  Problem-based learning is known to many from innovative MD programs such as Harvard and McMaster.  Western’s case-based learning is often associated with business management programs such as Harvard and Ivey.  UW’s program engages students in completing real projects for community-based client organizations. The two approaches have similarities:  i) learner-centered (learners assume responsibility for many decisions); emphasis on ii) higher-order competencies such as critical thinking and evaluation, and iii) practical skills such as negotiation and decision-making; iv) major use of small (6-8) groups, and v) active participation by learners is given substantial weight in assessments.

Results.  Both programs have integrated small (Western 6, Washington 8) group learning with large classroom learning.  As well, both place a heavy emphasis on learning in real-world situations through use of practica.  Both programs involve substantial commitment of dedicated faculty.  While there are many similarities, the programs differ in relatively minor ways such as their daily and weekly schedules. 

Conclusion.  Two independently designed experiential learning-based MPH programs have much in common. We illustrate concepts with examples of case topics and assignments.

Learning Areas:

Administer health education strategies, interventions and programs
Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Public health or related education

Learning Objectives:
Explain the rationale underlying experiential learning in MPH education Describe key differences between didactic and experiential learning List five similarities between case-based and problem-based learning using two MPH programs as examples

Keyword(s): Public Health Curricula & Competencies

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the Graduate Chair and Curriculum Committee chair of our MPH program and have played a key role in developing our new case-based curriculum since its beginning. I am co-editor of our first book of cases written by our MPH students, and have authored a case on investigating a salmonella outbreak.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.