What Is Problem-Based Learning and How Can It Help SLPs Grow?

Whether you’re referring to an undergraduate or graduate program, there’s little doubt aspiring speech-language pathologists will learn theory during their time in academia. While many programs prepare these future SLPs to apply that theory to real-life situations, graduate students can still struggle with the transition from classroom to clinic and student to clinician. 

That’s why The Missing Link’s latest guest, Dr. Louise Keegan, embraces problem-based learning (listen to the episode here). Dr. Keegan was instrumental in developing the Master of Science program at Moravian University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to deliver this approach to graduate students. But what is problem-based learning, and how can it help SLPs grow more easily into their roles?

What is Problem-Based Learning?

As it relates to speech pathology, problem-based learning sees students taking the theories and research they’ve absorbed during their coursework and applying it to a specific case. After being presented with a complex, real-world clinical situation, students must collaborate to come up with possible solutions.

Not only does this offer burgeoning clinicians firsthand experience working on a team — similar to what they’d be doing in the field — but it acclimates them to problem-solving as a situation unfolds, even if there are elements they aren’t necessarily prepared for. 

For example, in Dr. Keegan’s program, students might be tasked with finding ways to explain a client’s stroke to their family members. They’d be given time to gather their resources and do some research, and then they’d be asked to present their ideas, methods, and skilled intervention they would implement in this case. They’ll also hand in their resources and create a product based on the information, demonstrating that they’ve gained a thorough understanding of their approach and how it might apply to other scenarios. 

Why Is Problem-Based Learning so Beneficial to Graduate Students?

Because it focuses so heavily on real-world scenarios, problem-based learning helps graduate students bridge the gap between simply memorizing knowledge and having the tools necessary to implement it. The ability to solve problems on the go is a critical part of being a clinician, and this type of program prepares graduate students for that reality before and while they start working with clients in a university clinic.

The group element of problem-based learning also enables students to improve their teamwork and learn how to communicate and negotiate with others. Given that most SLPs will need to collaborate with other professionals on treatment, this provides transferable skills that can help these students once they enter the workforce.

As Dr. Keegan puts it, this learning style takes SLPs beyond simply looking good on paper. It provides them with the chance to gain clinical experience before they even enter a clinic. That puts them a step ahead of many graduates out there. 

Want to learn more about Dr. Keegan? Listen to her and Mattie chat on The Missing Link for SLPs Podcast.

Written by Mattie Murrey

April 21, 2021

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