Best Evidence Medical and Health Professional Education

The effectiveness of case-based learning in health professional education: BEME Guide 23


This review aims to explore the effectiveness of case-based learning (CBL) as an educational method in pre-qualification health professional education. In the literature there is no consensus as to the definition of CBL. While many claims are made for CBL as an effective learning and teaching method, very little evidence is quoted or generated to support these claims. We frame this review from the perspective of CBL as a type of inquiry-based learning. The review process involved the exploration, analysis and synthesis of evidence relating to the effectiveness of case-based learning as a means of achieving defined learning outcomes. The health professional programmes included medicine, dentistry, veterinary science, nursing and midwifery, social care and the allied health professions (e.g. physiotherapy, occupational therapy).

After a systematic search we included 104 papers in the review, of which we designated 23 as of higher quality and significance. There was a wide diversity in the type, timing, number and length of exposure to cases. The shortest interventions were two hours, and one case; while the longest was CBL through a whole year. Group sizes ranged from students working alone to over 30, with the majority between 2 and 15 students per group. Our analysis provided the basis for discussion of definitions of CBL, methods used and advocated, topics and learning outcomes, and whether CBL is effective based on the evaluation data.

We concluded that students enjoy CBL and think that it enhances their learning. The empirical data taken as a whole are inconclusive as to the effects on learning compared to other types of activity. Teachers enjoy CBL, partly because it engages, and is perceived to motivate, students. CBL appears to foster learning in small groups though whether this is the case delivery or the group learning effect is unclear.


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