Small-group problem-based learning (PBL) is widely embraced as a method of study in health professions schools and at many different levels of education. Complexity science provides a different lens with which to view and understand the application of this method. It presents new concepts and vocabulary that may be unfamiliar to practitioners of small-group PBL and other educational methods.
This article looks at small-group PBL from the perspective of complex adaptive systems (CAS). It begins with a brief review of the current understanding and practice of PBL. Next some of the characteristics of CAS are reviewed using examples from small-group PBL to illustrate how these characteristics are expressed in that context. The principles and the educational theory in which small-group PBL are embedded are related to CAS. Implications for health professions education are discussed.