Case-Based Learning Facilitates Critical Thinking in Undergraduate Nutrition Education: Students Describe the Big Picture

Published:November 11, 2014DOI:



      The vision of dietetics professions is based on interdependent education, credentialing, and practice. Case-based learning is a method of problem-based learning that is designed to heighten higher-order thinking. Case-based learning can assist students to connect education and specialized practice while developing professional skills for entry-level practice in nutrition and dietetics.


      This study examined student perspectives of their learning after immersion into case-based learning in nutrition courses.


      The theoretical frameworks of phenomenology and Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives triangulated the design of this qualitative study.


      Data were drawn from 426 written responses and three focus group discussions among 85 students from three upper-level undergraduate nutrition courses.

      Main outcome measures

      Coding served to deconstruct the essence of respondent meaning given to case-based learning as a learning method. The analysis of the coding was the constructive stage that led to configuration of themes and theoretical practice pathways about student learning.


      Four leading themes emerged. Story or Scenario represents the ways that students described case-based learning, changes in student thought processes to accommodate case-based learning are illustrated in Method of Learning, higher cognitive learning that was achieved from case-based learning is represented in Problem Solving, and Future Practice details how students explained perceived professional competency gains from case-based learning.


      The skills that students acquired are consistent with those identified as essential to professional practice. In addition, the common concept of Big Picture was iterated throughout the themes and demonstrated that case-based learning prepares students for multifaceted problems that they are likely to encounter in professional practice.


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      T. Harman is a contract dietitian, Nutrition Programs, School Support Services, Delaware Department of Education, Dover; at the time of the study, she was a graduate assistant, Department of Nutrition Science, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC.


      B. Bertrand is a professor, Department of Nutrition Sciences, University of Alabama, Birmingham.


      A. Greer is co-director, Office of Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Education and associate professor, Department of Bioethics and Interdisciplinary Studies, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC.


      A. Pettus is an undergraduate student, Department of Human Nutrition, Kansas State University, Manhattan; at the time of the study, she was a nutrition science undergraduate student, Department of Nutrition Science, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC.


      J. Jennings is a nutrition specialist, Department of Family Medicine, Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC; at the time of the study, she was a nutrition science graduate student, Department of Nutrition Science, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC.


      E. Wall-Bassett is an associate professor, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC.


      O. T. Babatunde is an assistant professor, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC.