What is it?

Problem-based learning (PBL), is a pedagogy approach where students learn through direct experience of solving problems within a learner-centred environment. The focus is on the application of a process or procedure to solve a problem. These problems are often open-ended and without a defined solution. This process enables students to build and develop skills such as group collaboration, communication and critical analysis. Generally when PBL is applied students’ work in small groups with each student taking on a specific role. The role of teacher changes to become a facilitator who guides students in the process by supporting, monitoring and only ...

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Problem-based learning (PBL), is a pedagogy approach where students learn through direct experience of solving problems within a learner-centred environment. The focus is on the application of a process or procedure to solve a problem. These problems are often open-ended and without a defined solution. This process enables students to build and develop skills such as group collaboration, communication and critical analysis. Generally when PBL is applied students’ work in small groups with each student taking on a specific role. The role of teacher changes to become a facilitator who guides students in the process by supporting, monitoring and only intervening when necessary. This allows learners to develop their own solution with the problem driving their learning.

PBL was originally developed in the 1960s at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario by Howard S.Barrows and Robyn M. Tamblyn. At that time students in McMaster’s medical program found their traditional instruction lacked relevance and did not prepare them for medical practice. To address this issue Barrows and Tamblyn focused on developing an education approach that provided a more enriched and relevant learning experience – the result was Problem-based learning.

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When to use it?

Context & Requirements

Level
All levels
Discipline
All disciplines
Class size
Dependent on activity and equipment needs
Classroom settings
Dependent on the type of activity
Technological requirements
Dependent on the type of activity

Skills Promoted

  • Analytical skills
  • Collaborative learning
  • Knowledge management
  • Peer instruction

Who’s using it?

SALTISE community members who use this strategy and are willing to share advice and/or resources.

Level College
Institution Marianopolis College
Discipline Physics
Instructor
Class size 30-40
Classroom setting Classroom with whiteboards
Resources used View More

Why use it?

Problem based learning allows students develop a picture and conceptual understanding of a topic. Students are then in a better position to consider the reason why a method or procedure exists. This enables students to solve a broader range of conceptually similar problems, instead of simply knowing how to apply a method or procedure to one set of problem statements.

Using a problem based learning  can take more time to prepare than a traditional lecture format. There can be resistance both on part of students, who may feel the instructor is not really teaching them, and other colleagues unfamiliar with the approach.

Ready to try it out?

Helpful resources

References

Barrows, H. S. (1986). A taxonomy of problem-based learning methodsMedical education20(6), 481-486. 

Barrows, H. S. (1996). Problem-based learning in medicine and beyond: A brief overviewNew directions for teaching and learning1996(68), 3-12.

Duch, B. J., Groh, S. E., & Allen, D. E. (2001). The power of problem-based learning: a practical” how to” for teaching undergraduate courses in any discipline. Stylus Publishing, LLC. 

Gijbels, D., Dochy, F., Van den Bossche, P., & Segers, M. (2005). Effects of problem-based learning: A meta-analysis from the angle of assessmentReview of educational research75(1), 27-61. 

Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2004). Problem-based learning: What and how do students learn?Educational psychology review16(3), 235-266.

Savery, J. R., & Duffy, T. M. (1995). Problem based learning: An instructional model and its constructivist frameworkEducational technology35(5), 31-38.

Savery, J. R. (2015). Overview of problem-based learning: Definitions and distinctions. Essential readings in problem-based learning: Exploring and extending the legacy of Howard S. Barrows9, 5-15. 

Vernon, D. T., & Blake, R. L. (1993). Does problem-based learning work? A meta-analysis of evaluative research. 

Video

Erasmus University College – Problem Based Learning – Rotterdam, Netherlands

Problem-Based Learning – Maastricht University, Netherlands

Problem Based Learning Curriculum – Rowan University, School of Osteopathic Medicine

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