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Why use Problem based Learning?

Why use Problem based Learning?

What is problem based learning?

In problem based learning (PBL) students use “triggers” from the problem case or scenario to define their own learning objectives. Subsequently they do independent, self directed study before returning to the group to discuss and refine their acquired knowledge. Thus, PBL is not about problem solving per se, but rather it uses appropriate problems to increase knowledge and understanding. The process is clearly defined, and the several variations that exist all follow a similar series of steps. Group learning facilitates not only the acquisition ofknowledge but also several other desirable attributes, such as communication skills, teamwork, problem solving, independent responsibility for learning, sharing information, and respect for others. PBL can therefore be thought of as a small group teaching method that combines the acquisition of knowledge with the development of generic skills and attitudes. (Diana F Wood,2003)

Problem-based learning turns instruction topsy-turvy. Students meet an “ill- structured problem” before they receive any instruction. In the place of covering the curriculum, learners probe deeplynto issues searching for connections, grappling with complexity, and using  knowledge to fashion solutions. As with real problems, students encountering ill- structured problems will not have most of the relevant information needed to solve the problem at the outset. Nor will they know exactly what actions are required for resolution. After they tackle the problem, the definition of the problem may change. And even after they propose a solution, the students will never be sure they have made the right decision. They will have had the experience of having to make the best possible decision based on the information at hand.

They will also have had a stake in the problem. In problem-based learning students assume the roles of scientists, historians, doctors, or others who have a real stake in the proposed problem. Motivation soars because students realize it’s their problem. By having a stake, they come to realizethat no real-world problem is objective that every point of view comes with a   interpreting data in a certain way. Teachers take on new roles in problem-based learning, too. First they act as models, thinking aloud with students and practicing behavior they want their students to use. They familiarize students with metacognitive questions such as, What’s going on here? What do we need to know more about? What did we do during the problem that was effective? Then they coax and prompt students to use the questions and take on the responsibility for the problem. As time goes on, students become self-directed learners. To encourage the students’ independence, the teachers then fade into the background and assume the role of colleagues on the problemsolving team. In the process of problem solving, students crisscross a variety of disciplines. They build substantial knowledge bases through increasingly self-directed study. Through collaboration with their classmates, students refine and enlarge what they know, storing their new knowledge in longterm memory in such a way to promote transfer to new problems. As they move toward solutions, they identify conflicting ethical appeals. And when it is time for resolution, they present, justify, and debate solutions, looking for the “best fit.” Problem-based learning is apprent iceship for reallife problem solving. ( Stepien, William; Gallagher, Shelagh,1993)

Assessment of PBL

Student learning is influenced greatly by the assessment methods used. If assessment methods rely solely on factual recall then PBL is unlikely to succeed in the curriculum. All assessment schedules should follow the basic principles of testing the student in relation to the curriculum outcomes and should use an appropriate range of assessment methods. Assessment of students’ activities in their PBL groups is advisable. Tutors should give feedback or use formative or summative assessment procedures as dictated by the faculty assessment schedule. It is also helpful to consider assessment of the group as a whole. The group should be encouraged to reflect on its PBL performance including its adherence to the process, communication skills, respect for others, and individual contributions. Peer pressure in the group reduces the likelihood of students failing to keep up with workload, and the award of a group mark—added to each individual’s assessment schedule— encourages students to achieve the generic goals associated with PBL.

Advantages of PBL


Student centred PBL  It fosters active learning, improved understanding, and retention and development of lifelong learning skills.

Generic competencies—PBL allows students to develop generic skills and attitudes desirable in their future practice.

Integration—PBL facilitates an integrated core curriculum

Motivation—PBL is fun for students

and tutors, and the process requires all students to be engaged in the learning process.

“Deep” learning—PBL fosters deep

learning (students interact with learning materials, relate concepts to everyday activities, and improve their understanding)

Constructivist approach—Students activate prior knowledge and build on existing conceptual knowledge frameworks.

Disadvantages of PBL

Tutors who can’t “teach”—Tutors enjoy passing on their own knowledge and understanding so may find PBL facilitation difficult and frustrating.

Human resources—More staff have to take part in the tutoring process.

Other resources—Large numbers of students need access to the same library and computer resources simultaneously

Role models—Students may be deprived access to a particular inspirational teacher who in a traditional curriculum would deliver lectures to a large group.

Information overload—Students may be unsure how much self directed study to do and what information is relevant and useful.



Diana F Wood, 8 FEBRUARY 2003, ABC of learning and teaching in medicine Problem based learning BMJ VOLUME

Stepien, William; Gallagher, Shelagh Problem-based learning: As authentic as it gets. Educational Leadership, Apr93, Vol. 50 Issue 7, p25, 4p, 4bw