Problem-based learning strategy

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which complex real-world problems are used as the vehicle to promote student learning of concepts and principles as opposed to direct presentation of facts and concepts. In addition to course content, PBL can promote the development of critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and communication skills. It can also provide opportunities for working in groups, finding and evaluating research materials, and life-long learning (Duch et al, 2001).

In a PBL learning environment, the focus is on student-centred and collaborative learning, moving beyond cooperative learning to an environment where critical feedback and challenge between peers and instructor are essential. Shifts in teacher-learner roles occur, students take ownership of the learning, become involved in the assessment process, and define their own course of learning. Thus, there is a perception that pedagogy becomes virtually invisible.

Problem-based learning online is defined as students working in teams numbering 8 to 10 on a series of problem scenarios that combine to make up a module. Students are expected to work collaboratively to solve or manage the problem. Students will work in real-time or asynchronously, but what is important is that they work together. Synchronous collaboration tools are vital for the effective use of PBLonline because tools such as chat, shared whiteboards, video conferencing and group browsing are central to ensuring collaboration within the problem-based learning team. Students may be working at a distance or on campus, but they will begin by working out what they need to learn to engage with the problem situation. This may take place through a shared whiteboard, conferring or an email discussion group. What is also important is that students have both access to the objectives of the module and the ability to negotiate their own learning needs in the context of the given outcomes. 

Role of the Teacher: Invisible pedagogy does not mean the teacher is absent, nor does it imply that the pedagogy is simple. In fact, done well, it can be more challenging, more artful, more creative and widely diverse. The instructor must step out of his/her traditional role and become the disruptor, creating situations and experiences that both challenge, inspire, and support students while providing critical feedback throughout the process.

Considerations for Using Problem-Based Learning

Rather than teaching relevant material and subsequently having students apply the knowledge to solve problems, the problem is presented first. PBL assignments can be short, or they can be more involved and take a whole semester. PBL is often group-oriented, so it is beneficial to set aside classroom time to prepare students to  work in groups  and to allow them to engage in their PBL project.

Students generally must:

  • Examine and define the problem.
  • Explore what they already know about underlying issues related to it.
  • Determine what they need to learn and where they can acquire the information and tools necessary to solve the problem.
  • Evaluate possible ways to solve the problem.
  • Solve the problem.
  • Report on their findings.

The self-directed learning focus of PBL, combined with the capabilities of today’s online learning environments, can turn out learners who are motivated, know what they want to learn, set their objectives, find resources, and evaluate their learning progress to meet their goals—all collaboratively and virtually.

ELT Experts – Sensations English

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