Problem-based Learning

“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.” (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)  If you’re not familiar with the term, the goal of PBL is to encourage interdisciplinary thinking, collaborative learning, ethical and quantitative reasoning, and critical thinking all while working on authentic, relevant and real issues.

But did you know that there are different flavors of PBL?  Check these out to see if any of them may meet your needs!


The baseline: Problem-based Learning

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.

  • Problem is created by the instructors
  • Inquiry questions can be created by the instructor or the student groups
  • Students work in teams to work through the problem and answer questions

Interest-based Learning

PBL but the problem is designed by the students based on their interests, normally within a topic or concept in the course.  Interests stimulates curiosity in students and has them seeking to learn more about a particular topic. These are often paired with Genius Hours, Makerspaces, or Passion Projects.

  • Concept/problem parameters are created by instructors
  • Problems are created by the student groups based on interests
  • Inquiry questions are created by the student groups based on interests
  • Students work in teams to work through the problem and answer questions

Empathy-based Learning

PBL but the problem is designed, usually by the instructor, to include an empathetic component.  This allows the students to view course content from various viewpoints and is great for promoting inclusion.  The problem requires students to investigate the issue from different perspectives and as different individuals to develop an empathetic approach to solving the problem.

  • Problems are normally created by the instructor
  • Inquiry questions can be created by the instructor or the student groups
  • Students work in teams to work through the problem and answer questions from the perspective of multiple groups/individuals.

 

Inquiry-based Learning

PBL where students are triggered by curiosity and learn the subject by asking probing questions.

  • Problem/Concept is created by the instructors
  • Inquiry questions are generated by the student groups
  • Students work in teams to work through and research the questions

Challenge-based Learning

PBL where the students research and consult experts in their communities and around the world to develop deeper knowledge of the subjects they are studying, identify and solve challenges, make a difference in their community, and share their results with the world.

  • Problem can be created by the instructors or the student groups and should relate to a problem in their area
  • Inquiry questions can be created by the instructor or the student groups
  • Students work in teams to work through the problem and consult experts in the field
  • Students should find a “solution” to the problem and present or share the results with the community

TIPS

  1. It is important to scaffold these types of assignments, providing students with enough information about the project and timeline to ensure that they can identify and complete the individual tasks in a timely manner and not waiting until the last minute to work on it.
  2. Give time in class to complete some of the work so that you can provide guidance when needed and to ensure the groups get a good start.
  3. Be mindful about your group creation.  Before createing the groups ask yourself, “What’s the goal of the assignment/activity?”  Will a diverse group benefit the group?  Is there a specific point you are demonstrating where the makeup of the group matters?