What is Problem Based Learning (PBL)?

Problem Based Learning (PBL)

Problem Based Learning is designed to enhance learning by providing a real life problem, which will motivate students, to get them to experience what they will need to do in the real world. This learning process teaches students how to deal with real problems and issues as they would in their jobs.

This process is useful for classroom activities and can be used with Project Based Learning. The outcomes of this process will generate real life experiences for the students but the process can take longer than regular instruction. I felt that this process was limited by the fact that it takes longer than regular instruction, which can be solved by using this process at the right time. This process was also limited due to the use of a white board. While this is realistic in the corporate world, I feel that replacing the white board with any type of media/recording device would be more professional and spark interest in trying out the theory.

This process teaches students:

1. Problem solving strategies, techniques, and solutions to real world problems
2. How to work collaboratively in teams
3. How to do research to find information that the group needs to solve their problem
4. Time management skills
5. Task management skills
6. Develop learning skills
7. Learning through intrinsic motivation
8. Develop self-directed learning skills
9. Develop a knowledge base to index information


Develop a Problem

– Realistic – The problem should be realistic so that the students feel like they are truly accomplishing something. This increases motivation.
– ill-structured – The problem should be complex and open ended.
– Can have multiple answers or an individual one
– The problem should be appropriate for the students and build onto their knowledge base. The context should be based on skills that will be used in the real world.

Process – Research the problem/Identify facts and evidence

– Analysis of the problem using a whiteboard
– The whiteboard should include:
– Facts
– Ideas
– Learning Issues
– Action Plan
– Self Directed Learning (SDL)
– Student collaboration and discussion
– Student reflection – Reflection helps students look at what they have learned, can generate new ideas, and adds to the knowledge base


– Student collaboration and discussion
– Testing/experimentation to solve the problem
– Use of the white board
– Evaluate hypothesis
– Reflecting as a group can generate new ideas and answer questions that other groups may have

Role of the Teacher

– Facilitate
– Make sure groups stay on task
– The teacher can keep groups on task using scaffolding techniques.
– Ensure that all students are at the same learning level with their peers and do not fall behind
– This process can be a big task with large class sizes and can create poor facilitation


Hemlo-Silver, C. E. (2004). Problem-based learning: What and how do students learn? Educational Psychology Review, 16(3), 235-266.

Hmelo, C. E., Holton, D. L., Kolodner, J. L. (2000). Designing to Learn About Complex Systems. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 9(3), 247-298.

Posted in Instructional Design, Research and tagged .