Problem-based learning

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Description of the method

Problem Based Learning (PBL) emphasizes the interactive and comprehensive nature of learning. As a pedagogical approach, PBL was first developed in medical studies in the late 1960s and follows the underlying constructivist rationale that knowledge is context- dependent and should be constructed; instead of ‘just’ transferring knowledge passively from professor to student in a lecture, students in a PBL setting are actively involved in constructing knowledge.

In a PBL environment, students are confronted with a certain trigger (the “task”, “problem” or “assignment”), which has been designed by the academic staff member responsible for the course content (“coordinator”). The assignment presents a certain puzzle, and students work on problems together with their peers in small groups (“tutorials”) and under the guidance of an academic staff member (“tutor”). Lecturing is just used complementary.

PBL is said to lead to “deep learning” and to train important team work skills because of its collaborate setting. At the same time, the PBL setting puts special emphasis on learning strategies (“learning how to learn”). Over time, learners are meant to train their way of reflecting on the success and shortcomings of their own learning processes, what in the long term will lead them to become independent learners.

Useful Toolkit Resources:

  1. Moust, Jos, Bouhuijs, Peter, and Schimdt, Henk (2007): Features of problem-based learning: An introduction. In Introduction to problem-based learning. A guide for students. Nordhoff Uitgevers, pp. 9-17, 53-56;
  2. Gijselaers, Wim (1996): Connecting Problem-Based Practices with Educational Theory. In Wilkerson, LuAnn and Gijselaers, Wim (eds). Bringing Problem-Based Learning to Higher Education: Theory and Practice. pp. 3-12
  3. Maurer, Heidi, and Neuhold, Christine (2012). Problems Everywhere? Strenghts and Challenges of a Problem-Based Learning Approach in European Studies. Paper presented at HEA Conference, May 2012 in Liverpool. Accessible at problemseverywhere
  4. "Tutorial Group 2013": An explanation of the seven PBL steps as used at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASoS) at Maastricht University:
  5. PBL Workshop during INOTLES June 2014 meeting in Brussels: