Problem-based learning is a technique of learning where the students learn about the subjects through conceptual problem solving mechanisms.

It is open ended in nature, and can be used by a wide number of students at the same time. Problem based learning was first originated from McMaster University and has since then spread through many parts of the world, like Europe and Asia.

Students are required to solve a question by using concepts and skills and discuss how they can use these for further purposes.

Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

Structure of Problem Based Learning (PBL):

PBL can have many forms according to Atherton J.S (2005). A good PBL can have the following factors:

1. Problems should be associated with real life problems.
2. Unlike the normal method learning, where students try to solve questions based on the available knowledge that they have received; In PBL, students try to solve questions without any prior knowledge, and they can find answers through exploration of several options provided by the question.
3. At the beginning of the learning process, problems are given to the students in the form of PBL intentionally.
4. Problem based learning should support studying through effective teamwork and that it should be alliance friendly, that is, the problem should be studied in such a manner that each aspect of the question should be divided among the team, so that everyone can gain from it.
5. The teacher becomes a coordinator who acts as a supervisor, a source guide and becomes an advisor for the students.
6. Problem based learning requires lots of time, and each PBL should be given time for the students to learn and participate.
7. PBL is most effective, if it crosses multi-disciplinary disciplines. This helps PBL to be effective in a large number of areas.

Why Problem-Based Learning (PBL)?

A PBL course is designed in such a way to provide students with authentic, hands-on real life problems and practices that encourage students to think outside the box.

The students are grouped together to form groups which are usually supervised by the teacher or any teaching associate from their respective departments.

In traditional learning methods, pupils are often burdened by the topics they are taught and the whole studying experience becomes boring and cumbersome.

Moreover, students are expected to study and memorize topics, which do not even seem relevant to the day to day life activities. This makes studying just a mere tool for getting a job and nothing more.

Students don’t feel any enthusiasm towards studying and do not show any interest in taking initiative to study what is taught in the classroom.

The main reason for this issue, is that there is no effective discussions going on within the classroom about the topics, and the students cannot share their ideas on how they can use a certain topic that they studied and apply it into real-life problems.

The main advantage of PBL is that it makes the whole learning experience interesting. PBL is a challenging program because they need to understand the design of the organization and how it works by the motivation of the whole team.

The information provided is really apparent, the students feel a need to search for information when they solve and discuss problems. Hence students can feel genuinely interested in learning.

Types of PBL:

There are mainly 3 types of PBL. Those are:

1. Problem stimulated PBL (PS PBL):

PS PBL uses relevant knowledge and information to solve problems.
These are used to emphasize the three basic goals:

  1. Development of domain specific skill.
  2. Development of problem solving skill.
  3. Interpretation of domain-specific knowledge

2. Student centred PBL (SC PBL):

SC PBL has the same factor as PS PBL, and it also adds one more factor; updating life-long skills. This factor is beneficial for people who have been teaching and practicing in a certain filed, for a really long time.

Constantly updating their skill set is really important. This applies for individuals such as doctors, engineers and executive professionals.

3. Case – based PBL:

Determine what type of solution is present, what should be used to solve the given scenario and focus and stress on that topic to study.

Search for alternative methods and see how the scenario can be solved more efficiently. This method is also known as learning by design.

How Does PBL Work?

The first step in PBL is setting up of groups. These groups consists of group of students, a supervisor or a consultant and they usually discuss about what scenario they are facing, i.e the problem presented.

The problems presented can vary from a well organized structure in an economic aspect to discussing about medical issues and emergencies.

Hence it develops your ability for self-studying and keeps you ready for emergency or any crisis.

PBL doesn’t advocate to memorizing topics since the topics that are studied are understood and interpreted in such a way that it should be used to solve the scenario presented.

PBL is constituted of different phases, these are:

Phase 1:

First, the group will discuss about what they already know. This can be written down and reflected upon. Then discuss about the problem being presented, point out what all scenarios are surrounding the given scheme.

Hence, agreement on what kind of problem it is, is made. Furthermore, this analysis decides what different aspects of the plot should be studied and investigated.

The problems are all taken as assumptions at first, and are cleared accordingly when new knowledge and information is found.

Phase 2:

The next method for solving the problem, is deciding what all factors should be required to solve the problem. That comes under the heading “What do we need to know about the problem?”.

Point out what all factors are there, which needs to be solved to finish the problem.

In this process, the group is divided into different sub groups and each sub-group is concentrating on the different factors needed. This is called as a brainstorming session.

The new and previously understood ideas are shared within the group, by writing down the points found, on a whiteboard or a paper, where everyone can see. This process can be further developed by outlining the result in a systematic manner.

Phase 3:

This phase requires the individuals to discuss about the various hypothesis that are presented, and how they can be solved. This comes under the heading, “what should we do?”.

With the given information, keep track of what all books should be read, who to consult about the acquired information, what books to follow about the plot.

This method encourages the group to identify and follow the different study techniques.

Students are expected to collect information from various sources such as videos, books, interviews, journals and the group is supposed to meet at regular intervals to discuss about the usefulness of the solutions acquired and how it should be used to solve the problem.

Advantages of Problem Based Learning:

1. PBL replaces the traditional lectures with assistive learning, facultative mentoring, discussions and on site experience. This promotes deep learning within the individual. Hence the students’ knowledge grows as more and more discussions are made.
2. Direct teaching is reduced. This promotes students to take up their own initiative in learning. This increases the feeling of motivation within the student. Hence, making the learning experience more interesting.
3. Problem based learning requires prior knowledge for the completion of problems. Hence, constant updation and revision of basic knowledge is done. This keeps the student more firm in the basic foundation about the subject.
4. Problem based thinking often stimulates critical thinking. The students try to think about the various aspects of the project rather than following what is taught through lectures. The students are persuaded to think about the how, where and why aspect of the problems introduced.
5. Problem based learners tend to be more skilled and competent in collecting information than traditional learners. This is because, traditional learners tend to only stick to books that are prescribed in the curriculum and they do not try to explore various sources. On the other hand, problem based learners tend to be more practical and PBL encourages them to think outside the box.
6. PBL is related to life based skills and practices, hence these skills can also be transferred to individuals through proper training and practices. Therefore, such skills can act as an aid in real life situations like in corporate jobs or in the medical field.
7. The problems introduced in the PBL curriculum are all open – ended questions. This gives rooms for more discussions and understanding about the concepts and more data retrieval can be done. Moreover, such questions do not have a right or wrong answer. The most suitable and feasible answers are taken into consideration. Hence, there might also be a chance to have more than one answer for a question. This encourages the individuals to study the facts more clearly.
8. Another main factor of PBL is that it requires good communication skills. Pbl increases the social skills of the individuals as it involves comparison of peer skills and also insightful discussions. There is no form of hierarchy, and all the individuals are treated as same. This also makes the students to develop their confrontational and persuasive skills.

Disadvantages of Problem Based Learning:

1. A good problem based learning design requires a large amount of time and work. It requires constant monitoring and noting down the student throughout the process. This is a bit time consuming in nature, since most of the questions asked are usually open – ended and it takes time to collect materials and information about it.
2. Not all teachers can be good advisors, for PBL they need dedicated, hardworking and trained facilitators. Moreover, good PBL trainers are satisfying to work with and are self – motivational for the students and fellow teachers.
3. Problem based learning requires more staff and more contact hours for preparation, discussion and comparison of answers. Students and the advisors are supposed to do timely and seasonable meetings once in a while.
4. It is a known fact that PBL doesn’t provide that much facts when compared with the traditional method, so many of the teachers are hesitant to take up this form of teaching. PBL is more suitable for subjects that do not require much prior knowledge about the subject. For example, for teaching literature or for using PBL in arts facilities.
5. For the PBL curriculum to be effective, it requires multiple disciplines to be integrated, so that the students can get different aspects of a situation. Hence, proper research and excessive amounts of organization is required. This makes it more time consumable and is not suitable for fast paced courses. The course also needs to be validated before presenting it before the students.
6. Assessing a certain student within a team is always tough for the coordinator. They have to consider different aspects such as the output obtained as whole for the team, the level of enthusiasm shown by each individual, the activeness shown by a certain student. A clear assessment criteria or a standard for marking students in a group is always important.
7. PBL is also difficult for institution because they have to change the course depending upon the lecturer. Since, the whole PBL curriculum is an image of their ideals and how they should train the students.
8. More and more coordinators are required to assess and guide students along the way and also they need people to create as many difficult situations as possible.

Problem based learning is also an essential way of teaching because it prepares the students on how to be ready to face the outside world and how to be an effective and a valuable member of the society. This also encourages others – the public to also be a part of the experience.