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Problem Based Learning Advantages and Disadvantages


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 associate 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 the 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 alliance friendly, that is, the problem should study 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 give 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 design 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 grouped to form groups that usually supervise by the teacher or any teaching associate from their respective departments.

In traditional learning methods, pupils often burden by the topics they teach and the whole studying experience becomes boring and cumbersome.

Moreover, students expect 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 the initiative to study what teaches in the classroom.

The main reason for this issue is that no effective discussions are 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 to 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 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 skills.
  2. Development of problem solving skill.
  3. Interpretation of domain-specific knowledge

2. Student centered 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 long time.

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

3. Case-based PBL:

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

Search for alternative methods and see how the scenario can solve more efficiently. This method also knows as learning by design.

How Does PBL Work?

The first step in PBL is setting up groups. These groups consist of a group of students, a supervisor or a consultant and they usually discuss 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 medical issues and emergencies.

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

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

PBL constitute of different phases, these are:

Phase 1:

First, the group will discuss what they already know. This can write down and reflect upon. Then discuss the problem present, point out what all scenarios are surrounding the given scheme.

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

The problems all take as assumptions at first and are clear accordingly when new knowledge and information found.

Phase 2:

The next method for solving the problem deciding what all factors should require 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 solve to finish the problem.

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

The new and previously understood ideas share within the group, by writing down the points found, on a whiteboard or a paper, where everyone can see. This process can further develop by systematically outlining the result.

Phase 3:

This phase requires the individuals to discuss the various hypothesis that 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 read, who to consult about the acquire information, what books to follow about the plot.

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

Students expect to collect information from various sources such as videos, books, interviews, journals and the group supposes to meet at regular intervals to discuss the usefulness of the solutions acquire and how it should use 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 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 are done. This keeps the student more firm in the basic foundation of 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 teach through lectures. The students pursue to think about 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 prescribe 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 relate to life based skills and practices, hence these skills can also transfer to individuals through proper training and practices. Therefore, such skills can act as an aid in real life situations like in corporate jobs or the medical field.
  7. The problems introduced in the PBL curriculum are all open-ended questions. This gives room 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 take into consideration. Hence, there might also be a chance to have more than one answer to a question. This encourages 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 the comparison of peer skills and also insightful discussions. There is no form of hierarchy, and all the individuals treat as same. This also makes the students 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 supposed to do timely and seasonable meetings once in a while.
  4. It’s a known fact that PBL doesn’t provide that many facts when compared with the traditional method, so many of the teachers 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 integrate, so that the students can get different aspects of a situation. Hence, proper research and excessive amounts of an organization required. This makes it more time consumable and is not suitable for fast pace courses. The course also needs to validate 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 a whole for the team, the level of enthusiasm shown by each individual, the activeness shown by a certain student. A clear assessment criterion or a standard for marking students in a group is always important.
  7. PBL is also difficult for the 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 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 valuable member of society. This also encourages others – the public to also be a part of the experience.