From the research I conducted over problem-based learning I found two great descriptions/definitions for this particular approach to learning. First, the University of Illinois Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning describes it as “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. In addition to course content, PBL can promote the development of critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and communication skills. It can also provide opportunities for working in groups, finding and evaluating research materials, and life-long learning.” Second, the Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation defines it as “a student-centered approach in which students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem.” This approach to learning is important because it “provides students with the opportunity to develop skills related to: working in teams, managing projects and holding leadership roles, oral and written communication, self-awareness and evaluation of group processes, working independently, critical thinking and analysis, explaining concepts, self-directed learning, applying course content to real world examples, researching and information literacy, and problem solving across disciplines” (Cornel CTI).
The classroom is usually grouped up for problems-based learning projects. This type of project will usually be due at the end of a semester or end of a particular topic because it usually deals with a more complex question that may have no one particular “correct” answer. Usually the last 15 minutes or so of class will be spent researching as well as whole classroom time near the due date for the project. A big reason why teachers use this learning approach is to increase the students’ abilities to work in groups and understand the importance of teamwork. Also, it allows students to use a deeper thought process when involving more complex questions.
One of the possible criticisms and disadvantages of problem-based learning is the possible disengagement of the students. If the students aren’t aware of the problem or don’t have much knowledge about it, then they may experience a lack of interest in the project especially if it is group-based. Also, problems that are applicable to your specific field of expertise may be difficult to find so choose your problems wisely.
Peter Doolittle @pdoopdoo