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Problem Based Learning

Problem Based Learning

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Author: Jody Waltman
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In this lesson, you will analyze the theories and application of problem based learning

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In this tutorial, we'll take a closer look at the idea of problem-based learning. We'll begin by discussing some of the theory behind problem based learning. Then we'll identify the elements of PBL. We'll list the specific steps that are involved in the problem-based learning process, and we'll examine some of the benefits of problem-based learning. Finally, we'll discuss how PBL and personalized learning are related. Let's get started.

First, the theory behind problem-based learning. Problem-based learning is built on the idea of Jean Piaget's constructivism. Piaget theorized that learners build, or construct, their own knowledge from the activities that they engage in during instruction. Constructivism was made current by DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, and Many in their book and training series Learning by Doing. Learning by Doing focused on professional learning communities, but the concepts in Learning by Doing can be extended to the general classroom environment as well.

Other leaders in PBL theory include Vytgosky, Montessori, and Bruner. While previously this idea was referred to as discovery education, the current terminology used is inquiry-based education. It's important to note that problem-based learning is not necessarily the same thing as project-based learning. Though certainly projects could be involved in a problem-based learning environment, not all problem-based learning activities involve projects.

Let's identify the essential elements of problem-based learning. In problem-based learning, students are actively involved in learning through the investigation of a complex problem, question, or challenge.

The activities and objectives need to be aligned to content standards. 21st century skills are emphasized in a PBL environment, and the problem that students are aiming to solve should focus on an essential question that students find engaging and that provides a clear focus for their in-depth inquiry. It's crucial that students feel a need to know, or an intense drive to solve the problem.

And students should be provided with multiple choices or options for how to go about solving the problem. Feedback should be provided throughout the process, and students should be given opportunities to revise their work if necessary. The solution to the problem should be presented before an authentic audience that is not limited to the classroom.

There are some very specific steps that are generally followed in a problem-based learning environment. First, present to your students and open-ended problem. Work together to define that problem, perhaps creating a problem statement that summarizes the issue. Next, create a knowledge inventory, a list of what we know currently about the problem and what we still need to find out.

Together, brainstorm a list of possible solutions. Then, identify learning issues. The term learning issues refers to questions that guide students' self-directed and coached learning. After these learning issues are identified, students will work independently, or in groups, to carry out the possible solutions for the problem.

And once this work is finished, students should come back together to share their solutions not only with their classmates, but with an authentic audience that extends beyond the classroom. There are some well documented benefits of problem-based learning.

Alan November, who wrote the book Who Owns the Learning, tells us that problem-based learning encourages collaboration, communication, and critical thinking among students. It fosters authentic learning experiences, and it encourages students to become independent thinkers who are engaged in solving real-world problems that have meaning beyond the classroom walls.

Problem-based learning supports four out of the five elements of personalized learning. PBL definitely can include flexible learning that isn't limited to the class period or the classroom. The teacher's role in PBL is not limited to that of a lecturer. This is aligned with the teacher's role in personalized learning being redefined and expanded. The learning in a PBL environment is definitely authentic, and may also be project-based.

Student-driven learning paths are a great fit for problem-based learning, as students are allowed to choose their own learning issues to investigate, and they're allowed to work independently on their own solutions to the posed problem. The only element of personalized learning that is not necessarily a great fit with problem-based learning is the final element, competency-based progression and pacing.

In this tutorial, we examined the theory behind problem-based learning. We identified the essential elements and the steps involved in PBL. We learned of some of the benefits of PBL as identified by Alan November. And finally, we saw that the problem-based learning environment supports four out of the five elements of personalized learning.

Now's your chance to stop and reflect. Might problem based learning be a good fit for your classroom environment? Can you see yourself implementing the steps of problem-based learning with your students?

To dive a little deeper and learn how to apply this information, be sure to check out the additional resources section associated with this video. This is where you'll find links targeted toward helping you discover more ways to apply this course material. Thanks for joining me today. Have a great day.

Notes on "Problem Based Learning"

(00:00 - 00:32) Introduction

(00:33 - 01:36) PBL Theory

(01:37 - 02:30) Elements of PBL

(02:31 - 03:29) PBL Steps

(03:30 - 03:55) Benefits of PBL

(03:56 - 04:45) PBL and Personalized Learning

(04:46 - 05:06) Review

(05:07 - 05:34) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

Speaking of Teaching: Problem-Based Learning

This article from the Stanford University newsletter is a comprehensive look at problem based learning. In addition to providing an overview, this article provides clear steps to develop ill-structured problems-- a cornerstone of problem based learning. The right hand side of the article includes tips for teachers as they implement problem based learning in their classroom.
http://web.stanford.edu/dept/CTL/cgi-bin/docs/newsletter/problem_based_learning.pdf


Problem-Based Learning at University of Delaware

This website offers an overview of problem based learning for teachers. In addition, if you click on the link on the right hand side of the site, you will find a clearinghouse of problems that you can use with your class. By clicking on the Resources tab, you will find additional lessons and tools to use to implement problem based learning in your classroom.
http://www.udel.edu/inst/