Please enable javascript to view this page in its intended format.

Queen's University

Centre for Teaching and Learning

Problem-Based Learning

Any learning environment in which the problem drives the learning. (Woods, 2005)

What is Problem-Based Learning (PBL)?

Problem-based learning is based on the messy, complex problems encountered in the real world as a stimulus for learning and for integrating and organizing learned information in ways that will ensure its recall and application to future problems. Problems are raised at the start of the topic, before they have been taught some of the relevant knowledge. By actively engage with the problem, learners develop skills around finding information, identifying what information they still need and possible sources of that information. Learners are able to connect what they are learning in class to their own lives and important issues in their world.

Why PBL?

Today's world brings with it a rapid explosion of easily accessible knowledge. Today graduates need to be self directed and possess lifelong learning skills. They need to be critical thinkers, problem solvers and analytical in their approach. The inter-disciplinary nature of work means that they need to be able to integrate knowledge and skills from a number of disciplines as well as have the interpersonal skills to be an effective team member.

Problem-based learning activities are designed to develop transferable skills and attributes along with the appropriate discipline specific knowledge. Transferable skills/attributes are part of the degree level expectations that represent the intended outcomes for a university education and are being written into program curriculum. Problem-based learning challenges students to develop the ability to think critically, analyze problems, find and use appropriate learning resources.

A learner-centered educational method; Through PBL learners are progressively given more and more responsibility for their own education and become increasingly independent of the teacher for their education.

The PBL Learning Process

In PBL, learners encounter a problem and attempt to solve it with information they already possess allowing them to appreciate what they already know. They also identify what they need to learn to better understand the problem and how to resolve it.

Once they have worked with the problem as far as possible and identified what they need to learn, the learners engage in self-directed study to research the information needed finding and using a variety of information resources (books, journals, reports, online information, and a variety of people with appropriate areas of expertise). In this way learning is personalized to the needs and learning styles of the individual.

The learners then return to the problem and apply what they learned to their work with the problem in order to more fully understand and resolve the problem.

After they have finished their problem work the learners assess themselves and each other to develop skills in self-assessment and the constructive assessment of peers. Self-assessment is a skill essential to effective independent learning.

The responsibility of the teacher in PBL is to provide the educational materials and guidance that facilitate learning. The principle role of the teacher in PBL is that of a facilitator or educational coach (often referred to in jargon of PBL as a "tutor") guiding the learners in the PBL process. As learners become more proficient in the PBL learning process the tutor becomes less active.


Deconstructing the Methods and Synergies in Problem-Based Learning, Community-Based Project-Organized Education: Perspectives at the University of Venda, South Africa

Problem-based Learning in Biology with 20 Case Examples

Problem Based Service Learning: A Fieldguide for Making a Difference in Higher Education

Rangachari, P.K. (2007 updated). Writing problems: A personal casebook (Problem-Based Learning: Examples of problems from McMaster University courses)

Woods, D.R. (2005). Problem-based learning, especially in the context of large classes.

Woods, D. R. (2006, third edition). Preparing for PBL.

Walsh, A. (2005). The tutor in problem based learning: A novice's guide.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000