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Problem Based Learning (PBL)

PBL is a method where problems are presented at the beginning of the instructional cycle. The problem provides both the context and the stimulus for uncovering learning objectives. New information is not presented by the instructor, but acquired by the students through self-directed team learning. In addition to learning new information, PBL is concerned with students’ skill development and awareness of the learning and problem solving processes.

Because PBL has such diverse outcomes and can be implemented in many different ways, studies on the effectiveness of PBL are not conclusive. The most often cited downside of PBL is that the amount of knowledge acquired is slightly smaller than that acquired with traditional teaching methods (Prince, 2004). Nonetheless, the authors of various literature reviews and meta-analysis indicate there are some positive outcomes that can be expected from PBL:

· Long term retention of knowledge (Norman & Schmidt, 1992; Gijbels, et al.,2005).
· Improved student attitudes (Vernon & Blake, as cited in Prince, 2004)
· Improved study habits (Major & Palmer, 2001)

These outcomes are what keep instructors interested in the PBL approach. Still, implementing PBL requires a considerable investment of time and resources.

Over the next few posts I’ll be sharing some of the resources available to instructors interested in exploring the PBL approach.


Gijbels, D., Dochy, F., Van Den Bossche, P., & Segers, M. (2005). Effects of problem-based learning: A meta-analysis from the angle of assessment. Review of educational research, 75(1), 27-61.
Major, C. H., & Palmer, B. (2001). Assessing the effectiveness of problem-based learning in higher education: Lessons from the literature. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 5(1), 4.
Norman, G. R., & Schmidt, H. G. (1992). The psychological basis of problem-based learning: A review of the evidence. Academic medicine : journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 67(9), 557-565.
Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-232.

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