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Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning - page 10 / 13





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Overview of Problem-based Learning


Challenges Still Ahead for PBL

Problem-based learning appears to be more than a passing fad in education. This instruc- tional approach has a solid philosophical and epistemological foundation (which, due to space constraints, is not discussed fully here; see Duy & Cunningham, 1996, Savery & Duy, 1995; Torp & Sage, 2002) and an impressive track record of successful graduates in medical education and many other elds of study. In commenting on the adoption of PBL in undergraduate education, White (1996) observed:

Many of the concerns that prompted the development of problem-based learn- ing in medical schools are echoed today in undergraduate education. Content- laden lectures delivered to large enrollment classes typify science courses at most universities and many colleges. Professional organizations, government agencies, and others call for a change in how science is taught as well as what is taught. While problem-based learning is well known in medical education, it is almost unknown in the undergraduate curriculum. (p. 75)

The use of PBL in undergraduate education is changing gradually (e.g., Samford University, University of Delaware) in part because of the realization by industry and government leaders that this information age is for real. At the Wingspread Conference (1994) leaders from state and federal governments and experts from corporate, philanthropic, higher education, and accreditation communities were asked for their opinions and visions of undergraduate education and to identify some important characteristics of quality perfor- mance for college and university graduates. Their report identied as important high-level skills in communication, computation, technological literacy, and information retrieval that would enable individuals to gain and apply new knowledge and skills as needed. The report also cited as important the ability to arrive at informed judgments by eectively dening problems, gathering and evaluating information related to those problems, and developing solutions; the ability to function in a global community; adaptability; ease with diversity; motivation and persistence (for example being a self-starter); ethical and civil behavior; creativity and resourcefulness; technical competence; and the ability to work with others, especially in team settings. Lastly, the Wingspread Conference report noted the importance of a demonstrated ability to deploy all of the previous characteristics to address specic problems in complex, real-world settings, in which the development of workable solutions is required. Given this set of characteristics and the apparent success of a PBL approach at producing graduates with these characteristics one could hope for increased support in the use of PBL in undergraduate education.

The adoption of PBL (and any other instructional innovation) in public education is a complicated undertaking. Most state-funded elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools are constrained by a state-mandated curriculum and an expectation that

  • volume 1, no. 1 (Spring 2006)

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