Overview of Problem-based Learning
appropriate remediation (self-directed learning). A lack of well-designed studies posed a challenge to this research analysis, and an article on the same topic by Sanson-Fisher and Lynagh (2005) concluded that “Available evidence, although methodologically awed, of- fers little support for the superiority of PBL over traditional curricula” (p. 260). This gap in the research on the short-term and long-term eectiveness of using a PBL approach with a range of learner populations denitely indicates a need for further study.
Despite this lack of evidence, the adoption of PBL has expanded into elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, universities, and professional schools (Torp & Sage, 2002). The University of Delaware (http://www.udel.edu/pbl/) has an active PBL program and conducts annual training institutes for instructors wanting to become tutors. Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama (http://www.samford.edu/pbl/) has incorporated PBL into various undergraduate programs within the Schools of Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, Nursing, and Pharmacy. The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (http:// www.imsa.edu/center/) has been providing high school students with a complete PBL cur- riculum since 1985 and serves thousands of students and teachers as a center for research on problem-based learning. The Problem-based Learning Institute (PBLI) (http://www.pbli. org/) has developed curricular materials (i.e., problems) and teacher-training programs in PBL for all core disciplines in high school (Barrows & Kelson, 1993). PBL is used in multiple domains of medical education (dentists, nurses, paramedics, radiologists, etc.) and in content domains as diverse as MBA programs (Stinson & Milter, 1996), higher education (Bridges & Hallinger, 1996), chemical engineering (Woods, 1994), economics (Gijselaers,
, architecture (Kingsland, 1989), and pre-service teacher education (Hmelo-Silver,
. This list is by no means exhaustive, but is illustrative of the multiple contexts in
which the PBL instructional approach is being utilized.
The widespread adoption of the PBL instructional approach by dierent disciplines, for dierent age levels, and in dierent content domains has produced some misapplica- tions and misconceptions of PBL (Maudsley, 1999). Certain practices that are called PBL may fail to achieve the anticipated learning outcomes for a variety of reasons. Boud and Feletti (1997, p. 5) described several possible sources for the confusion:
Confusing PBL as an approach to curriculum design with the teaching of problem-solving,
Adoption of a PBL proposal without sucient commitment of sta at all levels,
Lack of research and development on the nature and type of problems to be used,
Insucient investment in the design, preparation and ongoing renewal of learning resources,
Inappropriate assessment methods which do not match the learning outcomes sought in problem-based programs, and
volume 1, no. 1 (Spring 2006)