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Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning - page 8 / 13





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Overview of Problem-based Learning



These descriptions of the characteristics of PBL identify clearly 1) the role of the tutor as a facilitator of learning, 2) the responsibilities of the learners to be self-directed and self- regulated in their learning, and 3) the essential elements in the design of ill-structured instructional problems as the driving force for inquiry. The challenge for many instructors when they adopt a PBL approach is to make the transition from teacher as knowledge provider to tutor as manager and facilitator of learning (see Ertmer & Simons, 2006). If teaching with PBL were as simple as presenting the learners with a “problem” and students could be relied upon to work consistently at a high level of cognitive self-monitoring and self-regulation, then many teachers would be taking early retirement. The reality is that learners who are new to PBL require signicant instructional scaolding to support the development of problem-solving skills, self-directed learning skills, and teamwork/col- laboration skills to a level of self-suciency where the scaolds can be removed. Teaching institutions that have adopted a PBL approach to curriculum and instruction (including those noted earlier) have developed extensive tutor-training programs in recognition of the critical importance of this role in facilitating the PBL learning experience. An excellent resource is The Tutorial Process by Barrows (1988), which explains the importance of the tutor as the metacognitive coach for the learners.

Given that change to teaching patterns in public education moves at a glacial pace, it will take time for institutions to commit to a full problem-based learning approach. However, there are several closely related learner-centered instructional strategies, such as project-based learning, case-based learning, and inquiry-based learning, that are used in a variety of content domains that can begin to move students along the path to becoming more self-directed in their learning. In the next section I examine some of similarities and dierences among these approaches.

Problem-based Learning vs. Case-based and Project-based Learning

Both case-based and project-based approaches are valid instructional strategies that pro- mote active learning and engage the learners in higher-order thinking such as analysis and synthesis. A well-constructed case will help learners to understand the important elements of the problem/situation so that they are better prepared for similar situations in the future. Case studies can help learners develop critical thinking skills in assessing the information provided and in identifying logic aws or false assumptions. Working through the case study will help learners build discipline/context-specic vocabulary/terminology, and an understanding of the relationships between elements presented in the case study. When a case study is done as a group project, learners may develop improved communication and collaboration skills. Cases may be used to assess student learning after instruction, or as a practice exercise to prepare learners for a more authentic application of the skills and knowledge gained by working on the case.

  • volume 1, no. 1 (Spring 2006)

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