The University of Akron
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1983 - undergraduate course on History
of Education in Western Canada
Professor told the history of the people
who lived through the times using their
diaries and journals.
Major assignment for the class was to
go into the archives of the museum and
research a history and tell their story.
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Learning should be engaging…
Since then I have looked for
instructional methods that work as well
as that activity did for me.
Simulations and games are a good
Inquiry based, problem based and other
experiential learning approaches are
also very effective.
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Problem-Based Learning is…
an instructional (and curricular) learner-
centered approach that empowers
learners to conduct research, integrate
theory and practice, and apply
knowledge and skills to develop a viable
solution to a defined problem.
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Critical to the success of the PBL
approach is the selection of ill-
structured problems (often
interdisciplinary) and a tutor who guides
the learning process and conducts a
thorough debriefing at the conclusion of
the learning experience.
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1. Students must have the responsibility
for their own learning.
2. The problem situations used must be
ill-structured and allow for free inquiry.
3. Learning should be integrated from a
wide range of disciplines or subjects.
4. Collaboration is essential.
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4. Outcomes of self-directed learning
must be applied back to the problem
with reanalysis and resolution.
5. Reflection and debriefing on what has
been learned is essential.
6. Self and peer assessment is required
at the completion of each problem and
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8. The activities carried out in problem-
based learning must be those valued
in the real world.
9. Examinations must measure student
progress towards the goals of
10. Problem-based learning must be the
pedagogical base of the curriculum.
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Students must be
responsible for their own learning
PBL is a learner-centered approach – students
engage with the problem with whatever their
current knowledge or experience affords.
Learner motivation increases when responsibility
for the solution to the problem and the process
rests with the learner and as student ownership
for learning increases
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…responsible for their own
Inherent in the design of PBL is a public
articulation by the learners of what they know
and about what they need to learn more.
Individuals accept responsibility for seeking
relevant information and bringing that back to
the group to help inform the development of a
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Problems must be ill-structured and
allow for free inquiry
Problems in the real world are ill-structured
(or they would not be problems). A critical skill
developed through PBL is the ability to
identify the problem and set parameters on
the development of a solution.
Learners are less motivated and less
invested in the development of the solution to
a well-structured problem.
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Learning should be integrated from a
wide range of disciplines
Students should be able to access,
study and integrate information from all
the disciplines that might be related to
understanding and resolving a particular
problem -- just as people in the real
world must recall and apply information
integrated from diverse sources in their
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…wide range of disciplines
The rapid expansion of information has
encouraged a cross-fertilization of ideas
and led to the development of new
Multiple perspectives lead to a more
thorough understanding of the issues
and the development of a more robust
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Collaboration is essential
In the world after school most learners will
find themselves in jobs where they need to
share information and work productively with
others. PBL provides a format for the
development of these essential skills.
During a PBL session the tutor will ask
questions of any and all members to ensure
that information has been shared between
members in relation to the group’s problem.
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Apply outcomes of self-directed
learning to the problem with
reanalysis and resolution
The point of self-directed research is for
individuals to collect information that will
inform the group’s decision-making process
in relation to the problem.
It is essential that each individual share
coherently what he or she have learned and
how that information might impact on
developing a solution to the problem.
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Reflection and debriefing on what
has been learned is essential
PBL is a very engaging, motivating and
involving form of experiential learning,
learners are often very close to the immediate
details of the problem and the proposed
The purpose of the post-experience
debriefing process (see Steinwachs, 1992;
Thiagarajan, 1993 for details on debriefing) is
to consolidate the learning and ensure that
the experience has been reflected upon.
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Reflect and debrief
Barrows (1988) advises that learners
examine all facets of the PBL process to
what they know
what they learned
how they performed.
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Self and peer assessment at the
completion problems and units
These assessment activities are related
to the reflection on knowledge gains.
The significance of this activity is to
reinforce the self-reflective nature of
learning and sharpen a range of
metacognitive processing skills.
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Activities carried out in PBL must be
those valued in the real world
The selection of authentic problems in PBL is
discussed extensively in Savery & Duffy
(1995), Stinson and Milter (1996), Wilkerson
and Gijselaers (1996), and Macdonald (1997).
The transfer of skills learned through PBL to a
real world context is also noted by Bransford,
Brown, & Cocking (2000, p. 77).
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Exams must measure student
progress toward PBL goals
The goals of PBL are both knowledge-based
and process-based. Students need to be
assessed on both dimensions at regular
intervals to ensure that they are benefiting as
intended from the PBL approach.
Students are responsible for the content in
the curriculum that they have ‘covered’
through engagement with problems. They
need to be able to recognize and articulate
what they know and what they have learned.
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Use PBL as the pedagogical
base of the curriculum
A half-hearted approach to PBL is unlikely to
succeed. A partial approach will inevitably fall
back into didactic teacher-centered
instruction as students learn that they can
out-wait the teacher and the answers will be
Teachers considering PBL must understand
what to expect and be prepared to stay with it
until students are weaned from their teacher
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Covered a lot of elements so far and
there are some others to discuss.
When questions are finished let’s work
on a problem…
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PBL and Storytelling
PBL is a strategy that uses specific
tactics to achieve the intended learning
Stories are used to ‘set the problem’ for
The characteristics of a good story
compliment the setting of the problem.
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Some story characteristics
Control of time and place.
Control of characters in the story.
Control of information.
Control of events.
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Some PBL ‘problem’ elements
Initial parameters of problem provided
in a story format
Medical symptoms described
General elements of situation described
Often elements of time and place (changes
noted over time, symptoms related to
change of place)
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PBL as curriculum
Learners encounter ‘problems’ that are
authentic in the discipline.
The selection of problems is deliberate.
The problems selected are designed to
integrate knowledge and practice.
The debriefing is used to consolidate
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Problems as Stories
Motivation is an important element in
Dramatic stories can help motivate the
Example: asteroid problem, loss of
habitat and extinction of a species,
flooding prevention and the list goes
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PBL as an instructional strategy
empowers learners to develop viable
solutions to ill-structured problems.
Ill-structured problems may be
presented effectively through stories.
Learners will develop their own story as
the develop a problem solution.
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