What is PBL?
– Instructional Strategy
– Similar to the Socratic Method
– Used extensively in medical schools as a
– Howard S. Barrows is a PBL pioneer
– U of Delaware is a center of PBL use and
What it is not…
– Not an “Alternative to teaching”
– Not a quick substitute for lecturing
– Not easy to adopt (as a curriculum)
• Scenario creation & refinement
• Teacher training
• Student training
How does it work?
– Relies on small groups working with a
– Relies heavily on scenarios to guide the
learning process through sections.
– Forces the student to take responsibility for
Why instructors use it
– Acquisition of an extensive integrated
– Real world examples.
– Move beyond cram & regurgitate model
– Great way to teach people how to acquire large
amounts of information in a short period of
time for rapidly changing fields.
– It is often the “unplanned” method of
instruction in work/project situations.
Class needs to be broken into small groups
– Groups work together extensively
Each group needs a moderator.
– Guides group through process
– Trains group to work together
The facilitator (teacher) guides without
giving away or hiding answers.
Each group gets a scenario-based problem
– Each problem set contains scenarios that build
on each other.
– Problems/scenarios are vehicles for the
development of clinical problem solving skills
The group first identifies the following five
– The facts that are known
– Facts that need to be known and questions that
need to be asked
– A possible hypothesis
– What needs to be learned or researched
– Where the group members will go to gain the
Once the 5 categories are addressed:
– Group researches necessary issues
– Returns later to to present their findings
– Receives a new scenario that builds upon the
– Group begins the process again with the new
Some areas open to debate:
– What to do with the shy student(s)
– What to do with the outgoing student(s)
– How to assess the progress of the group versus
– Should each group member research every item
identified under what needs to be learned ?
– How can this model be modified for other
1. Students must have/take responsibility for
their own learning.
2. Scenarios must allow for free inquiry.
3. Scenarios should integrate multiple
4. Scenarios should allow multiple learning
styles to be addressed.
5. Group members must collaborate.
6. Group Members must continually share what
7. There must be analysis of what was learned
(final reports, presentations, models,
prototypes, exams, etc.).
8. Self and Peer assessment in addition to the
Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle
Peter Honey & AlanPeter Honey & Alan
Mumford’s adaptationMumford’s adaptation
PBL is often compared or confused with other learning methods such as project-project-
based learningbased learning, cooperativecooperative learning & problem solvingsolving. Each of these does share the
learning cycle which moves from experience to conceptualization and from practice to
theory – an approach not generally used in American education.
Sample Scenarios from U of CA
CA - The
Tracking of Killer
Bees - Biology
The Effect of
Memory - Psych
Orange County -
State of CA vs.
Design & Human
The Sinking of
the Titanic -
Monitoring - Civil
Sick Kids with
- CHEM 643
Photos & Leave
from a Sunken
– PHYS 208
of Physics II
PHYS208 Fundamentals of Physics II Group Exercise
The Punkin' Chunkin' contest is held in Sussex County, Delaware. The object of
this contest is to propel, without use of explosives, an 8 to 10 pound pumpkin as
far as possible. The original record was 2,710 feet set by an air cannon from
Illinois. Delaware's own Universal Soldier went 3718 feet. There are several
categories available: catapult, centrifugal, human-powered, electromagnetic toss.
Using the principles of PHYS208 (and PHYS207), design a punkin' chunkin' rail
capable of a one-mile toss. Be as specific as possible, taking into consideration
physical properties of the pumpkin & ballistics, and as realistic as possible,
considering energy sources and dissipation.
World Championship Punkin' Chunkin'
Whose Embryo Is It, Anyway?
A Sample PBL Using
A 3 Stage Scenario
analyze the color mix
percentages in a
package of M&M
M&M’s Activities & Objectives
2. Create a visual
3. Compare results
4. Pattern recognition
6. Solution (How many scenarios to use?)
Objectives will vary according to the level of the students.
This activity has been used in primary grades
through graduate levels to teach objectives such as:
Counting, sorting, graphing, Excel, PowerPoint, cooperative
learning, forming a hypothesis, scientific method,
presentation skills, PBL, statistical analysis, production
methods, marketing, consulting practices…
What is the Instructor’s Role?
Specify the objectives.
Monitor groups regularly and intervene only when required.
Point the way – make adjustments when groups are off task
and their direction will not result in significant learning.
If necessary, ask OPEN-ENDED questions like: What do we
need to know more about? What is your evidence?
Help students REFLECT on their experiences
"You will not learn from me, philosophy - but how to
philosophize; not thoughts to repeat, but how to think.
Think for yourselves, enquire for yourselves,
stand on your own feet." ~ Immanuel Kant
Raise issues that need to be considered - YOUR
experience, but not your knowledge is critical to
Be prepared to teach mini-lessons on skills along
the way – the “teachable moment.”
Evaluate student achievement and group efforts on
a scheduled basis.
Keep students apprised of their performance
(rubrics) and progress in relation to other groups.
Research suggests that students benefit from immediate
feedback from instructors so that misconceptions can be
cleared promptly (Norman and Schmidt, 1992).
In the classroom, teachers should act as metacognitive
coaches, serving as models, thinking aloud with students
and practicing behavior they want their students to use
(Stepien and Gallagher, 1993).
Use scenarios to train students that are non-threatening
because they do not require knowledge. It is recommended
that training scenarios are not about the course content
(though they may be related to the discipline.)
For the Instructor
Scenarios should have a completion time of from 2-3 class
sessions, up 4 weeks.
Research indicates (Gijselaers and Schmidt, 1992) that there is
a point of diminishing returns in teacher-centered activities.
After about 30% of the class time is spent on any teacher-
centered time, it detracts from students' self-study time.
The instructor may also need to address the perceived delay in
the student performance that often occurs. Research shows that
PBL students may not achieve as much, initially with the
implementation of PBL (Schmidt, et. al, 1996).
However, PBL students retain more than their traditionally
educated counterparts and learn life-long, self-directed
learning skills that other students may not.
For the Instructor
A key result of PBL is that students use their prior
knowledge when developing ideas and formulating those
ideas into hypothesis that can be tested.
The advanced level of a college student will result in a
deeper, more complex investigation than would be done by
a younger student even if very similar scenarios are used.
(Schmidt, Bridges, Barrows) strongly suggest that the
instructor provide unstructured time in the class in order for
students to assemble in their teams, work with resources,
contact and meet with faculty members who may be helpful
to their project, and accomplish other tasks necessary in the
resolution of the problem. This cannot all occur outside the