PROBLEM-BASED LEARNING (Prob. BL)
Educators in the 21st century face lost challenges in the classroom to deal with students
with a wide of range of talent, ability, learning styles, and diversity. While not a panacea,
Prob.BL may provide answers for the challenge.
According to Boud & Feletti (1991) Prob. BL “is an instructional methodology which is
based on resenting the students an “ill-defined” problem for which they are to collaboratively
research and propose potential solutions. Key professional problems serve as the stimulus and
focus for student activity”. Prob. BL was created by Barrows in 1986 as an instructional method
in medical school to prepare the students for real-world problems, allowing them solve
medical problem based on the real-life cases. The students worked in teams, and were
assigned a medical practitioner who acted as facilitator. This method has become popular for
its clear benefits for students to engage in real experience.
John Dewey (1897) who first raised the idea of “learning by doing” in educational
practice as he argued that “The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form
certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of community to select the influences
which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these. This method is
unique for its focus on learning through solving real, open-ended problems to which there are
no fixed solutions. Students work alone or in groups first to understand a particular problem
and then to find possible solutions to it. Prob. BL is widely recognized as an effective teaching
method in the 21st century. Its benefits are well documented such as; students can develop
greater communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
Prob. BL can be thought of as originated from John Dewey’s (1897) constructivism. He
said that education as a toll for solving problems that people encounter in real life as he stated
“I want to connect school should be a place where a child would really live. Brooks & Brooks
(1993) views that “learning is the process of constructing knowledge, not merely obtaining it, in
social environments. The central concept of Prob. BL is an ill defined problem and this becomes
the center of learning. In this way the students encounter different ways or methods to solve
the problem, while discussing it with other students in the group discussion.
In the classroom, generally, the teacher plays as role as a trainer for or facilitator or
activities that the students do themselves. The teacher provides students with appropriate
problems to work on, assist them in identifying and accessing the materials and equipment
necessary to solve the problem, gives necessary feedback and support during the problem-solving
process, and evaluates students participation and products, with the goal of helping
them develop their problem-solving as well as their language and literacy skills. In language
learning, learner should develop their understanding of the conventions of language use by
engaging in the kinds of language activity found in real life, and not by learning list of rules.
Albion & Gibson (1998) and butler (2003) have described the procedure of Prob. BL from the
perspective of students which includes four main steps as follows:
1. Being introduced to the problem
2. Exploring what they do and do not know about the problem
3. Generating possible solutions to the problem
4. Considering the consequences of each solution and selecting the most viable solution.
Meanwhile, Savery and Duffy (1995) propose some steps from the perspective of the teacher
as a facilitator as follows:
1. Facilitator identifies or designs an ill structured problem or task relevant to the learner.
2. Facilitator presents the problem to the learners.
3. Learners, in their own groups, collaboratively generate working ideas or possible
solutions, identify available information related to the problem, identify learning issues,
identify resources to look up or consult, assign task to the various group, gather, and
This is examples of classroom activities which adopt from Clark J. Nelson (1998)
The Skiing Vacation
This problem can be started with a letter or post card, in the language, inviting the
students (a family) to a skiing vacation in the target country. The students must first
comprehend the post card (dictionary usage!), then prepare themselves for the trip by
finding out all the relevant vocabulary they would need (at least for the skiing part). The
students break up into families and research the area, the potential cost, the exchange
rate, and mostly, all of the words for skiing and ski gear that necessary to be well-prepared
for the trip.