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PROBLEM-BASED LEARNING Dr Christina Ioannou Lecturer, University of Nicosia The amount of knowledge (in every field) is increasing and

the rate at which it is increasing is accelerating. Students cannot learn all the material, but they can learn how to learn the material. This is an important step in helping students become self-directed learners. In problem-based learning students learn to be self-directed, independent and interdependent learners motivated to solve a problem (Kiley, Mullins, Peterson and Rogers, 2000). 1. Problem-Based Learning: What is it? Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a total approach to education that challenges students to learn through an active engagement in real life problems. It was first used as a pedagogical approach in the 1960s at McMaster University Medical School (Ontario, Canada), in an attempt to restructure medical school education and enable students to apply their scientific knowledge to clinical problems. Today, PBL is used extensively in elementary, secondary and tertiary education institutions worldwide, and has also been adopted in various fields of professional training, such as nursing, engineering and architecture, among many others. The key characteristics of PBL are that it involves team work and communication skills, a problem-solving capacity, critical, analytical and creative, as well as individual research. According to Wood, group learning thinking facilitates not only the acquisition of knowledge but also several other desirable attributes, such as communication skills, teamwork, problem solving, independent responsibility for learning, sharing information, and respect for others. PBL can therefore be thought of as a small, grou- teaching method that combines the acquisition of knowledge with the development of generic skills and attitudes (Wood, 2003). Regardless of the discipline, PBL is a method that basically challenges students to think; it triggers their curiosity and their interest and engages them in a process of problem-solving that involves experiential learning, through the utilisation of genuine experiences. Students then become engaged problem solvers (Torp and Sage, 2002). They are able to identify the root of the problem and the conditions that are needed in order to find a good solution to it, thus becoming self-directed learners. Meanwhile, teachers / instructors become problem-solving colleagues or cognitive coaches, who build a learning environment that is receiving of open inquiry, and also provide enthusiasm for the students (Torp and Sage, 2002). Throughout the process the tutor acts as a facilitator rather than a teacher. Instead of providing answers the tutor encourages useful lines of questioning and, where necessary, provides some problem solving structure (Kiley, Mullins, Peterson and Rogers, 2000). It ought to be emphasised that PBL is based upon resolving problems that are encountered in everyday life. As Merrill explains, in the PBL process, guidance is provided by the instructor at the early stages, and later, as learners gain expertise and become more confident, this guidance is gradually faded (Merrill, 2002). PBL can be 1

more effective if students are first introduced to simple problems, and are then gradually given more complex problems, where elements are added to make them more realistic (Merrill, 2002, 2007). Sweller described this as the guidance-fading effect (Sweller, 2006). He proposed cognitive load theory in an attempt to explain how a learner reacts to problem solving at the early stages of learning, and suggested that at these early stages worked examples should be offered; gradually, as learners gained experience and expertise, actual problems should be given to them to solve (Sweller, 1988). 2. The Constructivist Perspective to Problem-Based Learning: The Construction of Knowledge From the constructivist philosophical perspective, PBL is very important, as it is advocated that knowledge is something that is gradually constructed. Constructivism assumes that knowledge is not an absolute, but is constructed by the learner based on previous knowledge and overall views of the world. Thus, the opportunity to find knowledge for oneself, contrast ones understanding of that knowledge with others understanding, and refine or restructure knowledge as more relevant experience is gained, (all of which are done by students in PBL curricula), seems to harness the reality of learning (Camp, 1996). Savery and Duffy identify three primary constructivist principles (Savery and Duffy, 1995): (i) Understanding comes from our interactions with our environment (ii) Cognitive conflict stimulates learning (iii) Knowledge evolves through social negotiation and evaluation of the viability of individual understandings. The constructivist view is in line with the idea that the instructors role should be to provide guidance, rather than provide knowledge. Therefore, the continuous process of interaction and discussion that is embedded in PBL is consistent with constructivism. 3. The Problem-Based Learning Tutorial Process: A Practical Approach There are numerous ways in which PBL tutorials can be conducted. A very poplar one is the Maastricht seven jump process, which consists of seven steps. The Maastricht seven jump process is clearly described by Wood (2003), as follows: PBL Tutorial Process Step 1 Identify and clarify unfamiliar terms presented in the scenario; scribe lists those that remain unexplained after discussion Step 2 Define the problem or problems to be discussed; students may have different views on the issues, but all should be considered; scribe records a list of agreed problems Step 3 Brainstorming session to discuss the problem(s), suggesting possible explanations on basis of prior knowledge; students draw on each

others knowledge and identify areas of incomplete knowledge; scribe records all discussion Step 4 Review steps 2 and 3 and arrange explanations into tentative solutions; scribe organises the explanations and restructures if necessary Step 5 Formulate learning objectives; group reaches consensus on the learning objectives; tutor ensures learning objectives are focused, achievable, comprehensive, and appropriate Step 6 Private Study (all students gather information related to each learning objective) Step 7 Group shares results of private study (students identify their learning resources and share their results); tutor checks learning and may assess the group. Another way of using PBL is suggested by Mills (2008). This consists of a five-stage process, as follows: STAGE 1: DEFINITION (10 mins)
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Appoint chairperson and notetaker. Discuss first reactions to trigger provided by tutor. What sense does the group make of the trigger? What possible research problems lead from the trigger? List them.

STAGE 2: ANALYSIS (30 mins)


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Brainstorm these possible research problems. What explanations or interpretations are there in the group about these problems? Which explanation/interpretations seem most useful and why?

STAGE 3: RESEARCH AIMS (15 mins)


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Formulate the key research problem /hypothesis for investigation What further knowledge does the group need to explore this problem? Define three specific research tasks to be completed. Divide up tasks. Agree on how the group will work together during the week - eg email contact?

STAGE 4: RESEARCH (Set a limit to time for independent work, eg three hours)
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Acquire knowledge in relation to research questions Group or individual research over the week, limited to 3 hours Complete task eg preparation of an annotated bibliography of material related to the problem for the other groups.

STAGE 5: SYNTHESIS (In a second session, usually 1-2 hours long) 3

Review the newly acquired knowledge within the group. Pool findings - do they help an understanding of the research problem? o Final group response to the trigger. o Reflections on the learning process 4. Advantages and Disadvantages of Problem-Based Learning: An Analysis
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One of the disadvantages that has been reported in relation to the PBL process is that it is a very different teaching process to the one that students have already received and, as a result, it can be stressful and disorienting (Mills, 2008). The fact that students are no longer given the answers can require a change in their attitude and mind-set, and so it is better if it is introduced in a students first year on a course (Mills, 2008). The PBL approach, however, has numerous advantages. First of all, it promotes the development of life-long learning skills. These include, among others, communication and interaction skills, research skills, as well as the ability to handle problems and work in groups. The fact that PBL challenges students to learn through active engagement in real life problems makes students retain the knowledge they gain for much longer. The process of experiential learning that students engage in, also allows them to reflect on their very own thinking process, and this makes them understand the problem better since they are more dynamically involved in the problem-solving procedure. All of these aforementioned effects of PBL contribute towards raising the motivation of students and gaining more interest in their subject matter. Overall, the PBL process can be a very useful pedagogical approach, with many beneficial effects for the students. As already outlined, one of its additional benefits is that it is an interdisciplinary method of learning. As a result, the deviation from the more traditional system of learning and the departure from the traditional didactic mentalities that PBL provides in all fields, make individuals become better practitioners of their professions. REFERENCES Boud, D. and Feletti, G. (1997). The challenge of problem based learning, 2nd edition (London: Kogan Page). Camp, G. (1996). Problem-Based Learning: A Paradigm Shift or a Passing Fad? MEO 1:2. Kiley, M., Mullins, G., Peterson, R. and Rogers, T. (2000). Leap into ProblemBased Learning, The University of Adelaide A cUE. Knowles, M. E. (1980). The Modern Practice of Adult Education (Cambridge: Prentice Hall). Margetson, D. (1991). Is there a Future for Problem-Based Education?, Higher Education Review, 23(2). Margetson, D. (1994). Current Educational Reform and the Significance of ProblemBased Learning, Studies in Higher Education, 19(1).

Merrill, M. D. (2002). A Pebble-in-the-pond Model for Instructional Design, Performance Improvement 41 (7). Mills, D. Problem-Based Learning, Last Accessed 18.07.08, Available at: <<http://www.csap.bham.ac.uk/resources/project_reports/ShowOverview id=4>> .asp?

Murray, I. and Savin-Baden, M. (1999). Staff Development in Problem-Based Learning, Teaching in Higher Education, 5 (1). Norman, G. R. and Schmidt, H. G. (1992). The Psychological Basis of ProblemBased Learning: A Review of the Evidence, Acad Med, 67 (9). Ryan, G. (1993). Student Perceptions about Self-Directed Learning in a Professional Course implementing Problem-Based Learning, Studies in Higher Education, 18(1). Savery, J. R. and Duffy, T. M. (1995). Problem Based Learning: An Instructional Model and its Constructivist Framework, Educational Technology, 35 (5). Schmidt, H. G. (1993). Foundations of Problem-Based Learning: Some Explanatory Notes, Medical Education, 27. Schwartz, P. (2001). Problem-Based Learning: Case Studies, Experience and Practice (London: Kogan Page). Sweller, J. (1998). Cognitive Load during Problem Solving: Effects on Learning, Cognitive Science, 12 (2). Sweller, J. (2006). The Worked Example Effect and Human Cognition, Learning and Instruction, 16 (2). Sweller, J., Van Merrienboer, J. and Paas, F. (1998). Cognitive Architecture and Instructional Design, Educational Psychology Review, 10. Torp, L and Sage, S. (2002). Problems and Possibilities: Problem-Based Learning for K-16 Education, 2nd Edition (Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development). Wood, D. F. (2003). ABC of Learning and Teaching in Medicine: Problem Based Learning, BMJ, Volume 326 (8 February 2003).