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Problem-Based Learning


Last Updated:
August 10, 2023

First Published:
February 10, 2022


Problem-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered, active learning strategy where students work in small groups (4-6 members) to solve complex, real-world problems that can have multiple solutions. While similar to case-based and team-based learning in that student groups solve problems, PBL emphasizes the student’s role in identifying learning objectives and knowledge gaps based on the problem and minimizes the instructor’s role to facilitator. Participation in PBL activities allow students to develop skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, and teamwork skills (Nilson 2010). According to Barrows (1986), objectives of a PBL activity include “structuring knowledge for use in clinical contexts, developing an effective clinical reasoning process, developing effective self-directed learning skills, and increasing motivation for learning.”

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  1. Steps for Developing Problem-based Learning Activities (Faculty Focus)

    1. Identify learning objectives/outcomes
    2. Develop scenario/problem
    3. Introduce PBL to students
    4. Group students
    5. Facilitate instead of instruct
    6. Assess student performance


  2. Problem-based Learning Steps for Students (Cornell University)

    1. Examine and define the problem.
    2. Explore what they already know about underlying issues related to problem.
    3. Determine what they need to learn and where they can acquire the information and tools necessary to solve the problem.
    4. Evaluate possible ways to solve the problem.
    5. Solve the problem.
    6. Report on their findings.