Looking at the text, Problem-Based Learning can feel like an overwhelming behemoth to undertake. There are so many ways that an individual can describe the idea of Problem-Based Learning. However, sometimes the best definition is one that is quite simple: Problem-Based Learning is a method that allows for students to acquire knowledge through hands-on engagement. Problem-Based Learning is a progressive teaching method that opts to engage the students in the actual process of solving issues by utilizing experience-based lessons and problems to further develop their independence, ability to self-direct, utilize higher order critical thinking skills while removing the focus on memorization or assessment alone; all while creating an environment that provides the opportunity for collaborative learning.
As with any other teaching method, Problem-Based Learning is not a one-size fit all solution to the classroom. For Problem-Based Learning to be a worthwhile method to use with students, instructors would need to recognize if the approach is necessary. Learning is not a process that is meant strictly for memorization of facts to plug into the appropriate spots on assessment to then be discarded immediately after. Learning must be a continual project that builds on existing foundations. There are cognitive science theories that ascribe to the notion that “previous knowledges about something can undermine their nature and the amount of information students can process and elaborate on to be internalized.” (Regehr & Norman, 1996)
By acknowledging the need to provide a learning experience that meets these criteria, instructors are attempting to produce healthy students that are no longer “disenchanted” and/or “bored” with the idea of school. This method will allow for students to see the practical, real-world applications for the problems they have. So what situations exactly call for this method? Does Problem-Based Learning serve to help the students. If so, what possible benefits could it have?
First and foremost, students generally do not retain the information they learn in more traditional formats. This leads to inappropriate use and application of what they have learned and ultimately, an inability to do anything with the information they learned as students move on to the next topic and/or lesson. Yet, by learners addressing the problems/issues at the beginning of the lesson, they can first try to benefit from the knowledge and lessons that were taken before this lesson. Students are able build on their foundations and in some cases, begin to bring the notion of something that would otherwise be discarded as soon as it had served its purpose to something that can be not only kept, but applied to things in the future.
Problem-Based Learning teaches students to work independently, which would do well in any type of classroom. Independent learning is an approach that takes the focus from the instructor and to the student. Students can begin to understand the material from the perspective of active learning that is more than just sitting down and flipping through a book or engaging in tedious, occasionally frustrating group projects. By altering the focus, students can find a greater ability to possibly better remember the material and find the experience to be more satisfying than previous incarnations.
When students do this, instructors can really focus on what else matters. They are no longer just reciting meaningless words. They can work with students on a more meaningful level, increasing the satisfaction of all involved. When this happens, there might be spikes in class attendance as well as an increase in grades because students are now invested in the material in a way that will leave them able to study. These are all problems that with proper solutions given, can reward student and instructors with an intrinsic sense of accomplishment that will translate across the board. So if both students and instructors are pleased with the use of Problem-Based Learning, this serves to only benefit the institution through possible retention of current and future students. Beyond that, students will be able to be part of a learning tool bigger than themselves that will highlight that the “institution has evidence of a place that teaching learning.”
Keeping this in mind, designing a Problem-Based Approach is much easier than it sounds. First, instructors need to know what they want their students to take away from the lesson itself. What do you want your students to know? What do you want them to be able to do? How will you accomplish this task? Once you have these answers in mind, designing the scenario will come with greater ease. Create a scenario with an issue that is real and related to course content. Make the scenario challenge what your students know and the way they currently think about the topic at hand. All scenarios should be created with discussions and interpersonal interactions in mind.
This sort of planning will make sure that students can handle the problem they are given and will “make them real, realizable, open-ended” as well as let students know that “real world problems and discussions have multiple possible right answers and that they must work together imaginatively. Learning happens by working out solutions, not having the ‘right’ solution.” (Jonassen & Hung, 2008) There are some risks with Problem-Based Learning, but it is largely beneficial for students. In future classrooms, I plan as an instructor to keep this in mind. I will be able to incorporate this method by including strategies that are centered around general goals and after various ideas, choose appropriate ideas and ultimately focus on one for assignments. Then I plan to let my students plan their activities and projects that they will be able to plan and assist in execution.